Let’s see … I’ve done projections for archery, athletics, badminton … let’s call up the spreadsheet and see what’s next:
Oh … right.
Baseball and softball are gone from the Olympic program because, as we all know, it’s easier to turn an 18-hole golf course into an Olympic venue than it is to put a fence around a small part of an Olympic green and have baseball and softball games. Or something like that.
That still leaves us with a few team sports: Basketball, field hockey, soccer, handball, volleyball (beach and indoor) and water polo. (We’ll save synchronized swimming for later.)
In all of these sports, the projections are simple because we have fewer competitions to check. But for the same reason, they’re less accurate. We really don’t know who will be on these teams and how they’ll come together, so the confidence level here is mostly on the low side.
Men’s: Mike Krzyzewski’s quest to put the USA back on top has paid off, winning not only Olympic gold in Beijing but the 2010 world title with a less-experienced team. Turkey, propelled by home-court advantage, reached the World Championships final. Brazil and Russia gave the USA its toughest games, while Olympic medalists and traditional powers Spain and Argentina dropped to the fifth-place game after falling to Serbia and Lithuania. Argentina may have dropped off a bit. Spain, boasting several players from unofficial world champion Barcelona, has not.
2008: USA, Spain, Argentina.
Projection: USA, Spain, Brazil.
Women’s: Australia was the only team to stay within 10 points of the USA at the 2010 World Championships. The host Czech Republic upset the Aussies in the quarterfinals and reached the final, but that’s not likely to happen in London. Belarus stunned Russia, and that’s also not likely to happen. Perhaps we’ll see an upset along the way somewhere, but in terms of picking favorites, the top three are same as they ever were.
2008: USA, Australia, Russia.
Projection: USA, Australia, Russia.
Men’s: Traditional powers Australia, Germany and the Netherlands finished in that order in the 2010 World Cup, while Pakistan and host India continued their long droughts. The Aussies also stormed through the Champions Trophy field, challenged only by England. (The World Cup is quadrennial and has a large field; the Champions Trophy has six teams each year.)
2008: Germany, Spain, Australia.
Projection: Australia, Britain, Germany.
Women’s: Another sport in which China got a home-field boost in 2008, though the team had built up to that win with strong showings in the 2000s. Argentina has won three straight Champions Trophies and the 2010 World Cup (at home), upending 2008 gold medalist Netherlands in the final. Germany and England are the other contenders. Will Britain get another boost at home?
2008: Netherlands, China, Argentina.
Projection: Argentina, Netherlands, Britain.
SOCCER (or, to use the word invented in England when the game’s rules were put to paper, “soccer.”)
Men’s: We’ll have a new champion — Argentina failed to qualify out of a South American tournament held 18 months or so before the Games, which hardly seems fair. Brazil and Uruguay qualified, with Brazil winning 6-0 in the final. The tournament at the Games is nearly impossible to predict because the makeup of the teams is so strange — mostly Under-23 players but with three older players allowed per team. Another oddity: A “Great Britain” team will participate, but it will be English. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland didn’t want to have anything to do with the neighbors. The English U-20s were practically run off the field in the 2009 U-20 World Cup, which bodes ill. Ghana beat Brazil on penalties to win that tournament, so we’ll install them as the silver medal favorites, figuring that Brazil simply has to end its Olympic curse sometime. Bronze medal? Where’s the dartboard?
2008: Argentina, Nigeria, Brazil.
Projection: Brazil, Ghana, Spain.
Women’s: This one is a little easier to project because the national teams meet in a couple of tournaments each year, and we’ll have a full-fledged World Cup one year ahead. I had the privilege of covering the gold-medal game in 2008, and I still can’t believe the USA won. Since then, the Americans have seemed a little flat. Can Pia Sundhage put it right before then? Given the up-and-coming players like Alex Morgan, I’ll say yes.
2008: USA, Brazil, Germany.
Projection: USA, Germany, Brazil.
Men’s: Nothing I’ve done in journalism can compare with covering the saga of Iceland’s handball team in Beijing. The mythic heroes, cheered on by the world’s friendliest First Lady, reached the final before falling to France. No shame in that — France went on to capture the 2010 Euro title and the next two World Championships, including the 2011 tournament that has already been played. (Like basketball, this is a “Summer Olympic” sport played indoors and well-suited to winter.) Don’t count anyone outside Europe faring well — Argentina’s 12th-place finish was the best by a non-European team in 2011. The top six: France, Denmark, Spain, host Sweden, Croatia … and my buddies from Iceland.
2008: France, Iceland, Spain.
Projection: France, Denmark, Spain.
Women’s: Brazil will host the World Championships in 2011. Russia won the 2009 title but fared poorly in the 2010 Euros, with co-host Norway beating Sweden in the final. The 2009 top six: Russia, France, Norway, Spain, Denmark, South Korea.
2008: Norway, Russia, South Korea.
Projection: Norway, France, Russia.
Men’s: For once, the American men seem to be safer bets than the American women. Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers won nine of the 12 international (FIVB) events they entered in 2010. Casey Jennings and Kevin Wong were far less active on the FIVB tour but won the season finale in The Hague. Penggen Wu and Linyin Xu (China) won twice, while Alison Cerutti and 2004 gold medalist Emanuel Rego represented traditional power Brazil by finishing second to Dalhausser and Rogers in the points race. With the U.S.-based AVP tour out of action, the FIVB should have all the top action of 2011, including the World Championships in June.
2008: USA, Brazil, Brazil.
Projection: USA, China, Brazil.
Women’s: Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh dominated the sport for years and took gold in 2004 and 2008. Since then, they’ve had injuries and started families, rarely playing at the same time. That explains why Nicole Branagh started the 2010 with May-Treanor and ended it with Walsh. If May-Treanor decides against a comeback, Walsh and Branagh should be set for London. If she comes back, things could get complicated, not least because the complex Olympic qualifying criteria limit each country to two pairs, and Jen Kessy and April Ross were one of the world’s top pairs last season. Brazil also has at least two strong duos, with Juliana and Larissa taking seven FIVB events in 2010 and Maria Antonelli and Talita Antunes taking two. Then China’s Chen Xue and Xi Chang are proving their 2008 bronze was no home-court fluke. Wide-open competition here!
UPDATE: May-Treanor and Walsh are coming back.
2008: USA, China, China.
Projection: Brazil, USA, China.
Men’s: This is another sport that holds World Championships in even years, with the World League (men) and World Grand Prix (women) also bringing together top teams. The USA won an emotional gold medal in 2008 under coach Hugh McCutcheon, whose father-in-law was killed and mother-in-law seriously injured in a senseless assault in Beijing just before the Games. The win wasn’t a fluke, but the team tends to be up and down. The top six in the 2010 Worlds: Brazil, Cuba, Serbia, Italy, Russia, USA. The World League: Brazil, Russia, Serbia, Cuba, Argentina, Italy … with the USA eighth. McCutcheon moved to the women’s team and then to college volleyball with Minnesota.
2008: USA, Brazil, Russia.
Projection: Brazil, Serbia, Russia.
Women’s: Brazil and Russia are just as powerful in the women’s game as they are in the men’s. They swept through pool play and the semifinals unbeaten at the 2010 Worlds, with Russia winning an epic five-setter for gold. Host Japan beat the USA in a five-setter for bronze, which the FIVB site called an upset based on the rankings (USA 2nd, Japan 5th). Earlier in the year, the USA won the World Grand Prix, winning thrillers with Poland and Brazil in the round-robin event. Brazil was second, Italy third. (Update: McCutcheon will stay with the USA through 2012.)
2008: Brazil, USA, China.
Projection: Russia, USA, Brazil.
Men’s: The World League gives us an annual international competition, with eight qualifiers reaching a “Super Final” that usually includes a few former Yugoslav states. The “Super Final” final in 2010 was full of political overtones — Serbia 14, defending champion Montenegro 12. Croatia, which knocked out the USA in the quarterfinals, beat Australia for third. The USA rebounded to edge Spain 7-6 for fifth. The other two qualifiers, China (Asian group) and South Africa (African group), were horribly overmatched. Serbia also won the 2009 Worlds, beating Spain 14-13, with Croatia beating the USA for bronze. The 2011 World Championships will be held along with the other aquatic sports — swimming, diving, synchronized swimming — in July in Shanghai. One team that has faded is traditional power Hungary, which beat the surging USA in the 2008 final, which I happened to cover.
2008: Hungary, USA, Serbia.
Projection: Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia.
Women’s: It’s close, but the USA will be a solid favorite here, having held off Canada at the 2009 Worlds and perennial rival Australia in the 2010 World League. Greece moved up from fourth in 2009 to third in 2010, knocking off Russia. In the seven years of World League play, only Greece (2005) and Russia (2008) have kept the U.S. women out of the top spot. In the 2008 Games, the Netherlands made a surprising run through the knockout rounds to take gold.
2008: Netherlands, USA, Australia.
Projection: USA, Russia, Australia.
The disappearance of the diamond sports means a net loss of two medals (silver, bronze) for the USA and one each for Japan (gold), South Korea (gold), Cuba (silver) and Australia (bronze).