The Independent's golden hope for 2012: 20-11
Tomorrow there will be 100 days to go to the Olympics. To celebrate, Robin Scott-Elliot and Simon Turnbull count down Britain's 30 best gold-medal chances. Today, 20-11
20 Victoria Pendleton, Cycling
Queen Victoria, as Hugh Porter, the BBC's ever-enthusiastic cycling commentator, never tires of calling her, may be facing the end of her reign, but as events in Melbourne amply demonstrated she will have to be hauled bodily from her throne. The Australian Anna Meares was the favourite ahead of the world championships and will be so again in London – but this month Pendleton defied the odds to win a sixth sprint world title, recovering from a spectacular crash to beat Meares in the semi-final. Meares, who finished behind Pendleton in the Beijing final, is quicker, but should Pendleton reach the final her experience and sheer, inexhaustible will to win will make her incredibly difficult to beat. London will be Pendleton's last hurrah.
19 Fran Halsall, Swimming
Halsall will be the busiest British swimmer at the Games, having qualified for three individual events and two relays. She has medal hopes in all three of her events, the 50m and 100m freestyle and the 100m butterfly, but it is the longer of the freestyle events that offers her a chance to win gold. Like a number of Britain's women, she was impressive in qualifying for the Games. Clad in a pink suit, the 21-year-old was quicker than she ever has been in that early stage of the season and recorded the quickest time of the year. The 100m free is an event won by the smallest of margins and Halsall's long reach – she is not tall but has a Phelpsesque wingspan – aids her in tight finishes.
18 Peter Wilson, Shooting
Last month Wilson, a 25-year-old from Dorset, set a new world record to claim double trap gold at the Shotgun World Cup in Arizona. Out of 200 targets he hit 198, two better than the previous mark. Since last August Wilson, a farmer's son, has been ranked No 1 in the world and after a productive 2011 and a stirring start to Olympic year, has emerged as the man to beat in London. He is coached by Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, an Olympic gold medallist in the event in 2004 and a member of the Dubai ruling family. In contrast, Wilson has had to work in a pub to supplement his income. Britain won gold in this event in Sydney 2000 through Richard Faulds, who will be competing alongside Wilson at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich.
17 Aaron Cook, Taekwondo
He may only be 21 but Cook has shoehorned plenty into his sporting career already. With the proviso that he wins selection at next month's European championships, London will be his second Games. In Beijing he was left distraught after finishing fourth, after two controversially-judged defeats in the semi-final and the bronze medal match. He has had his ups and downs since then, beating the world champion a year later but going out early in the 2010 world championships. He has since left the British set-up to go his own way and his form has picked up dramatically with significant victories in the US and Europe. If Sarah Stevenson manages to regain fitness in time, then Britain could have two taekwondo golds to celebrate.
16 Shanaze Reade, BMX
The tough of the BMX track messed up in Beijing, tumbling spectacularly out of the final having been widely tipped – not least by Chris Hoy – to take the sport's first Olympic gold. Four years on she goes into London as favourite again but this time determined to make the experience count. "A lot of it is to do with the mind and now I have a lot more control over that," she told The Independent this year. She has had her attitude questioned since Beijing, and flirted briefly with a return to track cycling, at which she is also a world champion, but is now firmly back on her BMX. She won the test event at the Olympic Park last year and next month's world championships in Birmingham will give an indication of whether she is still in the right place.
15 Mo Farah, Athletics
The golden boy of British athletics in 2010 and 2011, Farah has not had the best of starts to 2012, finishing out of the medals at the world indoors in Istanbul last month. Still, the distance he contested there was only 3,000m and it is at 5,000m and 10,000m that he will be going for gold in London. The razor sharpness he showed in his first indoor race, over 1,500m in Glasgow in January, failed to last the indoor season but in retrospect it showed that Farah still has a cutting edge. He will need it, with Bernard Lagat of the US to contend with in the 5,000m and anyone wearing a Kenyan or Ethiopian vest in the 5,000m and 10,000m. A return to winning form at the start of the outdoor season would be a vital boost.
14 Men's pursuit, Cycling
Dave Brailsford, the man behind Britain's prolonged success on the track, described the men's pursuit final at this month's world championships as the "best race I've ever seen". And he's seen a few. It was a Britain v Australia contest, as much of the best moments in the velodrome will be this summer – and it ended in British gold and a new world record. The manner in which Britain's quartet – pick four from Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Andy Tennant, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh – have first closed the gap on Australia and now overtaken them has been hugely impressive. Both teams are expected to go faster in London and – presuming they avoid each other in the semi-finals – the pursuit final will be a highlight.
13 Alistair Brownlee, Triathlon
At the conclusion of the Beijing Olympics, The Independent picked out young Britons who had shown the potential to be home medal winners in 2012, saying the following about the Yorkshireman: "The 20-year-old led the chase down of the two leaders from midway through the cycling phase and pushed the pace at the front of the field in the 10km before fading to 12th. Showed he has the pedigree, and perhaps more importantly the cojones to be a medal contender when the Olympic triathlon comes to Hyde Park in 2012." Brownlee is now the world champion – beating his brother Jonny into second place (a Brownlee one-two is not beyond the realms of possibility) – but is playing catch up after a torn Achilles disrupted his start to 2012.
12 Mark Hunter & Zac Purchase, Rowing
The chalk and cheese partnership – Hunter the eastender from the Isle of Dogs, Purchase the former public schoolboy from Worcester – were huge favourites to take gold in Beijing, having swept all before them in the double sculls that season. The result was never in doubt and they led the final from start to finish. It was Britain's first lightweight gold. But progress since has not been so straightforward. After time out from the sport the pair, who are firm friends, got back together, only for injury and illness to dog them. They won the world title last year, however, to demonstrate that on their day they remain a force to be reckoned with and they will be Britain's best hope of men's gold at Eton Dorney.
11 Laura Trott, Cycling
The new shining star of Britain's shiniest Olympic sport. Trott, who turns 20 next week, has ridden to the top of the world in next to no time and could finish the Games as a double gold medallist. She won the omnium and was part of the record-breaking pursuit team at the world championships; she is now favourite to win the omnium – the six-race event that makes its Games debut – and the women's pursuit team are also the ones to catch. Trott will have to cope with being one of the host nation's fancied performers, as well as dealing with the pressures of a first Games – she is the highest ranked first-timer in our list. The experience of riding in last year's London World Cup at the velodrome in front of a raucous home support may prove as telling as her world triumphs.
Host gold medals
2008 China 51 59% increase on 2004
2004 Greece 6 50% increase on 2000
2000 Australia 16 78% increase on 1996
1996 United States 44
19% increase on 1992
1992 Spain 13
1200% increase on 1988
1988 South Korea 12
100% increase on 1984
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