Predicting some offbeat golden moments at the Olympics

Brady Ellison could be a breakout star if he wins at the Olympics.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Brady Ellison could be a breakout star if he wins at the Olympics.

Most likely scene-stealer at the Opening Ceremonies: Australian shooter Russell Mark in a mankini. The 48-year-old won gold in Atlanta and silver in Sydney, but lost a friendly bet on Aussie Rules football that could have him dressed in swimwear made famous by Borat.

Event most likely to attract royal spectators: Everyone knows the royals are horse people from polo ponies to race horses. And at the Olympics they’ll have a rooting interest. The Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, will be competing in three-day eventing, which combines dressage, show jumping, and cross-country.

Biggest mismatch: Tube vs. Olympic-sized crowds. London’s notoriously cranky underground will be pushed to the limits. Even those familiar with the system will be challenged by the decision to rename all 361 stations after Olympic athletes for the duration of the Games. Victoria Station will be Usain Bolt Station. Other stop-worthy names include Jesse Owens, Mia Hamm, and LeBron James. In other words, mind the crush of confused spectators.


US gold medal contender you’ve probably never heard of: Mariel Zagunis. The sabre fencer won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympics. With her victory in Athens, she became the first US fencer in 100 years to capture Olympic gold. At London she could add a third individual gold to her collection.

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Most famous London Olympics sportswriter: It’s fitting that this should be something of a trick question. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle covered the marathon at the 1908 London Games. From reporting on that race, the Sherlock Holmes author became an impassioned supporter of the Olympic movement and British athletics.

Best menu choice: Olympic organizers originally planned “a taste of British” for athletes. Meat pies and sausage rolls anyone? But they wisely decided on healthy international offerings with nutritional information displayed at serving stations. Think grilled chicken with sauces on the side. Anything beats the whale meat British athletes ate due to food shortages at the 1948 London Games.

British athlete under most pressure to win gold: Distance runner Mo Farah moved to Portland, Ore., a year and a half ago, joining the Nike Oregon Project training team and escaping the constant scrutiny he faced in Britain. As the reigning 5,000-meter world champion, the Somali-born Farah has a strong shot at gold in that event and the 10,000.

Most anticipated event that will take place on land and last longer than 10 seconds: The women’s gymnastics team final. While the men’s 100-meter dash will finish in the nine-second range, the world’s best female gymnasts will deliver four events filled with drama, attempting to stick landings on floor, beam, bars, and vault. For the third straight time, the US enters the Games as world champions, but it has never won the team Olympic gold when the event is held outside the US.


Biggest winners before the Opening Ceremony: Women. For the first time in Olympic history, all participating nations will have female athletes. Just a couple weeks ago, Saudi Arabia agreed to send two women, an 800-meter runner and a judo athlete, insuring the milestone. Qatar and Brunei also have women competing for the first time. Meanwhile, in another first, women will outnumber men on the US team, 269 to 261.

Most likely breakout star in a breakout sport: Brady Ellison. Earlier this year, “The Hunger Games” movie raised the profile and popularity of archery. In real life, the sport has quite a character in Ellison, the world’s top-ranked archer in men’s recurve. If he wins an individual gold, Ellison will become the first American male archer to do so since 1996. And then, the cowboy hat-wearing country boy from Arizona might take the sport’s US popularity to even greater heights.

Youngest Olympic competitor: To be named in about a month. Malaysian athlete Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi will compete in shooting eight months pregnant with a baby girl. Ranked 47th in the world in the 10-meter air rifle, Nur Suryani has seen her shooting performances improve while pregnant. On the other end of the spectrum, 71-year-old Japanese equestrian rider Hiroshi Hoketsu will be the oldest Olympian in London.

Best use of a palace: Holland Heineken House at Alexandra Palace. Open for the duration of the Olympics, national hospitality houses are scattered throughout London, basically functioning as pop-up party places where fans, athletes, and VIPs kick back, watch the Games, and enjoy adult beverages. The Dutch are famous for their Olympic hospitality, as are the Irish, who will throw out the welcome mat at the fittingly named Big Chill House.

Shira Springer can be reached at