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July 26, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
This Olympics season has 302 competitions spanning 32 sports. That’s a lot for one fan to handle, so we’ve compiled 10 can’t-miss events worth spending not one but two whole days watching.
Women’s Doubles Tennis Quarterfinals
Bravo, 6 a.m.–2 p.m.
The first must-see event of the day starts bright and early for us Americans. We’ll wake up to the pop of a tennis racket and the manicured lawns at Wimbledon. The pair to keep your eye on is the ever-popular Williams sisters. Serena is fresh off her fifth Wimbledon singles championship and another doubles championship with the help of her sister. The duo might go on to win its third Olympic gold medal in the women’s doubles competition. To get your full tennis fix this morning, look out for the second round of men’s singles, the quarterfinals of the men’s doubles and the second round of women’s singles.
Women’s Soccer: U.S. vs. DPR Korea
NBCSN, 11:15 a.m.–1 p.m.
This match against North Korea will be the third and final first-round match for each team, and qualification for the next round could be on the line for both countries. If the U.S. loses to France or Colombia earlier in the week, this game will almost certainly be a must-win. The women’s team won gold in both Athens and Beijing, so there’s considerable pressure for the U.S. to continue its streak. There’s also the added dose of patriotism infused into the crowd because of the political climate between the U.S. and North Korea. The thrilling but disappointing World Cup defeat to Japan in 2011 will also serve as motivation this summer for the U.S. as the team strives for redemption.
Women’s Singles Table Tennis Semifinals
MSNBC 3:30–4 p.m.
What Americans call pingpong has transformed from a game played in 1880s England as an after-dinner parlour activity to a fast-paced match of intensity and dexterity. Ever since Forrest Gump’s cinematic revival of table tennis and the addition of the sport to the Olympics roster in 1988, the U.S. has been nowhere near the top of the leader board. In fact, China holds all three medals from the Beijing games. It’s unlikely the U.S. team will sneak its way onto the podium, but the amount of skill, precision and concentration needed to win a point, let alone a match, is worth the watch.
Men’s Swimming: 200 Butterfly Final
NBC, 7–11 p.m.
It’s almost obligatory to follow America’s golden boy with gills, Michael Phelps, during the finals of his best event. Phelps will be shooting for seven gold medals in London, which he announced would be his last Olympics. The outlook for a third gold in this category is good because he’s the clear favorite to win this race. The world record belongs to Phelps at 1:51.51, and he’s held the top spot in this event for the past 11 years. Phelps is looking to shave more seconds off his time, which could make it untouchable for the foreseeable future.
Women’s Gymnastics Team Final
NBC, 7–11 p.m.
Flexibility, dexterity and speed rise to unprecedented levels in women’s gymnastics. Every four years, unknowns turn into household names for years to come. This year, the two favorites to represent the U.S. aren’t heading to London. Shawn Johnson announced a month ago that a knee injury would prevent her from competing and lead to her retirement. Nastia Liukin, who received five medals in Beijing, had her Olympic hopes squashed when she fell during an uneven bars routine at the U.S. team trials July 1. This year’s team is full of fresh, young blood, including Kyla Ross, who is the youngest competitor at 15 years old. Find out if the new generation of gymnasts can stack up with the veterans’ scores and which new face will earn America’s heart. The U.S.’s biggest competition will be China. At the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese team won medals in almost every individual event and secured the all-around highest team score.
Men’s Basketball Preliminary Round:
U.S. vs. Lithuania
NBCSN, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.
If there is one sport the U.S. can get behind, it’s basketball. This year’s edition of the Dream Team includes megastars from teams such as the Knicks, Thunder and Lakers. Usually playing on opposing teams, these athletes have put NBA rivalries aside to compete against the best competition the rest of the world has to offer. Big names such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams will attempt to bring in another gold to go with their Beijing medals. The competition in this morning’s match is Lithuania, but as the games go on, Spain and Argentina are the opponents to prepare for. Some familiar faces you’ll see include Pau Gasol and his brother Marc, who will both play for Spain. The former has won two NBA titles with the LA Lakers; the latter led the Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs and was given his first NBA All-Star nod this year.
Men’s 100-meter Qualifying Round
NBC, 10:15 to 10:45 a.m.
An event that takes fewer than 10 seconds to complete can sometimes be the most exhilarating. Jamaican champion and world-record holder Usain Bolt has been the world’s most famous track star since the 2008 Olympics and is coming back for another run. There’s still some buzz about Bolt’s sprinting ability after he lost to Yohan Blake by .11 seconds at the Jamaican Olympic trials. Crediting the second-place finish to tightness in his client’s hamstring, Bolt’s agent has assured the media that Bolt is fit and raring to go for London. Even though Blake won the 100-meter trials at 9.75 seconds, Bolt still holds the world record of 9.58 from the 2009 World Championships.
Men’s Soccer Quarterfinal Game 4
MSNBC, 1:30 to 3:15 p.m.
Although America’s soccer culture isn’t even close to touching Europe’s deep-rooted love for the game, as a country we’re becoming much more interested in the sport. The 2010 World Cup final drew record ratings in the U.S. with 24.3 million viewers, and ESPN broadcasted wide coverage of Euro 2012 last month. Americans are beginning to enjoy international soccer, and Team USA doesn’t even need to participate: The men’s team wasn’t in the World Cup finals or Euro 2012, and it won’t be playing in the Olympics. The team failed to qualify after a 3-3 tie with El Salvador last March. The absence of the U.S. doesn’t mean the absence of good soccer, and this summer could be full of quality matches. Group D is projected to be the most competitive, with Spain, Japan, Honduras and Morocco playing one another.
Women’s Beach Volleyball, Round of 16
NBC, 4 to 5 p.m.
The round of 16 is the elimination round before the quarterfinals, and the U.S. shouldn’t have a problem making it through. The two groups on the women’s U.S. roster include first-time Olympians Jen Kessy and April Ross as well as two-time gold winners Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor. Although Walsh and May-Treanor have two Olympic and three World Championship titles under their belt, the duo is not as young as it once was. Since Beijing, Walsh has had two children and May-Treanor injured her Achilles tendon during a rehearsal for Dancing with the Stars. The injury resulted in 18 months off from volleyball. In 2011, the pair lost its first international competition since 2001. It’s just enough of a chink in the team’s armor to have viewers holding their breath with each rally and wondering whether the U.S. can pull through.
Men’s Swimming 4x100 Medley Relay
NBC, 7 to 11 p.m.
This will be Michael Phelps’ last swim of the Olympics and of his career if he decides to go through with his announced retirement after London. Phelps and teammates Nathan Adrian, Matt Grevers and Brendan Hansen are projected to win. The U.S. has never lost this event at the Olympics, and one last gold would be the perfect jewel in a crown of swimming achievements for Phelps. Expect high emotions at this do-or-die race, as Phelps swims for his seventh and final gold medal. There might even be some tears as he says goodbye to the Olympics.