The top 10 story lines going into the London Games:
1. London on trial
Can London pull this off?
Bad sign: London Olympics officials came up waaay short on security guards, necessitating a last-minute call-up of 3,500 British troops, some just back from a war.
Security boss Nick Buckles was called on the carpet in Parliament by lawmaker David Winnick, with this exchange:
Winnick: "It's a humiliating shambles for the country, isn't it?"
Buckles: "I cannot disagree with you."
So under pressure, Nick buckles?
Weather is dicey. It's raining in London! Who knew?
Transportation looks dire. Bus drivers are lost, and cabbies are up in arms.
At least nervous officials can count on London tabloids for patience and sympathy. One tab ran a headline with the Olympics rings spelling "OOPS!"
2. The men's 100-meter soap opera
The Olympics in a nutshell.
Start with the given that the top sprinters are wigged-out divas, wound tight, emotionally and physically.
The star of stars: Jamaica's Usain Bolt.
If in top form (after recent leg issues), Bolt will leave the plodders in his dust, a jaw-dropping spectacle.
Watch for drama and drugs. U.S. trials winner Justin Gatlin won gold in 2004, but two years later tested positive for steroids (his coach claimed sabotage) and was banned from the 2008 Games.
Ten seconds of racing, a lifetime of intrigue.
3. Butch vs. Sundance
What do you call Michael Phelps' eight gold medals in 2008? A warm-up.
Now Phelps' challenge isn't a dusty old record book, but ready-to-rock Ryan Lochte. In two previous Olympics, Lochte pushed Phelps to gold greatness. Now Lochte plots to push Phelps off a cliff.
They'll meet in the 200- and 400-meter individual medley races.
When Phelps went into retirement/party mode after the '08 Games, Lochte amped up his training and now says, "It's my time."
The old king rallied. Phelps, as nasty and ruthless a competitor as ever graced an Olympics, didn't come to London to pass a bloody torch, mate.
4. America's queen?
The unofficial race to win our hearts is on. Top candidates:
-- Lolo Jones, hurdler: At press time, still a virgin!
-- Kerri Walsh, Misty May-Treanor: Beach volleyball babes eye third gold.
-- Hope Solo or Heather O'Reilly: These (soccer) boots are made for kicking butt.
-- Allyson Felix: At the last two Games, she ran to the 200-meter silver behind Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown.
-- Gabby Douglas: Gymnast with the biggest smile and best nickname -- the Flying Squirrel.
-- Missy Franklin: America's next swim superstar emerges?
-- Diana Taurasi: Can't get no respect, but man, can she hoop.
-- Marlen Esparza: Vogue-ready boxer with superstar endorsements.
Personality is often squashed by the robotic nature of the sport, but the American gymnasts come at you with killer charm and compelling stories. Nine of the 10 U.S. fliers are Olympics rookies.
The women last won team gold in 1996, but look like favorites. Watch Gabby Douglas, 16, fly on the uneven bars and steely Jordyn Wieber, 17, dance on the balance beam.
For the men, China and Japan are the teams to beat, and Japan's Kohei Uchimura is the must-see rock star. The U.S. men will be in the medal hunt.
Bronx mini-bomber John Orozco could have been speaking for the entire U.S. gym team when he won the trials, broke down in tears and mouthed to his parents in the stands, "Look where we are now."
6. Local pride
Under their genial, smiling host faces, the Brits hide a snarling desire to kick some fanny.
The British won the gold-medal count when they hosted the Games in 1908. That's not going to happen again. But the Brits did climb to fourth in the medal count in 2008 and would love to show the world they can do more than bake a killer scone.
Not surprisingly, the Brits are strong in the sports with a premium on stiff-upper-lip-ism, rowing and cycling. The rockingest spot in London might be the 20,000-seat rowing venue, where England could stroke to 10 medals.
Best hunch bet: Metric miler Hannah England.
Britain's No. 1 fantasy: Scotsman Andy Murray wins gold at Wimbledon.
7. Hoop dreams ... or nightmares?
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The best 12 players in the entire tournament just might be the 12 guys on Mike Krzyzewski's roster.
So the American men must win gold or be branded a colossal embarrassment to their country and to their various sneaker sponsors. The U.S. team will play without injured Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, but who wants to hear excuses? How could a team with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant not rule the world? Pressure, baby.
Memo to LeBron: That NBA championship was merely a warm-up for the real challenge.
Who's cheating whom? That question always lurks in the shadows.
A marathoner in 1904 braced himself with a toddy of brandy and strychnine. Ben Johnson won the 100 meters in 1988 but turned out to be the World's Fastest Hormone.
Which side is winning the cops-and-robbers PED game?
Conte, the mad scientist of BALCO and Olympics juicing infamy, has joined the anti-doping forces. He says that major holes in testing and enforcement make it inevitable that some cheaters will win in London.
Officials say "baloney," and hope to prove the purity of the Games with the most extensive, sophisticated testing ever.
Test samples taken in London can be kept for up to eight years, for retesting as technology advances. So the winner of the men's 100 meters, for instance, might not be official until 2020.
9. Stealth scorekeeping
During Cold War days, countries often cheated like crazy to win Olympic gold and prove their moral superiority.
Does the medal count still matter? Ask the Chinese, who frantically cranked up their sports machine for the Beijing Games and topped the gold standings for the first time.
The International Olympic Committee does not officially recognize medal standings. Sportsmanship! Brotherhood! Whatever. Some of us keep score.
Americans are supposed to be above proving our national mettle with medals. But when our Winter Olympics team sucked in 1988, the USOC sent a desperate SOS to George Steinbrenner.
By the way, China won 51 gold medals in '08, but America won the overall medal count 110-100.
10. Wild card
More often than not, the biggest and most memorable story from the Olympics is one we didn't see coming.
On the bad side, we've had terrorist attacks (Munich 1972, Atlanta 1996), doping scandals, epic athletic collapses and official screw-ups (ref robs U.S. men's basketball team in 1972).
On the bright side, the best story is often a knockout surprise package. Kerri Strug in 1996, sticking that one-legged landing. Unknown Billy Mills winning the 10,000 meters in 1964 with the TV announcer screaming: "Look at Mills! Look at Mills!"
Almost surely, the signature moment of the 2012 Olympics will come out of nowhere. May it warm our hearts.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service)