Michael Phelps, in the pool, raising a fist. Usain Bolt, on the track, slapping his chest.
They are the two indelible images of the 2008 Beijing Olympics – celebration after celebration of gold medals and world records by the American swimmer and the Jamaican sprinter. Because of what they did four years ago, all eyes will be on them when they return to their sports’ biggest stages during the London Games, which open July 27.
Unbeatable then, they’re not expected to overwhelm the rest of the world – and the clock – quite the same way this time. And each one likely faces a strong challenge from a teammate.
Phelps, who eclipsed Mark Spitz’s record total with eight gold medals, now must worry about being faster than Ryan Lochte.
Bolt, the first man to break world records while winning the 100 and 200 meters and 4x100 relay at the same Olympics, must be wary of the times of countryman Yohan Blake.
“I actually think it’s a very similar parallel between Phelps and Bolt because I feel like the competition is closer. It’s not a question of whether they’re not going to do well at the Olympic Games. They are. It’s a question of whether the pack has gotten a lot closer to both of them,” said Ato Boldon, a sprinter who won four medals for Trinidad and Tobago over two Summer Games.
Lochte repeatedly has said he feels these Olympics are “my time,” and at last year’s world championships showed he wasn’t intimidated by Phelps, beating him twice in head-to-head meets. But Phelps figures to be in better form at London, and he sent a message to Lochte by beating him in three out of four events at the U.S. trials last month.
Australian track athlete John Steffensen has threatened to boycott the London Olympics after alleging racism because he was not selected individually to run the 400 meters.
Steffensen, who is of aboriginal descent, accused Athletics Australia of racial vilification and said he would bypass the games in protest.
The two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist was upset after an individual 400 berth was granted to teenager Steve Solomon.
Steffensen was selected only for the 4x400 relay.
Christophe Lemaitre of France shrugged off damp and dismal conditions to win the 200 meters at the London Grand Prix in a season personal-best 19.91 seconds, and Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria beat American world champ Carmelita Jeter in the 100.
Only Jamaicans Bolt and Blake have gone faster than Lemaitre this season