Olympic Stars May Overshadow Other Athletes

The Summer Olympic Games in London start in 93 days. Of the 10,500 athletes, the attention is on at least two of them: swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, we're 93 days from the start of the London Olympics. A lot of attention, of course, will focus on some of the big athletic stars - like the American swimmer Michael Phelps, or the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. This is also a good time to start talking about who, among thousands of other athletes, will emerge.

Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Sure it's unfair - 10,500 athletes of every shape, size, color and skill due to compete in the London Olympics, and all the attention on two of them? Not that they didn't earn advance billing.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2008 OLYMPICS BROADCASTS)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Phelps ... in lane five. I don't know if he's going to catch him. He gets it done again!

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: He did it! He did it! He got to do it again!

(SOUNDBITE OF STARTING PISTOL)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: And a fair start. Asafa Powell; Usain Bolt is also out well. Here they come down the track. Usain Bolt sprinting ahead - winning by daylight!

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GOLDMAN: The exploits of American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, heard here on nbcOlympics.com, were showstoppers at the 2008 Beijing Games and whet our appetite for 2012. Phelps was unbeatable in China. He competed in eight events and won them all - a record eight gold medals. But in London, the plot will thicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #4: Lochte in front. Lochte - will he get a world record? Oh yes, he does. Lochte, the gold and the world record; Phelps, the silver...

GOLDMAN: U.S. Teammate Ryan Lochte is not just a challenger, but the man to beat in events that also feature Phelps. Lochte beat Phelps twice in head-to-head meetings at last year's World Championships.

Bolt comes into London as invincible as he was in 2008, when he set world records winning the 100- and 200-meters. He has won 22 of 24, 100-meter races since then. You'll hear about a hot, young, Jamaican speedster named Yohan Blake - also, Asafa Powell; Americans Walter Dix and Tyson Gay. But really, the clock remains Bolt's only true competition. His 100 world record stands at 9.58 seconds but hopefully not for long, Bolt told the BBC this month.

USAIN BOLT: If I can go 9.4, that would be an honor for me because that's what the people want to see. They want to be amazed. So I'm working as hard as possible so I can go as fast as possible.

GOLDMAN: Working no less hard, and perhaps with a tad more humility, are the thousands of London-bound athletes whose stardom will be limited to the world of their chosen sport: Mikkel Hansen, of the Danish men's handball team; or British cyclist Chris Hoy; or American rowing coxswain Mary Whipple - and don't call her 5-foot-3-inch Mary Whipple.

MARY WHIPPLE: Five-three - and I always say a half, because it means something.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: Five-three-and-a-half Whipple is a very big part of the defending Olympic champion women's eight team from the U.S. Whipple steers the boat and keeps her rowers, who average 6 feet and taller, synchronized. Just weeks after they won the gold medal in Beijing, the team started training for London. They only get Wednesday afternoons and Sundays off - all for another chance, says Whipple, to experience perfection, as they did in China.

WHIPPLE: If you've ever connected with a golf ball and you just had like, this one, epic drive; if you can synchronize all eight oars and you're doing exactly what you need to be doing at that moment, it's the best feeling in the world.

GOLDMAN: Ten thousand, five hundred athletes - some, you've heard of; most, you haven't - heading for London and aiming for that same elusive goal: to do what they need to do, at just the right Olympic moment.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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