From the time the opening ceremony begins Friday night to the final note of the closing festivities August 12, NBC plans to air more than 5,500 hours of Olympic coverage, split across seven channels and its website.
Since sports fans, shockingly, don’t have 5,500 hours (the equivalent of 229 days) to devote to watching the Games, we’ve created a guide for Olympic enthusiasts on a time budget. Here are 10 of what are sure to be the most exciting, headline-grabbing, or at least unusual events, from Michael Phelps to LeBron James to the Spice Girls.
(Note: NBC’s primetime coverage lasts from 8 p.m. to midnight each night, and any event listed to air at 8 p.m. on NBC could air at any time during those four hours.)
1. Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte 400-Meter Individual Medley Saturday, July 28, 8:00 p.m. EST (Finals), NBC
The rivalry of the 2012 Olympics will pit America’s Golden Boy against its Cover Boy, as the eight-time gold medalist Phelps and the surging, Vogue-minted Lochte hit the pool in the most-anticipated race of the Games. Unlike four years ago, Phelps will have his dominance tested in London in the 400-meter individual medley—a race in which Lochte bested him at the U.S. trials by a breathtakingly close margin. The two will also go head-to-head in the 200-meter individual medley.
2. Usain Bolt vs. Yohan Blake 100-Meter Dash Sunday, August 5, 7:00 p.m. EST (Finals), NBC
Usain’s Bolt record-breaking Beijing performance in the 100-meter dash rightfully earned him the title World’s Fastest Man. Now he may not even be Jamaica’s Fastest Man. At the country’s Olympic trials earlier this summer, Yohan Blake, Bolt’s fellow countryman and training buddy, beat the gold medalist in both the 100-meter and 200-meter races. A Jamaican one-two finish in London is inevitable. Who comes out on top: One of the Games’s most exciting question marks. (For more, Newsweek’s Annie Paul writes on the Jamaicans’ rivalry here.)
3. U.S. vs. China Women’s Gymnastics Tuesday, July 31, 8:00 p.m. EST (Team Finals), NBC
China’s narrow victory over the U.S. women’s gymnastics team in 2008 was rife with drama. The scrappy American squad kept pace with the dominant Chinese throughout the team competition, only to find their hopes for gold dashed when Alicia Sacramone faltered on the balance beam. China’s win was also mired in scandal, as accusations were floated over whether members of the team were underage. In the London rematch this year, it’s the U.S.—on the shoulders of young phenoms Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglass—that’s expected to be the team to beat.
4. Lolo Jones vs. Dawn Harper 100-Meter Hurdles Tuesday, August 7, 8:00 p.m. EST (Finals), NBC
Not only is Lolo Jones “sports’ most famous virgin,” she also may be the athlete in London most motivated by vengeance. The surprisingly candid hurdler was the odds-on favorite to win gold in the 100-meter hurdles in Beijing, only to trip on the penultimate gate and finish in seventh place. Fellow American Dawn Harper took the gold, but Jones, thanks to her juicy confession that remaining a virgin is “harder than training for the Olympics,” has hogged the spotlight in the four years since. As Jones looks for redemption in London, Harper seeks to prove that talent outranks fame.
5. Bionic Man Oscar Pistorius 400-meter dash Saturday, August 4, 11:15 a.m. EST (Preliminaries), NBC
Some call him an inspiration. Others say he’s a cheater. South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius will make history in London by being the first amputee to compete in a track and field event at the Olympics. Nicknamed “Blade Runner,” Pistorius runs on J-shaped carbon-fiber lower legs. He has no chance of winning the gold, but competitors still claim that his prosthetics earn him an unfair advantage: A 2007 report alleged that Pistorius uses 25 percent less energy than natural runners because of his artificial legs. Nonetheless, Pistorius earned a spot on South Africa’s team at this summer’s Olympic Trials, and will be competing in London.
6. U.S. vs. Spain Men’s Basketball Sunday, August 12, 10:00 a.m. EST (Gold Medal Game), NBC There’s no reason that the 2012 U.S. basketball team—with the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony on its roster—should lose the gold medal. But that was also the case at the 2004 Athens Games, where a similarly star-studded squad turned in a shameful bronze-medal performance. This year’s team is good enough to draw comparisons to the famed 1992 U.S. Dream Team (a notion that President Obama scoffs at). But Spain nearly stole the gold from the U.S. in Beijing, and brings a deep squad to London to attempt to do it again.
7. Ann Romney’s horse, Rafalca Dressage Thursday, August 2, 1:30 p.m. EST, MSNBC; Friday, August 3, 12:30 p.m. EST, MSNBC
Equestrian fans can credit Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, with bringing heightened attention—and a heightened sense of mockery—to the unusual sport of dressage. In the posh event, horses do dance moves to music. Riders typically wear top hats. And this year in London, Ann Romney’s own horse, Rafalca, will be competing (though ridden by trainer Jan Ebeling). Obviously a list of must-see Olympic events should include Ann Romney’s horse doing a jig.
8. U.S. vs. Japan Women’s Soccer Thursday, August 9, 2:30 p.m. (Gold Medal Match), NBC
Watching the U.S. women’s soccer team implode in the gold medal game at last summer’s World Cup was wrenching. The squad capped off a stirring run with a championship face-off against Japan, but surrendered two late goals and ultimately lost on penalty kicks. After the excruciating defeat, Team USA, with star goalie Hope Solo at the net, is heading to London for gold medal redemption.
9. Sarah Robles Women’s Weightlifting Sunday, August 5, 3:30 p.m. EST, NBC Sports
Heading into the Olympics, star athletes like Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, and Hope Solo supplemented their all-consuming training schedules with money from lucrative sponsorship deals. That’s not the case for 23-year-old weightlifter Sarah Robles, who lived on just $400 a month—her stipend from U.S.A. weightlifting—as she committed herself to an Olympic training schedule. “You can get that sponsorship if you’re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini,” Robles said. “But not if you’re a girl who’s built like a guy.” Robles is the top-ranked weightlifter in the country, but is a dark horse for medal contention. Still, the 5’10”, 275-pound weightlifter could be this Olympics’ Cinderella.
10. Closing Ceremony Sunday, August 12, 7:00 p.m. EST, NBC
The Olympics Closing Ceremony, during which the torch will be officially passed from London to Rio de Janeiro, site of the 2016 Games, may rival the much-hyped Opening Ceremony in terms of spectacle. Only rather than a rumination on British history centered on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this will be more of a party. More than 4,100 performers are expected to be involved, including British mega acts like George Michael, The Who, and (according to rumors) a reunited Spice Girls. Spice up your life.