The wait is finally over. For two weeks, the entire world will look to London, UK as the best athletes from around the world all aim for that elusive gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
As a sport enthusiast, nay fanatic, this is my favourite time of year. It never ceases to amaze me how millions of people worldwide all hold their breath for something as simple as kicking a ball into a net, or throwing a stick across a field, or diving head first into a pool. For once we put aside our differences and focus on something that has no cultural boundaries.
Every second, hour, day, month, and year of training the thousands of athletes have put their bodies through will finally pay off as they compete in one of 36 different events.
As they walk into the opening ceremonies stadium donning their countries colours thousands of people will cheer them on with millions more watching on TV. Then, their entire country will stand behind them as they compete, sharing their joy when they triumph and feeling their pain when they loose.
There is nothing quite like the Olympics.
This year Argentina’s team will try to improve on their showing in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where they won six medals, two gold and four bronze. Perhaps they will draw inspiration from the last time the Olympics were held in London, in 1948, when the country scooped three golds, three silver, one bronze.
So it’s time to grab your jersey, unravel your flag, and paint your chest in blue and white, as I go through which Argentine athletes and teams are most likely to hit the podium in this years Summer Olympics.
(All event times below are for Argentina’s time zone, which is BST-4.)
The fact that women’s hockey tops the list should come as no surprise to anyone who has lived in Argentina for more than a week. The team is practically legendary in Argentina, and one of the country’s biggest gold medal hopefuls.
“Las Leonas” or The Lionesses, will be among one of the favourites at this year’s competition, despite having never won an Olympic gold before; they had to settle for bronze in the last two Olympic games.
They will have plenty of experience leading them in their star player Luciana Aymar.
Aymar, also known as the ‘Magician’ or the ‘Maradona of Hockey’, has been named the game’s best player a whopping seven times. Her dribbling skill has launched her to the top of the list of hockey athletes around the world and captain of the Argentine team. She is also the flag bearer at today’s opening ceremonies, a testament to her popularity in her home country. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to guess what she wants for her 35th birthday, which happens to fall on the women’s hockey final at the Olympics.
However, even with two World Cup titles, five Championship Trophies, and six Pan-American Championship titles, Argentina will not be able to simply stroll in and grab the gold.
A recent loss to the United States team has proved that although Argentina is strong they are beatable. However, with the loss the team was forced to struggle for an Olympic berth and most times falling and down and having to get back up is the best way to learn your strengths and weaknesses.
Argentina has been placed in group B of round robin along with the US, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Germany. The US will prove to be their biggest challenge.
Group A looks stronger, with defending Olympic champion Holland grouped with Belgium, Japan, China, South Korea and Britain. If Argentina makes it past group stage it will likely face some tough competition from the Dutch or British.
Although it will be a rough road to the championship game I think a gold medal is definitely attainable for the tenacious Lionesses.
The women kick off their campaign on 29th July at 12pm against South Africa.
When the sailboats rip through the water at Weymouth and Portland in Dorset, England, Argentina will have medals high hopes in Julio Alsogaray, as he takes sail in the men’s laser event.
Having finished seventh in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Alsogaray is no stranger to the pressure the world stage throws at athletes. Back then, despite making it all the way to the medal round Alsogaray couldn’t quite reach the podium; this year will hopefully be different.
According to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), Alsogaray is ranked second in the world in men’s laser behind Australian Tom Slingsby, the ISAF world’s champ.
In March, Alsogaray defeated close rivals Bruno Fontes of Brazil, and Alenjandro Foglia of Uruguay to win the Central South American Laser Standard Championship.
Britain, however, boasts the returning gold medalist Paul Goodison, who came fifth at the World’s competition and will be sailing on local waters. New Zealand also has a strong option in Andrew Murdoch, third in the World’s and sixth in the ISAF rankings; he managed to grab the Olympic spot ahead of world No. 4 Andy Maloney.
Sailing at the Olympics falls into two categories, fleet races and match racing, with men’s laser in the former. In fleet racing, each event has a series of races. Points are awarded in each race: first scores one point, second scores two points, third scores three points, etc.
After 10 races, points from the worst race are discarded and the remaining points are added together. The 10 best athletes or crews then advance to the medal race, where points are doubled. At the end of the entire competition the winner is the athlete or crew that comes up with the most points.
In London Alsogaray’s biggest competition will be Slingsby, Goodison, and Murdoch. Despite going up against some superb athletes Alsogaray himself is a force to be reckoned with and an Olympic gold is not out of sight. He’ll be going for gold, but if that is out of his reach he should at least get onto the podium.
Alsogaray dips into the water on 30th July at 8am in his first race of the Men’s Laser event.
Although visions of gold may not dance around the Argentine men’s basketball team, the group of giants is certainly a force to be reckoned with in this year’s competition.
The “Golden Generation” of basketball in Argentina is still intact, with players like Manu Ginobili, Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino taking the court. Ginobili and Scola are the best players on the team although Delfino provides a necessary offensive spark with his shooting ability.
The four men have played together for a decade, often citing cohesion as a serious advantage. Ginobili and Scola also do battle several times a year against the likes of US Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant in the NBA. As evidenced by last Sunday’s tight six-point loss to the US, this is a team that can hang with the best.
As one of the more undersized teams in the tournament, they’ll have to rely on solid team defense and rebounding if they hope to medal. Right now Argentina has been slotted a spot in group A along with the US, France, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Lithuania.
Fortunately, Argentina should be standing right next to the US at the top end of the table with serious hopes of moving on. The top three teams advance to the quarterfinals where they will face winning teams from Group B, which includes Spain, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain, China, and Russia.
Argentina will want to finish at least second to avoid playing Spain, who will most likely finish first in Group B and play whoever is in third place in Group A.
In their own group, the US is obviously their biggest foe. The team is a powerhouse of star NBA players including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler, Durant, and Bryant. But having a team of all-stars isn’t always successful. Playing as a team can be just as crucial especially in an international game that requires more ball movement because of better defense.
In group B, Spain is the biggest threat with the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka forming a formidable front line with Jose Calderon manning the point and deadly shooter Juan Carlos Navarro at the two.
Although I think capturing the gold would be a bit of a stretch, Argentina should at least be on for a bronze medal and have a shot at reaching the final.
The men tip off against Lithuania in their first game on 29th July at 6.15pm.
Sebastian Crismanich is one of Argentina’s strongest golden promises heading to the Olympics to compete in the 80 kg category of Taekwondo.
Born in the province of Corrientes, the 25-year-old athlete is coming into the Olympics in great form. He qualified by defeating the two-time Olympic champion Steven Lopez in qualifiers. Lopez is a five-time world champion and has won Olympic gold in 2000 and 2004, with a bronze in Beijing in 2008.
Crismanich also grabbed the gold medal at the Pan-Am Games in Mexico in 2011. In Guadalajara he ran through his rivals knocking out the Beijing bronze medalist Sebastien Michaud of Canada and pummeling Guatemalan Stuardo Solozarno 8-1. Although the finals were closer, Crismanich still defeated Carlos Vazquez of Venezuela 12-9 to take the gold medal.
Taekwondo, which is loosely translated into “the way of the hand and foot,” is the combination of combat techniques, self defense, and in some cases even meditation. The sport in general emphasizes kicking techniques because of the legs’ longer reach than the arm. However, it can also include a system of blocks, kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes and may also include various takedowns or sweeps, throws, and joint locks.
Points are awarded for accurate and powerful kicks (delivering a strike using an area of the foot below the ankle) and punches (delivering a strike using the closed fist) to the legal scoring areas; light contact does not score any points. The points are awarded by three corner judges using electronic scoring tallies.
A kick or punch that makes contact with the opponent’s hogu (the body guard that functions as a scoring target) scores one point. A kick to the head scores three points. Punches to the head are not allowed.
The referee can give penalties at any time for rule-breaking, such as hitting an area not recognised as a target, usually the legs or neck. Penalties mean that either half a point or a whole point is dropped.
At the end of three rounds, the competitor with more points wins the match.
Crismanich’s biggest opponents in London will be Ramin Azizov, Azerbaijan; Issam Chernoubi, Morocco; Sebastien Michaud, Canada and Lopez. All four rank in the top ten of the World Taekwondo Federation’s rankings, while Crismanich sits just outside at 11th.
Although it will not be easy, Crismanich certainly has the ability to win gold for Argentina.
Sebastian Crismanich will take on his first opponent on 10th August at 5.15am.
Judo, which actually means “gentle way” in Japanese, is another sport in which Argentina is hoping it can grapple its way onto the podium.
Paula Pareto is returning to the Olympics after winning the bronze medal in Beijing in 2008 in the 48kg category. This year in London she hopes to again grace the platform with either a repeat bronze or better.
Judo contests are a five-minute whirlwind of attack and defence in which the athletes try a mix of holds and throws in order to defeat their opponent.
Developed from jujitsu and established as a sport in the late 19th century by Dr Jigoro Kano, the sport can be tough, tense and explosive, but in the end the athlete with the most points wins the match.
The best score is ippon, which can be achieved for a throw, a hold, a strangle or an armlock, and results in immediate victory. A lesser throw, where the opponent is thrown onto his back, but with insufficient force to merit an ippon, scores waza-ari, two scores of waza-ari equal an ippon. A throw that places the opponent onto his side scores a yuko; no amount of yukos equal a waza-ari. Tapping the mat or the opponent at least twice with the hand or foot signals a submission.
A medical student at the University of Buenos Aires, Pareto’s past is heavily decorated with medals of the bronze, silver, and gold colour.
Most recently Pareto won the gold medal at the Pan-American Games in Guadalajara after defeating Cuban Dayaris Mestre 110-001.
In total Pareto has picked up two gold, one silver, and three bronze for Judo at the Pan-Am Games. She also earned the South American Championship title in 2010.
Her biggest competition will come from Japan’s Tomoko Fukumi, the world runner up, and Brazil’s Sarah Menezes. Beijing gold medalist Alina Dumitru is also still in the top five and a contender in this year’s competition. With all the talent in the competition, it may be impossible for Peralta to grab the gold but a silver or bronze certainly isn’t out of the picture.
Peralta steps onto the mat on 28th July at 5.30am against Italian Elena Moretti.
Men’s Track Cycling
Omnium will make its Olympic debut in London this year and competing in it will be another one of Argentina’s hopefuls Walter Fernando Pérez.
Pérez is the only other athlete to win a gold medal for Argentina in Beijing in 2008 in men’s madison. This year however, he has decided to switch events and compete in the Omnium.
The Omnium is a compilation of six track cycling races. The athletes are given points according to what position they finish in, first place one point, second two points, third three points etc. Much like golf, the athlete with the least amount of points at the end of the competition wins the medal.
The event begins with the flying lap time trial, during which each competitor records a time over a single lap of the Velodrome track. This is followed by a 30 km points race, each rider scores points for their position in sprints that occur every ten laps and for lapping the rest of the field.
The first day of racing is completed with an elimination race, the rider in last position in sprints that occur every two laps is eliminated until only one rider remains. Day two begins with an individual pursuit, with two riders racing against the clock on the track at each time. Then the scratch race, a 16km sprint with all cyclists on the track with the winner the first to cross the finish line. The final event of the Omnium is the 1km time trial, during which each rider completes the distance and records a time, the fastest time wins the event.
Pérez recently nabbed the bronze medal at the Pan-American games in Omnium after finishing third in individual pursuit and fourth in 1km time trial, elimination race and points race. Despite having a poor showing at the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) World Championships in 2012, where he finished 18, Perez has plenty of Olympic experience. He’s been there before, and won.
Although this is a new event to the Olympics it is not new to Perez who won the silver medal in Omnium in the UCI World Championships in 2007. His biggest competitors will be Australian Glenn O’Shea and Canadian Zachary Bell who came first and second, resectively, at the UCI Championships this year. Although a top two finish may be out of his reach, Pérez has an outside chance of grabbing the bronze medal.
Perez hits the track on 4th August at 6.30am for his first race in the Omnium.
Men’s Doubles Kayak 200m
Cutting through the water of England in the men’s doubles kayak, is one of Argentina’s most prominent canoers, Miguel Correa.
Experience is certainly the strongest aspect behind the paddles in this kayak, as Correa returns to the Olympics for the second time after he was eliminated in the semifinals of both the K-1 500m and K-1 1000m in Beijing in 2008.
Switching events the 28-year-old paddler has now teamed up with Ruben Rezola to stir up the waters of the men’s doubles kayak, 200m.
The team proved themselves a serious threat with a silver medal at the Pan-American Games in Mexico. The men fell behind the Canadian team of Ryan Cochrane and Hugues Fourne with a time of 32.494 seconds. The Canadians took the gold medal with 32.375 seconds.
Correa is the younger brother of a family of four rowers, the most famous of whom, Jorge Correa, represented Argentina at the Olympics in Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, and Athens 2004.
Correa and Rezola came together last year and competed in the world cup in Szeged, Hungary, where they finished in ninth place.
The event, which will take place at the Eton Dorney Rowing Centre at Dorney Lake, around 30km west of London, is a simple 200m sprint to the finish line with the winners moving on until the final medal race. Correa will look to revenge his semi-final run by making it all the way to the finals.
The team will face some stiff competition in not only the pair of Canadians but also France’s Arnaud Hybois and Sebastien Jouve, who finished first at the International Canoe Federation (ICF) Sprint World Championships.
The other biggest threat will come from the British pair, Jon Schofield and Liam Heath. The team finished second at the ICF Championships behind the team from France.
Even with the stiff competition, Correa and Rezola should definitely have their sights set on a podium spot.
Correa and Rezola cut through the water in their first heat at 6.30am on 10th August.
Men’s Gymnastics (Rings)
In an event that profiles an athlete’s balance of masculine strength and grace, Argentina will have high hopes for Federico Molinari, who gave an exclusive interview to the Argentina Independent before travelling to London 2012.
The 28-year-old gymnast competed at the Pre-Olympic qualifiers back in January 2012 and ranked high enough to earn a ticket to the Olympics. Then at the 2012 Pan-American Championships in Medellín, Colombia, he won the gold medal proving his capability to become a champion.
Molinari comes from a family of gymnasts with both his parents coaching at his local Club Atlético, in San Jorge. He started gymnastics at a young age and after a silver medal in the rings at the South American Championships in Santiago, Chile, in 1997, he realised the event was perfect for him physically.
Since 2002 he has been training in Buenos Aires at the National Centre for High Performance Sports under coach Vladimir Makarian.
He just missed qualifications for the Beijing 2008 Olympics due to an injury in his leg. Now, back at full strength, he’ll compete on the world stage in hopes of winning a medal.
The podium however, is not something he can simply walk onto. He’ll have some very tough competition from China’s Yibing Chen, who won gold in Beijing, as well as Brazilian star Arthur Nabarrete Zanetti who won the silver medal at the Pan-American Games in 2011.
Molinari will be very hard pressed to win gold but he is not incapable of winning a silver or bronze.
Molinari will first step onto the mat on 28th July at 7am