Having weathered a 60-year absence from the Games, and a lackluster turnout by top players when it returned as a medal sport at Seoul, tennis is back with a vengeance.
The late withdrawal of Atlanta champion Andre Agassi and Brazil's world No. 1 Gustavi Kuerten leaves the field wide open. Leading the charge are second-ranked Swede Magnus Norman and Russia's in-form Marat Safin. But don't discount the home-ground advantage of two-time U.S. Open champ Patrick Rafter, hard-serving Mark Philippoussis, and Lleyton Hewitt, who ran hot at the recent U.S. Open.
With Martina Hingis and French Open winner Mary Pierce out of contention, Atlanta gold medalist Lindsay Davenport's fiercest competition will come from compatriots Venus Williams and Monica Seles, who is still searching for her best form. Meanwhile, Spain's veteran Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario will be looking to add to her collection of four Olympic medals.
It's hard to look past Australia's Atlanta-gilded "Woodies," Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, especially since it will be their last Games together. Hoping to beat them are Jared Palmer and Alex O'Brien of the U.S., the Czech Republic's Jiri Novak and David Rikl, and the accomplished Indian pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes.
Venus and Serena Williams of the U.S., the dominant players in women's doubles, will be hard to beat (if Serena recovers from an inflamed toe), especially under the watchful eye of team coach Billie Jean King. Their sturdiest opponents will be No. 2-ranked Australian Rennae Stubbs, who will partner the unpredictable Jelena Dokic, and the more consistent French team of Sandrine Testud and Julie Halard-Decugis.
WHEN TO WATCH
Singles Sept. 28
- Doubles Sept. 27
Singles Sept. 27
- Doubles Sept. 28
Making its first appearance at the Olympics, triathlon requires proficiency in three disciplines: swimming (1.5 km), cycling (40 km) and running (10 km). Fifty competitors will line up in each of the men's and women's events, which will have as their backdrop some of Sydney's best-known landmarks. The leading men should finish the course in about 1 hr. 50 min.; the top women in a little over 2 hr.
If there is a favorite in this wide-open event, it is Great Britain's four-time world champion Simon Lessing, who doesn't race as often as most of his rivals, preferring to concentrate on the big events. Unlike other leading contenders, Lessing has never competed on the Sydney course. Australia's Craig Walton could threaten if he can build a sizable lead in the swim and bike legs. Compatriots Miles Stewart and Peter Robertson are also chances, along with the top American, Hunter Kemper.
Australians so dominate this event (to the detriment of the sport, some fear) that they confidently look forward to taking out gold, silver and bronze. The host country's three entrants are Michellie Jones, Nicole Hackett and Loretta Harrop, of whom Jones is the pick. Watch for Isabelle Mouthon of France and American Sheila Taormina.
WHEN TO WATCH
- Men Sept. 17
- Women Sept. 16
Challenged by its beach offshoot, volleyball has sharpened up since Atlanta, swapping its white ball for a multicolored one, creating a new position (the libero, a back-row defensive specialist) and revamping its scoring system. Under the old rules, only the serving team could score; if the receiving team won a rally, it gained the serve. Now the scoreboard ticks over after every point.
Volleyball superpower Italy have won the last three world championships, yet never claimed Olympic gold. They'll have to get past Yugoslavia, the bronze medalists in 1996 (defending Olympic champions the Netherlands have been in the doldrums). Russia are another threat, as are Cuba, Brazil and the U.S.
The Cuban women have formed one of the great teams in sport for the past decade and are shooting for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal. The only teams that look capable of shocking them are Russia, winner of four Olympic gold medals since 1964, China, and Atlanta bronze medalists Brazil.
WHEN TO WATCH
- Men's final Oct .1
- Women's final Sept. 30
Beach volleyball will be boosted as a medal sport in the 10,400-seat stadium on Sydney's Bondi Beach. Teams of two throw themselves about with abandon -keeping the ball from touching the sand on their side of the 2.43-m-high net-and revealing ample suntanned flesh in the process.
Australia's fourth-ranked Julien Prosser and Lee Zahner won top seeding, although they have yet to beat top-ranked world champs Emanuel Rego and Jose Loiola of Brazil.
Bondi might be an Australian icon, but to the all-conquering Brazilian team it might just as well be Rio. World champions Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede may wind up playing off for the gold against com patriots Adriana Samuel and Sandra Pires, though top-seeded Atlanta-bronzed Aussies Kerri Pottharst and Natalie Cook could also strike gold on Bondi's sands.
When To Watch Men's final Sept. 26 Women's final Sept. 25
In weightlifting, each competitor has three attempts at the snatch (where the bar is lifted above the head in one movement) and the clean and jerk (where the bar is lifted to the chest while the lifter drops into a squat, then raised above the head as the lifter splits the legs and stands). The best lifts in each category are then combined into a total weight.
Russia will be formidable with 180-kg policeman Andrei Chemerkin in the 105+ kg. With multiple world championships and the Atlanta super-heavyweight Olympic gold, Chemerkin rightly lays claim to the title of world's strongest man. But, lifting close to three times his body weight, Turkey's "Pocket Hercules," Naim Suleymanoglu (62 kg) is the most successful Olympic weightlifter ever, with three straight gold medals and looking for a fourth in Sydney.
Defending Olympic champion Pyrros Dimas (85 kg) is Greece's best hope for gold.
The Chinese women have dominated since the inclusion of the female competition at the 1987 world championships, and could win gold in all four events they've entered. Stars like Ding Meiyuan (75+ kg) are seen as almost unbeatable. Lifters from Chinese Taipei and Bulgaria loom as the main challengers.
WHEN TO WATCH
- 62kg Sept. 17
- 85kg sept. 23
- 105+kg Sept. 27
- 75+kg Sept. 22
Olympic wrestling can't match the professional variety for theatricality, charisma or sheer testosterone, but at least it is credible. Both Greco- Roman wrestling and freestyle, which arose in the 19th century, demand an unusually high pain threshold.
The superstar of this sport is Russian super-heavyweight Alexander Karelin, who will be trying to win a fourth Olympic gold medal, extend a 13-year unbeaten record, and prolong the record seven-year run during which he has not conceded a point. His chief rival will be Rulon Gardner of the U.S.
One of the more enticing match-ups is at 63 kg, between Ukrainian world champion Elbrus Tedeyev and Korea's Jang Jae-sung (bronze and silver medalists respectively at Atlanta). At 130 kg, Kerry McCoy headlines an American freestyle team that is justifiably confident of winning a bunch of medals.
WHEN TO WATCH
- 54, 63, 76, 97kg Sept. 26
- 58, 69, 85, 130kg Sept. 27
- 54, 63, 76, 97kg Sept. 30
- 58, 69, 85, 130kg Oct. 1