- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

TEAM HANDBALL

When: Aug. 9-24, Olympic Sports Center Gymnasium

Medals available: Team gold for men and women

What happened in Athens: The Croatian men, a European doormat at the start of the decade, won gold with a 34-31 win over Germany. On the women’s side, Denmark - 13th in the 2003 worlds - defeated South Korea 38-36 in a match that went to penalty shots after two overtimes.

Outlook: Neither of the U.S. teams qualified for the Olympics. Despite a fifth-place finish in last year’s world championships, the Croatian men have a strong chance at repeating. Denmark has never won an Olympic medal on the men’s side, but it was third at worlds in 2007 and won the European championships earlier this year. The Danes are led by 36-year old Lars Christiansen, who scored 44 goals in Euro 2008. In the women’s tournament, Russia didn’t qualify for Athens, but it won last year’s world championships. Denmark won’t defend its gold - it was doomed by an 11th-place finish in the 2006 Euros, which kept the team out of the last year’s worlds.

Unknown fact: The only time the U.S. men’s team played in the Olympics was 1936 (last-place finish) and the women’s team has reached the games only three times, never finishing better than in 1984, when it tied for fourth.

TENNIS

When: Aug. 10-17, Olympic Green Tennis Center

Events: Singles and doubles for men and women

What happened in Athens: Unknown Nicolas Massu won men’s gold in singles and doubles. In singles, he defeated American Mardy Fish. Justine Henin won women’s singles gold, and the Chinese team of Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won doubles.

Outlook: They’ve met in Paris and London already this year so how about a gold medal match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal? That would be ideal but the men’s Olympic event has been full of surprises - players like Pete Sampras, Marat Safin, Jim Courier, Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt have never won Olympic medals. Andy Roddick is not playing in the Olympics. The U.S. men’s double team of Bob and Mike Bryan have a shot at gold. A medal would be the Americans’ first in this event since 1988. The women’s singles field includes Venus and Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic. One of the Williams sisters will play doubles with Liezel Huber.

Unknown fact: In part because of the U.S. Open (which starts eight days after the Olympic tournament ends), the event lasts only a week and singles players will compete six times in eight days.

TRIATHLON

When: Aug. 18-19, Beijing Triathlon Venue

Events: Men’s and women’s individual competitions

What happened in Athens: New Zealand finished 1-2 with Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty. Austrian Kate Allen won the women’s race by seven seconds.

Outlook: This year marks the third time Triathlon is on the Olympic schedule. The United States has one medal - Susan Williams won bronze in Athens, and she’s not on the team. No U.S. man has ever finished in the top eight. Jarrod Shoemaker is a former under-23 world champion, and Julie Ertel won last year’s Pan American Games title. Ertel won silver eight years ago in water polo. Internationally, an interesting story is Spain’s Javier Gomez, who won the world title earlier this summer. He fought a six-year ordeal with Spanish officials, who barred him from competing because of an abnormal heart valve.

Unknown fact: The triathlon features a 1,500-meter open water swim, a 40-kilometer cycling race and a 10,000-meter run. The winning time in Athens was 1 hour, 51 minutes, 7.73 seconds.

VOLLEYBALL

When: Aug. 9-24, Beijing Institute of Technology Gymnasium (volleyball) and Aug. 9-22, Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground (beach volleyball)

Events: Team tournament for men and women in volleyball and beach volleyball

What happened in Athens: Brazil (men) and China (women) won gold. On the beach, the U.S. team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won along with Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos of Brazil.

Outlook: Starting on the beach, the Americans could sweep the event. Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers are among the men’s favorites and defending gold medalists May-Treanor and Walsh return. Indoors, the U.S. men’s team was one of the world’s best in the 1980s, winning consecutive gold medals in Los Angeles and Seoul and then bronze in 1992. But since then, nothing. This year, it has a chance to medal. The Americans were fourth at last year’s world championships. Setter Lloy Ball will make his fourth Olympic appearance. Defending gold medalist and world champ Brazil is the favorite. The U.S. women haven’t medaled since 1992 and floundered in Athens after opening with a win over China. Jenny Lang Ping, a former player on the Chinese national team, coaches the Americans. Logan Tom has returned from a stint in beach volleyball to lead the Americans.

Unknown fact: This will be the first Olympics since 1984 that won’t include Brazilian men’s player Mauricio Lima, who appeared in the last five games.

WATER POLO

When: Aug. 10-24

Events: Men’s and women’s team tournaments

What happened in Athens: Hungary repeated as men’s champion with an 8-7 win over Serbia and Montenegro. Italy downed Greece 10-9 in the women’s final. The United States women won bronze.

Outlook: The U.S. women won the 2007 world championships (going undefeated) but aren’t the clear favorites in a field that includes solid teams like Russia, Australia and the Netherlands. Defender Natalie Golda and attacker Brenda Villa are the only two returning U.S. players. The U.S. offense must compensate for the absence of two-time Olympian Ericka Lorenz, who is out after shoulder surgery last year. Hungary and Serbia (now separated from Montenegro) are the men’s favorites. The U.S. men finished seventh in Athens. Captain Tony Azevedo makes his third Olympic appearance. He led all scorers with 19 goals at last year’s world championships.

Unknown fact: Villa, 28, is the only player to be on all three U.S. Olympic teams since the sport’s introduction in 2000.

WEIGHTLIFTING

When: Aug. 9-19, Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics Gymnasium

Events: Medals in eight men’s weight classes and seven women’s weight classes

What happened in Athens: The United States was blanked. China and Turkey each captured two men’s golds, as Russia finished with five men’s medals. China and Taiwan tied for the women’s lead with four medals apiece.

Outlook: The United States will be hard-pressed to win any kind of medal. The women’s team has never won a medal and the men’s team - although second all-time with 41 medals - has been shut out since 1984. The team includes Arnold, Md., native Natalie Woolfolk, who will compete in the 135-pound weight class. Woolfolk, who trains in Colorado Springs, is a four-time U.S. champion but has struggled at the international level. The competition will have a different face because of doping. Bulgaria withdrew its entire team after 11 lifters tested positive for steroids. Greece has only four athletes after 11 returned their gold medals. Iranian Hossein Rezazadeh is going for a third gold. China is favored to sweep the women’s events.

Unknown fact: At 123 pounds, Turkey’s Halil Mutlu is going for his fourth Olympic gold, which would be a first for the sport. Nicknamed “Little Dynamo,” he has returned from two-year doping suspension.

WRESTLING

When: Aug. 12-21, China Agricultural University Gymnasium

Events: A combined 18 gold medals will be awarded in freestyle men’s (seven), freestyle women’s (four) and Greco-Roman men’s (seven)

What happened in Athens: The Russians won three golds on the men’s side, led by Aleksey Mishin in Greco-Roman. Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson won gold for the United States in the light-heavyweight division. In the women’s competition, Japan finished with three of the 12 medals, including two gold.

Outlook: The United States is sending an inexperienced squad - only two of the 16 total wrestlers were on the 2004 team: Brad Vering (a volunteer assistant at American University and a 185-pound competitor in Greco-Roman) and 211.5-pound freestyler Daniel Cormier. Both are medal contenders. Vering, who turns 31 on Aug. 21, won the title at last year’s Pan American Games. Among those on the freestyle team are Jake Deitchler (Greco-Roman, first prep wrestler on team in 32 years) and freestyler Henry Cejudo (two years removed from being first high schooler to win a U.S. title). The best women’s medal hope is Marcie Van Dusen at 121 pounds.

Unknown fact: Not a fact as much as a rumor - in Russia, a wealthy oil billionaire will reportedly pay each gold medalist a $1 million bonus as long as the Russian team wins a certain amount of medals.

— Ryan O’Halloran

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