Originally published at Yahoo Sports
As the 2012 London Games fast approach, it’s time to take stock of the top talent competing for Olympic gold and glory. Host country Great Britain has no shortage of world-beating athletes, and with the UK hosting the world’s premier sporting event, the British men and women vying for medals will enjoy that extra little boost that always aids host nation teams.
Here are the five best British Olympic hopefuls for 2012.
Remember them; you’ll likely be seeing most or all of them standing tall on the medal platform starting in less than two weeks.
1. Jessica Ennis (track and field): Although she missed the ’08 Beijing games due to multiple stress fractures in her right foot, the 26-year-old Sheffield native has been practically unstoppable ever since her recovery. She’s won every multi-event championship she’s entered since the spring of 2009. Ranked No. 1 in the world in the heptathlon three years running, Ennis is the current world and European champion. Not only is she the world’s best female heptathlete, she is also Britain’s best medal hope.
Ennis says she’s “looking forward” to competing in London and counting on the home crowd to boost her performance. “It’s going to be very different at the Olympics and having that massive crowd will give you so much and help your performance. I’m looking forward to it,” she said after a meet in Loughborough on July 11.
2. Sir Chris Hoy (cycling): The four-time Olympic and 11-time world champion is hungry for his fifth gold medal, which would match rower Steve Redgrave, Britain’s greatest-ever Olympian. Hoy, who won three golds in Beijing, is already Scotland’s most successful Olympian. Hoy is in top form, coming off a three-medal performance at the 2012 World Cup. He won gold in the keirin, his favorite event, as well as in the men’s sprint. The Edinburgh native is the most successful male Olympic cyclist of all time, and he is looking to improve his already legendary career with stellar races at the London Velodrome He hopes to be picked to represent Britain in the sprint, where he faces stiff competition from teammate Jason Kenny, who beat him in the semifinals at the Worlds in Melbourne, Australia, in April.
“I want to get the nod so I can defend all three golds I won in Beijing,” Hoy told the Daily Record earlier this month. “But if Jason gets in, it will be thoroughly deserved.”
3. Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins (rowing): Britain’s dynamic duo of rowing won goldin the double sculls at the World Championships in Slovenia last year. It was Grainger’s sixth world title in nine years, and Watkins called the race “absolutely the best preparation” for the London Games. Grainger has won silver in the last three Olympics; she was in tears after being edged out in the final 200 meters of the quadruple scull in Beijing. The tough competitor shook off her defeat and paired up with Watkins. The results? The team won every single regatta in which they competed in 2010.
4. Ben Ainslie (sailing): The 10-time world and nine-time European champion has also won medals in every Olympics since Atlanta ’96, including gold in the last three Games. He’s the favorite to bring home a fourth gold for Britain in one of the most quintessentially British of Olympic sports. Ainslie is the most successful and celebrated sailor in British Olympic history. The 35-year-old Macclesfield native was the first of 8,000 torchbearers to lift the Olympic flame at Land’s End; there’s a very good chance he’ll be standing in the first-place spot on the medal podium come August.
5. Alistair Brownlee (triathlon): The 23-year-old from Dewsbury is the favorite to win Olympic gold in the triathlon, being that he’s the reigning — and back-to-back — European triathlon champ and two-time World Champion (2009, 2011). His biggest competition will come from his own brother Jonathan, a 21-year-old two-time reigning World Sprint Triathlon champ.