Beijing Olympics take centre stage in 2008 sports

19th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

By Peter Auf der Heyde, dpa Hamburg, December, 19, 2007 - The Olympics take centre stage in 2008 sports, with the Beijing Games in August giving top athletes a chance to shine and hosts China an opportunity to showcase its country.

Earlier in 2008, football fans will have been treated to the Euro finals and the African Cup of Nations.

Other major sporting events include the Ryder Cup at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville in Kentucky, where the Americans will be out to avenge their disastrous performance in the last three competitions.

Formula One hopes for another thrilling title battle between holder Kimi Raikkonen and British challenger Lewis Hamilton, there are the world indoor championships in athletics in Valencia and the biathlon worlds in Sweden's Oestersund.

But Beijing will undoubtedly be grabbing most of the sporting headlines as the world waits in anticipation of the first-ever Olympic Games staged in the world's most populous country.

Journalists and sports fans are eager to see whether the Games in China will be as free and open as the organizers have promised, and whether Beijing's pollution problem will force events to be rescheduled.

The other question mark hanging over the Games is whether Chinese athletes manage to further improve their performances from past Olympic Games and possibly even overtake the Americans at the top of the medals table.

China's teams boasts stars such as 110 metres hurdles world champion and world record holder Liu Xiang and NBA basketball giant Yao Ming will boost the host team.

"Now I will have even more pressure than before," said Liu after his 2007 world title in Osaka.

American swimmer Michael Phelps could be going for a historic eight gold medals while the blue riband 100 metres sprint is expected to see another duel between American world champion Tyson Gay and Jamaican world recorsd holder Asafa Powell.

In January and February, football managers across Europe will be complaining bitterly about the month-long African Cup of Nations in Ghana as it robs the clubs of several high-profile stars.

English heavyweights Chelsea will be without Nigerian Mikel John Obi, Ivorians Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou and Ghanaian Michael Essien, while Spanish giants Barcelona will have to play their matches without Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o.

Not many years ago some of the bigger European clubs flew their star players to the Nations Cup matches with private planes and then brought them back to Europe to play in the league.

But as African countries became stronger and the ruling body FIFA more stringent with their regulations pertaining to the release of international players, it seems unlikely that African countries would still accept that.

In June, it is Europe's chance to take the footballing centre-stage as Austria and Switzerland co-host the 13th European Championships. Although several favourites, including Italy, England and France were at one stage on the verge of not making it, only 1966 World Cup winners England will not be there.

Not missing out on a trip to Austria and Switzerland are the defending champions Greece, whose fairy-tale Euro run continued. Otto Rehhagel's team amassed the highest number of points in the qualifiers and comfortably won Group C from Turkey, who just managed to edge out Norway for the second place.

Spain finally want to win a major title, while Italy aims to to add the continental crown to the 2006 World Cup. Record three-time winners Germany also have high ambitions.

In Formula One, the big question will be how the sport can come back from a tumultous year that saw McLaren-Mercedes being given a 100-million dollar fine, Ferrari handed the constructors' championship on a platter and Ferrai's Kimi Raikkonen only being declared the world champion after a McLaren protest was turned down.

Lewis Hamilton, who no doubt is relieved that team-mate Fernando Alonso has jumped ship, will have to show that his sensational season had more to do with his driving abilities than with the favouritism that Alonso alluded to.

In tennis, undisputed world number one Roger Federer and his heir apparent Rafael Nadal could find their dominance challenged by a host of players like Serbian Novak Djokovic or even Britain's Andy Murray. Federer is just two titles shy of Pete Sampras record 14 Grand Slam titles.

On the golf course, Tiger Woods is expected to continue marching towards Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major wins. Woods stands at 13. dpa


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