Sports

Royal Games: Buckingham Palace, Wimbledon, the queen and waning U.S. power?

Like the royal wedding -- minus, maybe, the ladies hats -- the world can expect the coming Olympics to be decidedly British.

Tennis at Wimbledon. Beach volleyball in the shadow of Buckingham Palace. An opening ceremonies appearance by the queen.

But with exactly 100 days to go before the Olympic Stadium cauldron is lit, the famous British stiff upper lip seems destined to be put to the test.

And add to that anxious lot America's expected 220 million Olympic TV viewers.

For the second time in as many Summer Games, U.S. athletes are not predicted to lead the overall medal count. Americans won 110 medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In London, based upon past and early-season performances, they may be fortunate to win 90.

High profile U.S. Olympic veterans -- from Michael Phelps to LeBron James to the beach volleyball duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh -- should again reach the medals podium, but China's momentum from 2008 isn't expected to dim.

Will the American TV audience tune in to watch what could be the U.S. team's smallest medal haul since 1964 in Tokyo?

London organizing chief Lord Sebastian Coe thinks of course they will. Coe suggested to Britain's The Guardian this week that interest in the London Games, which run July 27 through Aug. 12, has been unprecedented.

"From Dar es Salaam to Marrakech, Los Angeles to Tokyo and Beijing," Coe told the newspaper, "I don't think I've ever witnessed that level of excitement.

"We are delivering for 200 countries, and many of them have never been as excited about coming to an Olympic Games."

He might be right. The Nielsen Company reported that 22.7 million U.S. viewers (more than an average American Idol episode) watched live one year ago as Prince William and Kate Middleton were wed, even though the ceremony began at 5 a.m., Texas time.

Americans harbor a sustaining fascination about their former colonial overlords. The pomp, ceremony, history and civility all appear to carry an ageless appeal.

Coe himself comes across as the world's most earnest man. His passion for the Olympics hasn't flagged as he's made the transition from two-time gold medal winner to Games organizer.

Even after a rogue protester recently interrupted the famous Boat Race on the Thames between Cambridge and Oxford, Coe appeared unruffled.

"I don't know if it's inevitable, but we should be realistic," Coe told The Guardian. "We live in a democracy. We do have a long tradition of peaceful protest.

"As long as that protest doesn't disrupt or become a public order issue or endanger the safety of our competitors or the public, I'm not going to sit here fulminating or becoming completely paranoid about it."

London's relative accessibility to the suspected home grounds of terrorists is why a lion's share of the Games' $14.7 billion budget has been allotted for security.

Domestic disturbances are also a concern, especially with oil spill villain BP, Dow Chemical and mining giant Rio Tinto as primary sponsors for the London Games.

One of Coe's most effective pitches in landing the Olympics was organizers' plans to stage some events around London's most famous tourist sites. The boating protester, however, brought the Oxford and Cambridge crews to a halt simply by jumping in the river.

As the head of the British Olympic Association, Colin Moynihan, said, "It just takes, and is likely to be, one idiot."

With 100 days to go, nevertheless, all permanent London venues are completed and the vast Olympic Park in east London will soon be rounded out with trees and shrubbery.

For the U.S. team, Phelps will be back to try to add to his career haul of 16 Olympic swimming medals.

But Phelps should have company on the victory stand this time from Granbury native Dana Vollmer, backstroke sensation Missy Franklin, breaststroker Rebecca Soni and Ryan Lochte, who could match Phelps with four golds.

Both the men's and women's U.S. basketball teams will again be heavy favorites to win gold, as James and Kobe Bryant return to the men's roster along with first-time Olympian Kevin Durant.

China won't threaten in basketball, but with 100 days to go, the 2008 hosts are expected to field a deep team, especially in the sports of badminton, table tennis, diving and weightlifting.

Regardless, the setting will be regal. Historic. And thoroughly British, right down to the closing ceremony.

Anybody heard from the Rolling Stones?

Pedal to the medal

China has gained ground on the United States in recent Summer Olympics:

Medals

U.S.

China

2008

110

100

2004

102

63

2000

91

59

Gold

U.S.

China

2008

36

51

2004

36

32

2000

36

28

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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