For some athletes only gold will do

Michael Phelps (SUPPLIED)

No sports event is as big as the Olympic Games and every single athlete from the 205 participating countries know that the eyes of the whole world are on them next week.

Estimates are that the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games could become the first sports event in history to get a television audience of more than a billion people and once the attention of the world turns on the stars, rather than the politics, we should all be in for a real treat.

Some – like swimmer Michael Phelps – will be going for a record eight golds. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant will wow the crowds with their bling bling status and Ronaldinho and his smile may shine more brightly than others.

These sportsmen and woman are the best in the business and the stage is set for them to turn on the magic. As part of our build-up to the 2008 Games, which starts on August 8, Emirates Business takes a look at six athletes and one star-studded team who are expected to notch up their fair share of gold medals this summer.


Name: Team USA

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, part of the United States' star-studded basketball team, will be the two top earners at this year's Olympics.

The NBA's most valuable player, Bryant, has a seven year, $136.4-million (Dh431m) contract with Los Angeles Lakers, in addition to $16m worth of endorsement deals.

But even that is dwarfed by the income of 6ft8in James, who rakes in an annual salary of $40.5m, $28m of which is endorsements.

A third place finish at the Athens Olympics will still haunt the team and they will want to correct that with nothing less than gold in Beijing.

They lost three games in Athens, a shocking fact when considering that before 2004, American teams had only lost two games in all previous Olympic tournaments.

In recent years, Team USA has changed its philosophy, employing a new coach, Jerry Colangelo, and has looked to field complete teams instead of piecing together rosters of NBA All-Stars at the last minute. Colangelo has called for total commitment from his team, and will hope for better than at the 2006 World Championships in Japan, where they lost against Greece in the semi-finals and said "sayonara" with a bronze.

They have upped their training regime since then and have beaten defending Olympic Champions Argentina. But they will come up against fellow NBA superstars such as Germany's Dirk Nowitzki, Spain's Pau Gasol and local hero, China's Yao Ming – who at 7ft 6in is the tallest basketball player at the Games. However, on paper the US team look all set to sweep up their 13 Olympic gold medals.

Also their star status is bound to attract massive audiences and win more fans to one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Will Team USA prove they can all overcome the state rivalries and star status to combine together and win? We will wait and see.


Name: Tyson Gay

The 100m sprint is just one of the must-see events at any Olympic Games and this year is no different. Usain Bolt, the 100m record holder, and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell will both line up against the American, Gay.

The 26-year old won gold medals at the 100 metres, 200 metres and x4 100m at the 2007 World Championships in Athletics in Osaka, Japan.

With the three gold medals, he joined Marita Koch, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Maurice Greene and Allyson Felix, as the only athletes in history to win triple gold at a single World Championship competition and was named IAAF male World Athlete of the Year for 2007 and the 2007 Men's Athlete of the Year.

While Bolt holds the world record with 9.72 seconds – set this year when he beat Powells' time of 9.74 – Gay sealed his Olympics spot by winning the US trial in a wind-aided time of 9.68 – the fastest-ever under any conditions. It didn't count as a record because the helping wind was above the 2.0 metres per second allowed, but it should inspire him to something special in Beijing.


Name: Michael Phelps

Compared to other sports stars, this swimmer ranks up there with Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Roger Federer and Pele, who have remained champions of their respective fields.

His attempt to become the first athlete to win eight gold medals at a single Olympics has been much publicised and he will be centre of attention for much of the Games.

At Athens in 2004, the 23-year-old fell agonisingly close to breaking swimmer Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals when he captured six first places and two bronzes.

However, it was the first time since Alexander Dityatin in 1980 that an athlete had claimed eight medals at an Olympics. Totally dominating the sport in recent times, the American has been named World Swimmer of the Year in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007.

On June 29, 2003, Phelps set a new record in the 200 individual medley at a meet in California. One month later at the World Championships in Barcelona, he shattered five more world marks – two of them in one day, which had never been done.

Back at his home state in Maryland, on August 9, he lowered his own world record in the 200 individual medley.

Over the span of 41 days, he had set seven world records, an unprecedented stretch of swimming all the more remarkable for the fact that Phelps had just turned 18

Then at the 2007 World Championships, Phelps won seven gold medals and broke five world records.

While at the US Olympic Swim Trials he captured the 400-metre individual medley by 5.68 seconds – lowering his own world record by 0.68 seconds. He also swam the seven fastest 200m individual medleys in history. Expect big things from Phelps. He will not disappoint.


Name: Rebecca Romero

The cycling world champion is the first British athlete to compete in two different Olympic sports and if she wins will become only the second women to be awarded medals in different disciplines.

In 2004, the 28-year-old won a silver medal in the quadruple skulls rowing adding a World Championship gold a year later. She had only taken up the sport at the age of 17.

Persistent back problems led her to retire from the sport in 2006 and when she was approached by the British Cycling Association to trial she jumped at the opportunity to take up cycling. She has since made stunning progress in rapid time.

After only a year in the sport, she won silver at the World Championships in the 3km pursuit and this year she won gold in both the individual and team events (together with Wendy Houvenaghel and Joanna Rowsell) to become the world champion.

Romero will be keen to emulate Otto Herschmann who won bronze in swimming in 1896, before, 12 years later, taking silver in fencing at the 1912 Olympics.


Name: Ronaldinho

Things are looking up for the fallen Brazilian. Once a two-time Fifa Player of the Year, the midfielder was forced to leave Barcelona for AC Milan after falling out of favour.

Milan might seem to have pulled off the coup of the summer though if the midfield magician helps lead his country to Olympic gold.

After dominating the sport in recent years, the 28-year old suffered last season when he was hit with bad form and injury.

The Catalan giants acted swiftly by putting him up for transfer at the end of the season. However, only Manchester City seemed interested until a late bid from Milan took the attack-minded star to Italy.

He is included as one of Brazil's three mandatory over-age players for the Under-23 tournament at the Games, but had the move to AC Milan not worked out his dream of playing in Beijing would have been scuppered by Barca who refused to release the player. He is in China now and says he is determined to win the one thing that is missing on his glittering CV.

Surprisingly, despite having won the World Cup five times Brazil have never won gold at the Olympics, so it could be double joy.


Name:Zhang Yining

The 26-year-old has become a legend in table tennis after being ranked world No1 for five years and winning almost every trophy on offer including the World Cup four times.

She started playing when she was five and attended the state-funded Shichahai School that is dedicated to producing athletes. By age 14, she had made the Chinese national team.

Her first title came at the 1998 Malaysian Open and there was no looking back after that for the Beijing-born star. At the last Olympics she swept both the singles and doubles titles and, while doubles has been withdrawn from this year's Games in favour of a team competition, she is still expected to sweep all the prizes with the dominant Chinese side and go into the annals of the game as the greatest ever.

Something to look out for is her interesting superstition of wearing two different coloured socks when she competes. And having seen her sensational results over the past half-decade, it's unlikely she'll need to pull them up.