So who do you think will be the face of London 2012?

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It's a question being asked all over the country as the Olympics grow close. Some champion the Games' lesser-known achievers; some look no further than the men's 100-metre champion. Sue Mott and Louise Poynton canvass opinion from our celebrity panel

1. Zara Phillips

Nominated by HRH Princess Haya of Jordan; Princess Haya competed for Jordan at showjumping in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where she was also her country's flag-bearer. She was an individual showjumping bronze medallist at the 1992 Pan Arab Games. She is the president of the International Equestrian Federation

"Zara Phillips is one of the greatest horsewomen in the world, and everyone in Great Britain and internationally is looking forward to seeing her make her Olympic debut. Zara has an incredible equestrian heritage, and as a British Royal competing at London 2102 is in the media spotlight at home and abroad. But she has always let her results tell the story. She is an elite equestrian athlete with an extraordinary track record. In 2006, when she was just 25 years old, she claimed individual gold at the World Equestrian Games. Heading into London she is still only 31, and has everything it takes to be a winner. She is capturing our hearts and minds because she is charismatic, beautiful and because we know that when she gets in the saddle she will be taking no prisoners."

2. Ben Ainslie

Nominated by Major General Sir Michael Hobbs; Governor of the Military Knights of Windsor, former director of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and Outward Bound

"I love that sailor, Ben Ainslie. He personifies hardiness and strength of character. He must be an entirely driven man. A personal reason that I'm particularly impressed is that I never learned to swim well, and so a whole raft of sports I would have loved to try, like sailing, I couldn't do because I was slightly afraid of the water.

There is a sort of military analogy in the way Ben competes. It was Field Marshall Bill Slim [who led the Burma campaign in the Second World War] who said that: 'Over 60 per cent of the decisions taken in war were wrong, but made right by the bravery of those who carried them out.'

In sailing, you're racing against the elements and other people and conditions are always changing. It's about split seconds. You have to be extraordinarily brave to back your own judgement all the time. There's probably a thousand decisions made that are slightly wrong on the water, but made right by the high courage and sheer single-mindedness of the man. He's wonderful."

3. Usain Bolt

Nominated by Tommy Hill; The reigning British Superbike champion, Hill won the title by the width of a tyre in a dramatic final race at Brands Hatch last October. The first British rider to defend the title since 2005, the 27-year-old is aiming to win back-to-back titles with his Swan Yamaha

"Wherever Usain Bolt goes there is excitement, and if he can repeat his achievements from Beijing not only is the world in for a real treat but London will have its own place in athletics history. I love racing bikes at nearly 200mph and admire track athletes – I only ever made it as far as the egg-and-spoon race – and indeed every sportsman at the top of their game. The speed and power that Bolt unleashes is unbelievable, his supreme athleticism setting him apart from mere mortals. Yet it poses the question: just how far can we push the boundaries of human achievements? He was beaten twice over 100m and 200m by his training partner Yohan Blake in the Jamaican trials but I would not read too much into that. You always need to keep something back for when it really matters. The Olympic 100m is probably the greatest sporting event on the planet, and in Bolt we might just see something in London that takes our breath away."

4. Yohan Blake

Nominated by Roger Black; Silver medallist in the 400m at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Black also took silver in the 4 x 400m relay, adding to his bronze from the 4 x 400m relay at Barcelona in 1992. He was a gold-medal winner in the 4 x 400m relay at the 1991 and 1997 World Championships

"From a world perspective, it will be one of two people depending on the result: Usain Bolt if he wins, or Yohan Blake if he wins. I think there will be one star, and one of those two men will win both events.

What Bolt did in Beijing was amazing. When someone is so dominant for so long it is incredible – I should know, having raced alongside Michael Johnson in his signature golden running shoes – but with Blake now in the picture, nobody knows what is going to happen, and he could rise as the biggest name of this Olympics if he wins. It's one of the most interesting and talked-about races ever and will be very special to see."

5. Mo Farah

Nominated by Mark Pougatch; A sports presenter with the BBC, Pougatch presents Radio 5 Live Sport and in March this year was named the Sports Journalists' Association Sports Broadcaster of the Year

"Mo symbolises everything that is great about Britain. He came to this country as a small boy, barely able to speak a word of English, and found the complete connection with his coach, Alan Watkinson, who said he could do this. For somebody born in Africa, who has made his home here, is now such a success, and has been taken to the heart of the nation, Mo is a role model. He has been training in the US to give himself the best chance, and if he wins what a legacy he leaves, what an inspiration he is.

He is taking on the Ethiopians and the Kenyans at their own distances at 10,000m and 5,000m, so if he wins at either, he's the face of the Olympics and I hope will encourage a new generation of athletes. I know it sounds daft, but people forget how hard it is to a win any Olympic medal, let alone gold. You are up against the very best. Everybody runs, it just depends how fast."

6. Anthony Joshua

Nominated by Alan minter; A former undisputed world middleweight champion, Minter won a bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He retired with 39 wins, 23 of which were by a knockout. Now 60, he travels the country as an after-dinner speaker

"British boxing could see the dawn of a new era, and there could be something special from superheavyweight Anthony Joshua, a silver medallist at the AIBA World Championships. He has an impressive track record, and I would expect him to be in the hunt for medals in his first Olympics. Team GB is packed with talent, with genuine medal prospects also in the flyweight Andrew Selby, a southpaw like me, and Luke Campbell, a bantamweight with impressive speed.

Much time and effort has been put into this team, which could finish 2012 on a high note, and let's not forget women's boxing makes its Olympic debut at London. Savannah Marshall is a world champion and Nicola Adams is the European flyweight champion as well as a triple world silver medallist. I am looking forward to some strong competition, with British boxing emerging as the winner."

7. Stuart Pearce

Nominated by Nick Hancock; A dedicated and loyal supporter of Stoke City, the former PE teacher hosted They Think It's All Over for 10 years

"I love the Olympics and am a huge athletics fan, but for me this honour has to go to Stuart Pearce for not selecting David Beckham for the Great Britain football team. No one should ever think they have the right to appear at the Olympics as some kind of reward for their career. I am sure Pearce was under a lot of pressure to select Beckham, and mine is not a facetious choice. The idea of all the focus being on Beckham, and taking away the attention which should rightly be on those athletes who have made it to the Games with little or no funding – this is the apex of their lives – would have been wrong. We don't stand a chance of winning a medal in the football, but I would love to see Dai Green win the 400m hurdles.

Someone who has been under the radar will emerge as a national hero. I don't have tickets to any event, but as long as I am four or five steps away from the fridge I will watch it all on television."

8. Mary King

Nominated by Jennifer Saunders; The star of French and Saunders and Absolutely Fabulous loves both forms of horsepower – equestrian sport and cars. A self-confessed petrolhead, she is also an ambassador for British Showjumping and has been making a documentary about showjumping's Olympic hopefuls and their horses

"Mary King could capture the hearts of the nation. This will be her sixth Olympics, which is astounding. It's an extraordinary achievement to be at the top of your game for that long, however it's not just your own physical ability that counts but the ability to train a horse. She has managed to do that successfully and is the most amazingly charming person who has this completely modest exterior. It's a tough game, a sport that could actually kill you.

I love her attitude more than anything, along with her stamina and sheer guts. You do reach an age – I probably got to it at 40 – when you say to yourself, 'I don't want to hurt myself any more,' but Mary is over 50 and still at the top. You have to not just want to win, you have to want to train and be the best at training, not just winning. I am counting the seconds until the cross-country day, for which I have tickets."

9. Christine Ohuruogu

Nominated by Michael Beloff QC; A high-profile barrister, Beloff practises in a number of areas including human rights and administrative law

"Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, Beijing's anointed international sporting stars, will shine again, but the haloes will be a little less lustrous than before. No one will lose any money placing each-way bets on a quintet of home-grown Amazons: Jess Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Kerri Payne, Kath Grainger and Becky Adlington. But if you want a more ambitious wager, try Christine Ohuruogu to retain her title in the women's 400m.

I can see her in the final, when the top Americans and Russians refight the Cold War in the first half of the race, coming through strongly in the home straight just as she did in the Bird's Nest, giving me her 'brief', the outstanding moment of my career as a sports lawyer. Homegrown double track champ? Surely a shoo-in for the face of the Games.

10. Natasha Jonus

Nominated by Jenny Eclair; An award-winning comedienne, actor and novelist, whose latest book is titled Life, Death and Vanilla Slices, also helped develop and appeared in the TV series Grumpy Old Women

"I saw a documentary recently about a group of three young Liverpudlian boxers competing for a place at the Olympics in London. It suddenly hit me that these athletes make so many sacrifices, and I felt quite shamed watching this because I thought, 'You know what, this girl jumped through so many hoops in an effort to achieve her dream of competing at 2012'. It was quite phenomenal; at every stage there was another hurdle to overcome. Natasha's ambition is to win a gold medal, and that would be great to see.

For many people, sport is a way out, and anyone who gets to the Olympics deserves to be there. Natasha is in the lightweight category. She took bronze at the World Championships in China and will be a part of Olympic history, with women's boxing appearing for the first time. Let's get behind her, because there have been many setbacks and she is a lovely girl who deserves recognition."

11. Sir Chris Hoy

Nominated by James Cracknell; A double Olympic gold medal winner from Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, in 2005 Cracknell rowed the Atlantic. He has also raced to the South Pole and finished in the highest position of any Briton in the Marathon des Sables six-day across the Sahara Desert

"Chris Hoy has got four gold medals already. Just one more and he equals my old crewmate Sir Steve Redgrave. But the main reason I'm going for him is that I remember watching him compete in the final of the 1km time trail in Athens when three of his rivals had just broken the Olympic record one after another. He stepped on to that track knowing he was going to have to break it again to win. The pressure must have been awesome. I was sitting there watching it on television with the other guys in our boat – we were racing in the coxless fours the next day and this time we weren't the favourites. Hoy did it. It was an incredible display of raw power. Three of us were in tears. The only one who didn't cry was Matt Pinsent, which was a big mistake, because when we won the gold medal the next day he blubbed like a baby. We were all fine. Watching Chris had got the tears out of our system."

12. Shauna Mullin

Nominated by Logan and Martha (The Ukuleles); This band were discovered on a beach in Brighton and have now signed a record deal. They love beach volleyball, and want to play outside the beach volleyball venue at Horse Guards Parade

"For us it has to be Shauna Mullin of the GB beach volleyball team. She is an amazing athlete with a great personality. We feel we have some affinity with her and the team, and when we heard they were fans we sent them a copy of our new album to boost morale in the dressing room before the matches. Britain's beach culture is definitely coming into its own this year and there is a lot of support out there for the beach volleyballers. Shauna is consistently good whenever she plays, and we are pretty confident she and Zara Dampney, the first British pair to feature in an Olympic tournament, can pick up a medal."

13. Oscar Pistorius

Nominated by Ian Payne; The BBC Radio sports presenter and two-time winner of the Sony Radio award will be hosting Five Live Olympics Extra online and on digital

"Oscar Pistorius is unique, this has never happened before, and I am fascinated to see how he gets on: is this the shape of things to come or is he a one-off? He has created a debate as to whether he should be allowed to be in the Olympics, but he has achieved the qualifying standard and is taking part. His times suggest he could get to the semi-finals, but it will be interesting to see how he copes, especially mentally.

As a journalist I am absolutely fascinated by the debate his participation has provoked. For me he is the most interesting person at the Games, bestriding the two worlds of the Olympics and Paralympics.

If you want a Face of the Games you need to have somebody who is going to do something unique, and he certainly will. You cannot help but admire what he has done. At the same time there is an argument that has not yet been voiced about the Paralympics: are we applauding elite sport, or applauding the overcoming of difficulties? Pistorius is making everyone think about that."

14. Katherine Grainger

Nominated by Hugh Robertson; The Conservative MP is the Minister for Sport and the Olympics

"If you look beyond the talent of Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton and Sir Chris Hoy, I would love to see Kath Grainger win gold. Heather Stanning and Helen Glover may win a first-ever women's rowing gold medal for Great Britain, but many people outside rowing will want to see Kath and her partner, Anna Watkins, succeed after Kath's three previous silver medals. Spare a thought too for the women's hockey team, who have a great chance of winning a medal. Any of them could be the face of the Games but Kate Walsh, their captain, is an extraordinarily talented young hockey player and Olympian. However, unexpected things will happen. The face of the Games may be someone we haven't even heard of."

15. Katie Taylor

Nominated by Rachel Wyse; The Sky Sports presenter has competed internationally for Ireland as a member of two European Showjumping Championship teams, and competed on the Irish national circuit

"Katie is the most inspiring young lady I have ever met, having spent many months following her preparations for the Games since I was paired with her for the Sky Scholarship Scheme. In Ireland she is the equivalent of Jessica Ennis in Britain: her face is everywhere.

A four-times world amateur and five-times European boxing champion, she is exceptional. Katie trained in a tiny place in a fishing village, with no heating or changing and bathing facilities. It was just a small room with a boxing ring in the middle of it and the roof was made of corrugated iron.

She is very polite and timid, but when she steps into the ring she's a different person. She is one of the brightest hopes in Ireland for a gold medal and we are very, very excited. If she does it I can see a movie being made of her fascinating story. It's great to work with such a unique person who is so talented, likeable and inspiring. She really knows her own mind. Success will not only propel her career, but also women's boxing as a sport."

16. Jessica Ennis

Nominated by Mark Webber; The Australian racing driver won the British Grand Prix for the Red Bull team at Silverstone earlier this month and is chasing his first Formula One World Championship

"I would not normally be in the country at this time of year but have delayed our holiday so I can share the Olympic experience. I follow Jess Ennis on Twitter and it has been nice to share her journey. I would like to have a go at the event [heptathlon], I'd be absolutely nowhere but the discus might be good. I'm quite good spinning at high speed!

She's got to grab the positives from this and, when competing, it doesn't matter whether she's got three or 3,000 friends in the grandstand. That won't make any difference to her performance. Mentally she'll be imagining herself performing to her very best to block out any distractions. It will come naturally. She will do that and let herself perform freely, being at one with herself when it comes to technique and execution.

I will also be keeping an eye on the Australian rower Drew Ginn, a triple Olympic gold medallist in the coxless fours. That sport is so, so tough."

17. Mark Cavendish

Nominated by Nicholas Owen; A journalist, newsreader, broadcaster and writer, Owen is a presenter on the BBC News Channel and BBC1. He has a passion for trains and is vice patron of the Bluebell Railway's project to extend the line towards East Grinstead

"My cycling days are well behind me and nowadays I spend much of my time behind the wheel of a car. But I admire what they do and the professionals make it look so easy. In Mark Cavendish we have a supreme athlete who sets new standards all the time. He won gold in the 2005 World Track Cycling Championships, finishing a full lap ahead of the field, which has set the benchmark for his incredible career, where his explosive sprinting has become his trademark. The key appears to be his concentration. When he really has to perform he switches that on and, as we have seen in the Tour de France, sprints away. He is not renowned as a climber, so nine laps round Box Hill will be a huge test. I know the area in Surrey so well, having lived close to it since I was about 10 years old. The men's road race is the first Olympic medal up for grabs and it would be a special moment to see him take this, especially as it comes just days after the gruelling Tour de France."

18. Adam Gemili

Nominated by Kenny Logan; The former Scottish international rugby union player earned 70 caps in a 13-year career before retiring after the 2003 World Cup. He is married to to the sports presenter Gaby Logan

"If this hugely talented 18-year-old reaches the men's 100m final it will be like a gold medal for him. He is a young man who gave up football to be a sprinter and compete at the Olympics. No one expects him to win, but his sort of grit and determination inspires young kids. In any sport you have to make the right choices, have the right mentors, listen to the right people. The 100m will be a massive competition for him, but his recent performance, smashing the world junior 100m record, was astonishing.

Athletes must be able to take the pressure. Rugby players, footballers and cricketers can play every weekend with their team-mates, have a bad day and get away with it, but athletes who basically train alone get their big chance only once every four years. Nobody talks much about the other championships, it's what happens at the Olympics that really matters and makes their name. It could be Adam Gemili, I would not be at all surprised."

19. Big Star

Nominated by Judy Craymer; The creator and producer of the hugely successful Mamma Mia!, which became the highest-grossing musical film worldwide, Craymer is currently producing Viva Forever!, a musical based on the songs of the Spice Girls. She is an ambassador for British Showjumping

"Big Star, there is a supreme athlete, although in equestrianism you cannot have one without the other. His rider, Nick Skelton, was always someone I admired. He broke his neck in 2000 and has shown such indomitable spirit and courage to come back from that. He deserves to win the gold medal. With Big Star he has a combination that shows they are both at the top of their game. Let us not forget the horses take the risk after the rider asks them to. This is what makes a winning combination. I hope to be present at one of the showjumping days; I will feel as tense as any owner watching them. I have huge respect for everyone and hope all the hard work pays off."

20. Ellie Simmonds

Nominated by Baroness Heyhoe Flint; Rachel Heyhoe Flint was the England women's cricket captain from 1966-78, and became the first female member of MCC

"I personally hope that Ellie Simmonds can repeat her triumphs at the last Olympics in Beijing, when she won two gold medals. She is a local heroine in the West Midlands where I live, and came with me as a Lady Taverner's ambassador when we presented two new minibuses to two special-needs schools in the Wolverhampton area not long after the last Olympics. It was incredibly moving to see the children's faces when they met their favourite Paralympian in her GB tracksuit, gold medals clanking round her neck.

I am rooting for her to be the star of 2012, and the good news is that she is now a Wolves fan. I think I've managed to convert her.

Elsewhere, the blue riband event of the Olympics is the 100m, which is probably the world's greatest sporting event. In Usain Bolt we might just see something in London that takes our breath away."

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