The London Olympics promises theater as riveting as anything on stage in the West End, and some of the athletes in leading roles are familiar names.
David Beckham, the British soccer icon with the GQ looks, has been front and center since Great Britain submitted its bid to host the 2012 Summer Games. Although he was left off Great Britain’s Olympic team, expect to see him everywhere.
Usain Bolt, the aptly-named Jamaican sprinter, is back for an encore after his show-stopping performance in Beijing four years ago — gold medals and world records in the 100 meters, 200 meters and sprint relay.
In his way could be countryman and world champion Yohan Blake, American Tyson Gay and Frenchman Christophe LeMaitre, who shrugs off questions of race but is best known for being the first white man to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meters.
Tennis stars Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray (injured Rafael Nadal withdrew), fresh off Wimbledon, will ditch their whites and return to the hallowed grass of the All England Club in their national colors to battle for Olympic gold.
And soccer player Neymar (no last name necessary) will try to lead Brazil to the only major title it has yet to win. In three seasons, the 20-year-old has scored nearly 100 goals for Santos (Pele’s former club), and Pele considers him better than Argentine star Lionel Messi.
More than 10,000 athletes from 200 countries will compete in 36 Olympic sports. Most are not famous, but every one of them has a story.
Here are 10 to keep an eye on:
Jessica Ennis, track and field, Great Britain: Beckham is, without a doubt, the most famous face of British sport. Tennis star Andy Murray is also known around the world. But they will be sharing the spotlight this summer with heptathlete Jessica Ennis, the golden girl of Great Britain’s Olympic team.
The Games have yet to begin, and already the photogenic Ennis, 26, has endorsements with Jaguar, Aviva, Olay, adidas, Powerade, Omega and BP. She is pulling in more than $1.5 million a year, making her the highest-paid female athlete in England.
Ennis’ father was born in Jamaica, and her mother was born in England. He is a painter and decorator; she is a social worker.
Neither excelled at sport, but they signed their 11-year-old daughter up at a track club in their hometown of Sheffield, and she proved to be talented at most disciplines.
Ennis won the world heptathlon titles in 2009 and 2010 and was poised to medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. A stress fracture in her right foot kept her home. In the past year, she settled for a silver medal at the 2011 world championships behind Russian Tatyana Chernova and silver at the 2012 indoor world championships behind Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine.
Oscar Pistorius, track and field, South Africa: Bolt might be the most phenomenal track athlete at these Olympics, but the most inspirational is Pistorius, a double amputee from South Africa who will make history by becoming the first amputee runner to compete in the able-bodied Olympics.
Pistorius runs on carbon-fiber blades and is known as “The Blade Runner.” He has clocked an Olympic qualifying time of 45.30 seconds in the 400 meters and was selected by the South African Olympic committee for the individual event and the 1,600-meter relay team. He also has plans to compete in the Paralympics.
Born without fibulas in either leg, Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. His disability didn’t keep him from competing in rugby, water polo and tennis in school. As he got older, he focused on running.
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