The Independent's golden hopes for 2012: 10-1
With exactly 100 days to go to the Olympic opening ceremony, Robin Scott-Elliot and Simon Turnbull reach the top 10 in their countdown of Britain's top medal prospects
10 Jessica Ennis, Athletics
The former golden girl of multi-events has had to settle for silver linings in her last two global championships. Still, having messed up in the javelin at the world outdoors in Daegu last summer and in the long-jump at the world indoors, the Sheffield woman knows she has obvious room for improvement on her rivals in London. Ennis is a formidable competitor – she will need all of her fight and all of her talent to beat the women who beat her in Daegu and Istanbul, Tatyana Chernova of Russia and Nataliya Dobrynska of Ukraine, when it comes to the two days and seven events of the heptathlon in London. It promises to be a humdinger of a battle for the gold and Ennis is just as capable as her rivals of winning it.
9 Women's pursuit, Cycling
As the World Championships demonstrated, Britain will contend for medals in all 10 events in the Velodrome and this is one of their best prospects. Three from four – Dani King, Laura Trott, Jo Rowsell and Wendy Houvenaghel – will race, offering a neat balance of experience, youth, racing savvy and pure speed and power. Australia are the most likely to prevent a home triumph but this has been a year of British dominance. Britain have been getting quicker and quicker – bettering the world record twice in Melbourne and beating Australia in the final. King called it the "perfect race". The only concern is whether they have peaked too soon.
8 Mark Cavendish, Cycling
A man on a 2012 mission, and what a mission. The Manxman aims to retain the green jersey in the Tour de France, dash under the Channel and, six days later, ride down The Mall to claim the road race and a first Olympic gold for the host nation on day one proper of the Games. Last year he could do little wrong – becoming the first Briton to win the green jersey, then winning Britain's first road race world title since 1965 and being voted Sports Personality of the Year. If he does the Tour/Olympic double this year it will top that – and erase once and for all his first Olympic experience, where he returned from Beijing as the only member of the track team without a medal.
7 Keri-Anne Payne, Swimming
Can the world champion become an Olympic champion? Payne was the first person to qualify for Team GB when she won the 10km open water event last July at the World Swimming Championships in Shanghai, becoming a world champion for the second time. At her first Olympics in Beijing – the first in which marathon swimming was included – Payne was overtaken in the last 100m by Larisa Ilchenko, a three-time world champion, and settled for silver. But the 24-year-old's two world titles since make her favourite to be first out of the Serpentine. It will be a year to remember – she will marry fellow swimmer David Carry after the Games.
6 Iain Percy & Andrew Simpson, Sailing
Off the water these two are relaxed, easy company. On it they are the best in their business and have the ruthlessness to go with it. Percy has two Olympic golds to his name. He received the first on the steps of Sydney Opera House and won the second with Simpson – who, of course, is universally known as Bart – in Beijing. That came in the star class and they are favourites to defend their title in Weymouth in what should be a rewarding regatta for Team GB, even by their recent, medal-laden standards. Percy and Simpson took a two-year break from Olympic-class sailing after Beijing but since resuming their partnership they have installed themselves at the head of the fleet.
5 Hannah Miley, Swimming
It has been a feature of the 23-year-old's career that from each major championships she has attended she has returned home to the north of Scotland with an improved performance. Last year she won World Championship silver in the 400m individual medley and there is growing evidence that she can turn silver into gold on day one proper of the Games. At the British trials in the London pool earlier this year she swam quicker than even she had expected, quicker than she had ever done in a textile suit. Her three-way battle to top the podium with the Olympic champion, Stephanie Rice, and Elizabeth Beisel, the world champion, will be one of the highlights of week one.
4 Katherine Grainger & Anna Watkins, Rowing
Grainger will be competing in her fourth Games and has never failed to win a medal. Unfortunately, all three of them have been silver. The 36-year-old has one final attempt at Olympic alchemy, and in partnership with Watkins, a bronze medallist in Beijing, this is perhaps her best ever chance. They have won the last two world titles in the double sculls and with the home advantage of rowing at Eton Dorney, the pair are strong favourites to leave the rest of the world in their wake again. Grainger has been here before, though. In Beijing, Britain's quadruple sculls were equally fancied but were overtaken in the final 200m by China. Grainger was left in tears.
3 Sir Chris Hoy, Cycling
There had been whispers recently that the flying Scot was not, at the age of 36 and with four Olympic gold medals in the locker after Beijing, the force of old. Jason Kenny is pushing him hard for the sprint place at the Games and anyhow, how could he better what he did in Beijing? Then came the World Cup event in the London Velodrome in February and this month's World Championships in Melbourne and the doubts were banished. Actually, the doubts about Hoy were almost banished. His defeat by Kenny in the semi-finals of the sprint in Melbourne leaves that place tilting in the Englishman's favour. However, Hoy's dramatic victory in the keirin, to secure his 11th world title, underlined the enduring class of the man and illustrated his astonishing ability to win when it matters most. This list is not about how likely anyone is to win more than one gold – it's simply about who to rely on doing it once. Anything other than keirin gold for Hoy would be one of the upsets of the Games.
2 Ben Ainslie, Sailing
The old man of the sea – in sporting terms, anyhow – will be looking for a fourth Olympic gold in his fifth Games (he won silver at his first in Atlanta in 1996). His extraordinary outburst at last year's World Championships, where Big Ben became Bad Ben after jumping overboard and swimming to a media boat to confront its occupants, whom he believed had hindered his race, demonstrates that the intensity still rages. Ainslie was disqualified but cleared to compete in the Games, where he has already seen off a strong domestic challenge to earn the sole British spot in the Finn class. Bet against him ruling the waves in Weymouth at your peril.
1 Rebecca Adlington, Swimming
She has two Olympic gold medals, a world title and world records to her name yet the 23-year-old is still a bundle of nerves every time she sets foot on the blocks. Last month her psychologist ordered her to "man up" after she confessed to another attack of the jitters ahead of the British trials. Her response was to swim faster than ever at this stage of the season, just as her response to having to lie down in the call room in Beijing was to win gold. She has left her mid-Olympic cycle blip well behind and is swimming as well as she did four years ago. She will be just as nervous when she defends her 800m and 400m titles – and there is every chance of a similar outcome to Beijing.
Winning Olympic gold is about timing. Right now, all the individuals and teams on our list published to mark 100 days to the Games, have a great opportunity to take gold. There are more who will believe they can top the podium – tennis star Andy Murray, swimmer Ellen Gandy, canoeist David Florence, several rowing crews, boxer Nicola Adams and some of her male colleagues – but much can change over the coming days.
This list has taken current form into account – hence a reshuffle after Britain's success at this month's track cycling World Championships – which gives an advantage to those who have confirmed their places and to those who have competed in trials, such as the swimmers, or other high-profile championships.
The pressure of a home Games is unique, the pressure of an Olympics immense; that is why Jessica Ennis is the only individual in our top 10 who will be experiencing her first Games and she is no ingenue. The top three have huge experience. They have collected nine Olympic golds and have shown they still have hunger.
Over 26 Games, Britain have won 207 golds, some eight per Games, a figure skewed by the 56 won when hosting in 1908.
The aim for 2012 is to take more medals across more sports than the 47 from seven sports in Beijing. More focused aims will be published by UK Sport, which funds our elite athletes, in June but the likely gold target will be in the mid to low twenties. We've picked 30 from 13 sports. They will not all do it, but all have a case.
Top 30 breakdown: Who are our Gold Stars...
Men's team 3
Women's team 4
Mixed team 1
... and are they experienced?
Gold already 8
Medal already 13
Have been to a Games 21
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