Stars out in force for the Beijing Games

July 25th, 2008 - 9:42 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Rafael Nadal
By Barry Whelan
Hamburg (Germany), July 25 (DPA) Newly-crowned Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal and men’s number one Roger Federer could continue their epic centre court battle at the Olympics, while some of the biggest names in football and basketball are also heading to Beijing for the summer Games. Federer’s birthday is on the opening day of the Games, and the top-ranked tennis player hopes to be bearing the Swiss flag when the athletes march in at the opening ceremony. Spain’s Nadal is now seeking a first men’s treble of French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic gold in one year, a feat only ever achieved by former women’s champion Steffi Graf.

World number one Federer of Switzerland and Ana Ivanovic of Serbia will lead the strongest field ever to enter the Olympic tennis event since tennis returned as a full medal sport in Seoul in 1988.

All five of the top men will compete in Beijing, and seven of the top 10 women.

“To be at the Olympics, it’s one of the greatest things for an athlete,” said 12-time Grand Slam champion Federer, who was upset at the 2004 Athens Games by Thomas Berdych.

Federer will be in his third Olympics, having also participated in Sydney, while second-ranked Nadal also plans to be at his first Games.

“It is a great experience and I will try my best. I have big expectations,” said the Spaniard, who unlike Federer will definitely move into the athletes’ village.

In basketball, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James of the US are National Basketball Association (NBA) stars gunning for glory. In football, Brazil have chosen new AC Milan signing Ronaldinho and Real Madrid striker Robinho in a strong squad, while Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is in the Argentina squad.

Swimming has thrown up another star in Michael Phelps, who won six gold medals in Athens and will be bidding to beat Mark Spitz’s 36-year-old record of seven gold medals at a single Games.

He has now only four golds short of the US record of 10, and another four medals will take him pass the overall US record of 12.

The focus in athletics is on the sprinters where new world record holder Usain Bolt, world champion Tyson Gay and former world record-holder Asafa Powell could come together in the 100 metres, although Bolt may stick to just the 200 metres.

China also has its own athletics superstar in Liu Xiang, winner of the gold medal in the 110-metre hurdles at the 2004 Games in Athens and until recently world record holder.

Liu has become the host nation’s most marketable sporting face and will be the star of the host team along with NBA basketballer Yao Ming, who - to the relief of the whole nation - seems to have recovered in time from injury to compete at his home Games.

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