2008 Olympics: Betting Gold

Michael Phelps is more than halfway to being renamed Midas, going five-for-five in his quest to win an unprecedented eight golds and adding to his Olympic record which now stands at 11 gold medals.

It’s being treated as a fait accompli by the swimming cognoscenti. Michael Phelps of the United States has five gold medals after five events. He has three more to go in his much-ballyhooed quest to break Mark Spitz’ record of seven Olympic gold, set at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. The betting odds are overwhelmingly in his favor.

Phelps will compete in the 200m individual medley on Thursday night (Eastern time) at the Water Cube in Beijing. It’s the toughest test remaining, thanks to the opposition provided by teammate Ryan Lochte. But after beating Lochte and setting a world record in the 400m IM, Phelps is a 1-16 chalk to win the gold at half the distance.

He should have an easier time taking Race No. 7 on Friday night. However, the world record in the 100m butterfly belongs to fellow American Ian Crocker. That leaves Phelps at “only” 2-9 to win the gold; Crocker is the second favorite at 3-1. Phelps has been destroying his teammate in competition all year; France’s Frederick Bousquet would arguably be a stronger pick at 18-1 for anyone suffering from Phelps fatigue.

Once those two races are out of the way, oddsmakers will get around to Saturday night’s 4x100 medley relay, an event that the United States has never lost at the Olympics. There isn’t the same fear of a disqualification as there is in relay races on the track – the baton exchange is not as easy as it looks – so if Phelps has his seven gold by this point, it would take a Miracle on Water to deny him No. 8.

We could be in for a similar storybook ending on the basketball court for Team USA. There is still guarded optimism after the American side destroyed China 101-70 and Angola 97-76. After all, the U.S. also got out of the gate quickly at the 2004 Games in Athens before finishing with a bronze. However, this team has substantially more talent than its predecessor, and the opposition might not be at the same level – the second favorites from Spain needed to come from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat China 85-75 in overtime.

Things should get more interesting against Greece, who destroyed Germany 87-64 with a now-familiar brand of down-and-dirty defense. This is the same team that beat the United States in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championships. Team USA must treat them with respect – and it wouldn’t hurt to hit a 3-pointer every once in a while. The Americans are 12-for-45 from the abbreviated FIBA arc after two games, in part because the declining Jason Kidd is in the starting backcourt with Kobe Bryant.

While the “Redeem Team” seeks its redemption, the Williams sisters are representing the Stars and Stripes with pride on the tennis court. Venus and Serena are on course to meet in the women’s singles final, reprising their championship match at Wimbledon. As for the men, all eyes are on the usual two suspects, Roger Federer (6-5) of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal (3-2) of Spain.

The hard surface at the Olympic Green Tennis Centre is made of DecoTurf, which is the same stuff used at the U.S. Open. DecoTurf doesn’t provide as much bounce as other hardcourts, which plays right into the hands of strong grass-court, serve-and-volley types like Federer, who won the last four U.S. Opens in succession. However, Nadal did finally halt Federer’s Wimbledon streak at five last month. The difference here is that Nadal has never even made the finals at the U.S. Open. Neither has James Blake (50-1), the lone remaining American in the men’s singles draw.