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Today at the Olympics: Phelps-Lochte I

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 28, 2012 06:00 AM

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LONDON -- The final notes have long since been sung on Sir Paul McCartney's rendition of "Hey Jude,'' which was aided by the 80,000 or so backup singers filling the stands at Olympic Stadium Friday night. The smoke has cleared from the technicolor fireworks display that put the final exclamation points on a dazzling Opening Ceremony, revealing another blue sky here as a backdrop for the first full day of competition. The Games have officially begun. Here's your rundown for Saturday.

Saturday's must-see event: The headline above has Michael Phelps's name ahead of Ryan Lochte's, but that's no suggestion regarding the order they will finish in tonight's 400 Individual Medley, the first of two highly-anticipated showdowns the American swimmers will have here. In fact, Phelps nearly didn't make it to this showdown at all, becoming the eighth and last swimmer to make the final in Saturday morning's preliminary heats, winning in a time of 4 minutes 13.33 seconds. It was more a formality for Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 400 IM during the Olympic trials -- he checked in with a time of 4:12.35, the third-best during prelims. We'll be watching to see whether Phelps picks up the pace -- and wins his 17th Olympic medal -- in the final, or whether his charismatic countryman Lochte steals the show when they return to the pool for the final at 2:30 p.m. EST.

Also worth watching: Phelps isn't the only decorated US swimmer with something at stake today. Eleven-time medalist Natalie Coughlin will swim a leg of the women's 4x100 freestyle relay, her only event during her third Summer Games. Should she wind up on the podium, she will tie Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the most swimming medals by a US woman. The women's 400 IM -- in which Saunderstown, R.I.'s Elizabeth Beisel is favored -- and men's 400 freestyle are also swimming medal events today. Medals are at stake in six other sports today, including road cycling, where local icon Mark Cavendish is the favorite for gold in an event that concludes just a few pushes of the pedal away from Buckingham Palace.

Tweet of the day: You'd think all these great athletes could walk faster. --- @Bruce_Arthur, National Post columnist, on the Parade of Nations that lasted a little less than two hours.

Friday's big story: The Opening Ceremony, which save for some criticism for not acknowledging the Israeli athletes who were killed 40 years ago in Munich (that's on the USOC, not Danny Boyle), have received mostly rave reviews. The Globe's John Powers puts the meaning of the Ceremony into historical context, and asks this about a certain helicopter-jumping, nail-picking, James Bond wing-woman: "Now, what will Her Majesty do for an encore at the Closing Ceremonies?" And Sports Illustrated's Alexander Wolff, who writes that Boyle "outstripped the previous host city by flaunting what the Chinese naturally suppressed,'' had me at the phrase "traumatized pasture animals.'' This morning's Daily Mail basked in the world's praise.

Mind the gap, and stay right here for further updates. I'll be checking in from the men's 400 IM final later.

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