GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The countdown clock to the Olympic opening ceremony on London2012.com is now under the three-hour mark after months of ticking toward the night of July 27.
The University of Florida’s formidable presence at the Olympics has already been felt. Former UF soccer star Abby Wambach sparked the women’s U.S. National Team to a 4-2 win over France on Wednesday in the first game of 2012 Games.
The U.S. trailed 2-0 when Wambach’s header off a corner kick in the 19th minute ignited the Americans.
For Wambach, the star of the Women’s World Cup last summer, she picked up right where she left off by scoring on another one of her trademark headers.
“I love being in that moment,’’ Wambach told reporters afterward. “I love having the pressure on us. I love corner kicks, especially, because I love heading the ball and I love getting physical.”
Wambach is one of 37 current or former UF student-athletes representing their country at the Olympics, the most of any school in the SEC. In addition, Florida swimming coach Gregg Troy is head coach for the U.S. National Team and Gators track coach Mike Holloway is an assistant with the U.S. team.
“We are very proud of the contingent of athletes and coaches who are in London representing not only their respective countries, but the Gator Nation,’’ Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said. “It is rewarding to see their years of hard work, training and dedication pay off on the biggest athletic stage in the world and we will be cheering them on every step of the way.”
Wambach and Heather Mitts – teammates at UF and on the U.S. National Team – are likely to leave London with a medal hanging around their neck. The American women are considered a favorite to win gold in London.
The two former UF soccer standouts likely aren’t the only athletes with UF ties to medal over the next two weeks. Here is a look at the Gators’ best chances to win gold, silver or bronze at the Olympics:
Wambach is one of the stars for the U.S. National Team and Mitts, in her third Olympics, is a veteran reserve.
The U.S. lost the World Cup last summer to Japan in a penalty- kill shootout in overtime and the Americans are focused on erasing that memory. To do so, they likely will need to get past the Japanese at some point.
While the U.S. is considered the favorite to win gold, Japan and Brazil cannot be overlooked.
Christian Taylor (Triple Jump)
The former UF star is a little more than a year removed from competing for the Gators, quickly making his mark on the international track-and-field scene.
Since his departure Taylor has been one of the world’s best in the triple jump.
Taylor is considered the favorite to win gold in London over Phillips Idowu and Italy’s Fabrizio Donato. Great Britain’s Idowu will be a fan favorite as he competes in his home country.
In addition to Idowu and Donato, Taylor should be challenged by former UF teammate Will Claye, the reigning USA Indoor triple jump champion.
Ryan Lochte (Swimming)
Lochte seems to be everywhere these days. He’s on TV pitching Gatorade, razors and cars. He has been on the cover of seemingly every magazine in recent months, including Time.
He should be hanging out on the medal stand quite a bit in London if all goes well for him in his head-to-head matchup against 2008 Olympic hero Michael Phelps.
Lochte is considered the gold-medal favorite in the 200 freestyle, 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley, and he is neck-and-neck with Phelps in the 200 IM. Those aren’t Lochte’s only events but the ones he is almost certain to medal in.
Elizabeth Beisel (Swimming)
Beisel is competing in 400 individual medley and 200 backstroke in London.
She recently completed her sophomore season at Florida and won her first NCAA individual title in the spring. This is her second Olympics.
Beisel is the clear favorite to win gold in the 400 IM over Great Britain’s own Hannah Miley and China’s Li Xuanxu.
Tony McQuay (Track & Field)
The Gator sprinter recently completed his junior season by winning the NCAA championship in the 400 meters.
Most projections for London have McQuay on the medal stand with U.S. teammate LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James of Grenada. Merritt has been superb since coming off a 21-month drug suspension, winning eight of 11 finals, so McQuay will need to be at his best to win gold.
McQuay also has a good chance to medal with the 4x400-meter relay team. The U.S. is considered the favorite over the Bahamas and Jamaica.
Lisa Raymond (Tennis)
Raymond’s remarkable career continues with a chance to win multiple medals in London in women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
In women’s doubles, Raymond and partner Liezel Huber are projected to win silver behind the U.S. team of Serena and Venus Williams. The Czech Republic’s Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova are the most dangerous threat to the U.S. taking the top two spots.
Meanwhile, in mixed doubles Raymond and Mike Bryan are considered gold-medal favorites. The duo recently won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon.