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And the winner is?

Summer Olympics start Aug. 13

Four years after former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch declared Sydney was the "best Olympics ever" the Olympic flame is about to be lit again in Europe where the movement started more than 2,700 years ago.

After a journey across all the continents, on Aug. 13 the Olympic torch will enter Athens’ Olympic Stadium in Greece and so will begin another fantastic 16 days of sporting excellence.

During the past 18 months the amount of security and the lack of transportation in Athens has dominated headlines.

This will be the first summer Olympics since Sept. 11, 2001 and the Greeks have faced enormous challenges meeting security standards and revamping their transportation system.

There have been civil rights demonstrations in protest to the hundreds of cameras that have been installed on the streets of Athens and the enormous security force that will descend on the city during the Games.

The city will host approximately 70,000 military and police personnel as well as a state-of-the-art security zeppelin, which will float over the city and keep watch on the crowds with high-resolution cameras.

The security operation is estimated to have cost the Greeks $1.2 billion Euro (Cdn $1.9 billion), which, coincidentally, is the same amount of money the entire Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics is expected to cost Canadian taxpayers.

The transportation network in the Greek capital has also had a huge overhaul with more than 200 kilometres of new road and/or upgrades.

There has also been 7.7 km of new metro lines added, as well as 23.7 km of tram network, 40 km of suburban railway (reaching the Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos) and a new Traffic Management Centre.

At home, Canada’s biggest Olympic challenge has centred on the medal tally. In Sydney, Canada won three gold medals and finished 24th over-all.

That ranking forced the Canadian Olympic Committee to push for stricter selection criteria and as a result there is a smaller team going to Athens.

Canada's team includes 266 athletes (134 women and 132 men) competing in 28 disciplines. By comparison, the Australian Olympic Committee will be sending 481 athletes.

Despite the fewer numbers Canada has several strong gold medal chances and Daniel Igali from Surrey is among the best in this elite group.

Igali, who is originally from Nigeria, honed his skills at Simon Fraser University and went undefeated in 116 collegiate matches.

He won gold in Sydney in the 69 kg division and while he has had a plate inserted in his upper spine to help cope with chronic neck injuries, Igali is still one of the most feared wrestlers in the world and a genuine bulldog on the mat.

Internationally there are a host of athletes that appear primed to attain some lofty goals.

Failing injury, U.S. 100 metre champion Maurice Green will be back to defend the gold medal he won in Sydney and so will one of the world’s all-time greatest distant runners: Ethiopia’s Haile Gebreselassie.

In the absence of Marion Jones, legendary hurdler Gail Devers and poll vaulter Stacy Dragila are expected to lead the U.S. women’s team into the medals in the athletics.

In the swimming Australia’s Ian Thorpe should attract several headlines as he attempts to break more world records.

And fresh from the Tour de France Jan Ullrich will also command a lot of respect as he endeavours to push Germany’s consistently powerful cycling team to another podium finish.

Other teams to watch include the Chinese and Russians who again appear ready to dominate the diving and gymnastic events, while several Swedish athletes have also been setting some lofty standards in the field events.

In other news, former Crazy Canuck Steve Podborski will be commentating for NBC at the Olympics.

Podborski left Whistler last week to be the "play-by-play" commentator for NBC in most of the bike events.

Podborski will be covering road race events on Aug. 15 th and 17 th and all the men’s and women’s velodrome events from Aug. 20 to 25.

Whistler’s 2010 office will be setting up a television in Town Plaza for anyone who wants to watch the opening ceremony between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 13 th .

CANADIAN ATHLETES TO WATCH:

• Equestrian rider Ian Millar has been named to a Canadian record ninth Olympic team.

• Triathlete Simon Withfield (gold in Sydney)

• Wrestler Daniel Igali (gold in Sydney)

• Tennis player Daniel Nestor (gold in Sydney)

• Paddler Caroline Brunet (fifth Olympics)

• Diver Emilie Heymans (silver in Sydney)

• Trampolinists Mathieu Turgeon and Karen Cockburn

• Kayakers Steven Giles and David Ford (Ford is a three time world champion. Giles and Ford have competed in three Olympics)

• Dominique Bosshart in Taekwondo

• 100 metre hurdler Perdita Felicien (world champion)

• Diver Alexandre Despatie (10m tower world champion)

CANADIAN TEAMS TO WATCH

• Men’s (two time world champions) and women's (bronze in Sydney) eight rowing team.

• The women’s synchronized swimming team

Medal tally in Sydney:

Gold Silver Bronze

United States of America 40 24 33

Russian Federation 32 28 28

People's Republic of China 28 16 15

Australia 16 25 17

Germany 13 17 26

France 13 14 11

Italy 13 8 13

Netherlands 12 9 4

Cuba 11 11 7

Great Britain 11 10 7

24. Canada 3 3 8




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