One of the wonderful things about the Olympics is the way that it puts countries of vastly different resources on a common playing field.
There's no better illustration of that in the 2012 Summer Games than the track and field competition. That's where the mighty United States of America will try to reverse the results of four years ago and come out on top in their head-to-head matchup with the sprinters from the tiny island of Jamaica.
Usain Bolt was the breakout star of the Beijing Games, partly because he ran fast enough to preen before the finish line in world-record time while winning both the 100- and 200-meters and partly because he looks nothing like the other men who have run so very fast over the years. Bolt is tall and gangly -- more shooting guard than sprinting perfection -- and that body type only made it harder to comprehend the way he ran.
In the last four years Bolt has battled injury, and he was beaten by Yohan Blake in both the 100 and the 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials. Their battle is to track what the Michael Phelps/Ryan Lochte is to swimming, only there are actually other competitiors in their orbit in the 100.
Tyson Gay has run faster than almost every human being who has ever been timed in the 100, but he got hurt at the wrong time and had the bad fortune to have so many other great sprinters as contemporaries. He's back for another chance at toppling Bolt and Justin Gatlin has returned from a long drug suspension to try to regain the gold medal he won in Athens in 2004.
Beating Bolt and Blake won't be easy, but it will make for compelling viewing over the nine seconds it takes for the race to be completed. The 4X100 relay should also be a hot race, assuming the U.S. team can actually get the baton all the way around the track this time around.
Things look pretty similar on the women's side, with one big exception. Allyson Felix is a two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 200 coming off her personal best in that event, making her the favorite in her matchup with Jamaican thunderbolts Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown.
Fraser-Pryce took gold in the 100 in Beijing and Campbell-Brown won the 200 in the last two Olympics, so there's plenty of history on the line for them. Felix and Carmelita Jeter, more of a contender in the 100, will run for the U.S. in each race, which means that these four are going to be awfully familiar with one another by the time the Olympic torch goes out.
With so many different possible outcomes involving so many of the same names, we can't be sure if anyone will wind up as a Bolt-style star in London. We can be fairly sure that the races could make for the most exciting moments of the entire Games.