London calling: Past vs. Present may be the ultimate matchup of these Games

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Michael Phelps needed Ryan Lochte to get back in the pool. Now, after losing to Lochte several times during the past few years, Phelps wants nothing more than to put his fellow countryman back in his former place, swimming in Phelps' wake along with the rest of the world.

Usain Bolt has a worthy challenger from his home, too. If he didn't know it, he was made aware at the Jamaican Olympic track and field trials, when Yohan Blake edged him out in the 100 and 200 meters.

Phelps will go down as the greatest Olympian of all time to many, no matter how he performs in the seven events he will swim in the London Games. And nobody, not Blake or any other competitor, can take away Bolt's breathtaking sprint to glory four years ago in Beijing and his ongoing run as World's Fastest Man.

Still, these 2012 Olympics will be watched to see if the transcendent stars of 2008 can find it within themselves to fight back and reclaim their spots, standing the tallest on the podium when it matters most.

The pressure to repeat the past will not be limited to Phelps and Bolt. The U.S. men's basketball team stormed to gold in 2008, and, on the 20-year anniversary of the "Dream Team," the question has been asked often how the 2012 American team would stack up against Jordan, Bird, Magic and the bigger-than-life group that dominated headlines from Barcelona.

Asked if this year's team would beat the Dream Team, LeBron James responded, "What am I supposed to say? No?"

The answers will come quickly in London. Phelps and Lochte will compete in the 400-meter individual medley on Saturday, the day after the opening ceremony. Lochte beat Phelps in the 400 IM at the trials by .83 seconds, but Phelps has had a few weeks to continue his training.

Phelps needs three gold medals to hold the career Olympic record of 17.

While much of the focus of coverage will revolve around Phelps and other proven performers, sensations will emerge out of the London fog.

The best candidates?

American swimmer Missy Franklin, 17, is seen as the future of U.S. women's swimming and will compete in seven events.

American gymnast Gabby Douglas, 16, took first place in the all-around competition at the U.S. trials over defending world champion Jordyn Wieber.

American decathlete Ashton Eaton, 24, set a world record at the U.S. trials, and USA Track & Field believes that he has the total package to become a household name in London.

And maybe one of Western Pennsylvania's stars will capture the country's imagination for a moment or two.

Diver Cassidy Krug, 27, a Montour High graduate, won the U.S. trials in the 3-meter springboard.

Wrestlers Jake Herbert, 27, a North Allegheny High graduate, and Coleman Scott, 26, a Waynesburg High graduate, thirst for a medal in the 84-kilogram freestyle and 60-kg freestyle, respectively.

Basketball player Swin Cash, a McKeesport Area High graduate, will be going for her second gold medal at the age of 32.


J. Brady McCollough: and on Twitter @BradyMcCollough. First Published July 22, 2012 4:30 AM


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