PEP UP: U.S. President Barack Obama takes photos with the U.S. Women's Basketball National Team during a pre-Olympic exhibition basketball game against Brazil at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on July 16 (XINHUA/AFP)
As the world readies for the start of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, teams from around the world are flying to London to compete and win honor for their countries. In the race for medals, the United States and China are headed for a photo finish.
Will Team China repeat its stellar performance in Beijing four years ago by sweeping up the most gold medals? Researchers at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth think so. A recent prediction forecast China winning the most gold medals, followed by the United States and host country, Great Britain. Team USA will likely win the most overall medals, followed by China and Russia.
"In 2008, there was 95 percent accuracy [with the Dartmouth predictions]. The model is very precise in determining the rank of countries and sometimes it's spot on with determining the actual medal counts as well," researcher Emily Williams told National Public Radio.
Not everyone agrees with the prediction. A new report by investment bank Goldman Sachs predicts the United States will top the list with 37 gold medals and lead the total tally with 108 medals overall. China is expected to grab 33 gold medals in London, and Great Britain is likely to haul in 30.
"Our forecasts reflect two very clear patterns revealed in our analysis. First, countries with superior growth environments and higher incomes are expected to win more medals, and, second, there is also a marked 'host effect' that will likely bump up the number of medals attained by Great Britain," said Goldman Sachs economists and study authors José Ursúa and Kamakshya Trivedi. The "host effect" led to Team China's superior performance in the 2008 Olympics, they said.
What events are most likely to yield Olympic gold for U.S. athletes? Basketball and swimming are some easy picks, and the women's gymnastic team is a strong favorite. There also may be a few surprises in store, however. In the meantime, Americans are awaiting the July 27 opening ceremonies with great anticipation.
Track and field
The U.S. men's and women's relay teams have a "golden" opportunity ahead of them in London. Team USA is expected to win both men's and women's 4x400 meter relays if they run a clean race. The men's squad was initially disqualified this March at the World Indoor Championships for an illegal exchange. The women's squad squeaked out a win in the trials.
The forecast is a little grimmer for the 4x100 squads. The men's relay will be looking for redemption after a loss to Jamaica in 2008, and the women's squad hasn't won gold since 1996. All signs point to an end to the drought, since no single country has been able to dominate the 4x100 since the U.S. women's team won four straight gold medals from 1980 to 1992.
U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay goes up against three Jamaican speedsters in the 100 meter: the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, followed by Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell. As the world record holder, Bolt is expected to snag gold—if Blake doesn't repeat his win from the Brazilian trials. That leaves the bronze medal up for grabs by Team USA.
American female sprinter Allyson Felix has proven her ability to run world-class times, and hopes to improve on the two consecutive silver medals she won in the 200-meter race.
Overall, the best chances for the United States to win gold medals in track and field are represented by LaShawn Merritt, defending champion in the 400-meter event, and Ashton Eaton, star decathlete. Morgan Uceny is also hoped to become the first American woman to medal in the 1,500-meter race. The 27-year-old would have won gold at last year's World Championships, but was tripped up by a competitor inside the last 500 meters.
Five female gymnasts on Team USA are making their Olympic debut in London, and they are all hoping for a third consecutive individual all-around championship. The odds are good. Jordyn Wieber is the defending all-around world champion and Gabrielle Douglas finished first in the Olympic team trials. The United States is also heavily favored to take home a team gold medal.