In the first modern Olympics not a single woman competed. In London, almost half the athletes are female. HT features the gals who prove what men can do, they can do better.
Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS) (Pole Vault)
The Russian pole vault queen is the female equivalent of Sergei Bubka. She's broken 28 world records, just seven short of the Ukrainian pole vault legend's mark. The two-time defending Olympic champion will look to make it three in a row, buoyed by gold and a world record at the indoor world championships earlier this year, her first record after a rare two-year barren spell between 2009 and 2011.
Allyson Felix (US) (Sprints)
The only woman standing between Jamaican dominance at the sprint events, the double 200m world champion has never won an individual Olympic gold and will have the Jamaican duo of Veronica-Campbell Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser standing in the way. In addition to her pet event, the 200m, she’s equally competent over 400m and 100m, a rare trait. In London, her second event will be the 100m.
Stephanie Rice (AUS) (Swimming)
The Australian was a triple gold medallist at Beijing and will be primed to add to her collection in London. Her swimming skills have never been in doubt, her tweeting skills, however, are questionable at best. In 2010 she was much-maligned on the social networking site after she tweeted a homophobic slur and had to make a tearful apology to get back in the good books of fans. She was at it again months later when she posted a picture of her wearing a police women’s outfit. It’s not all bad though, she keeps posting racy pictures in bikini’s and lingerie from time to time. She’s also had a slew of injuries over the past four years but is focussed to make the best of her time in the pool at London.
Marta (BRA) (Football)
Lionel Messi won’t be charming the fans at London as he isn’t part of Argentina’s squad. The best female footballer on the planet, Marta, will not just be there, she’ll be there on a mission. The Brazilian football star will look to end American dominance and make up for a narrow loss to the Americans in the 2008 gold medal match in Beijing. She also finished runner-up in the 2004 Athens Games, and will be looking to win the one major medal missing from her overflowing trophy cabinet. Called Pele in a skirt (she’s also played club football for the Brazilian legend’s former club Santos), her football skills rival those of her male counterparts and has enthralled purists. She’s scored a record 80 goals in 72 matches.
Jessica Ennis (GB) (Heptathlon)
Jessica Ennis is literally the 'poster girl' for the home team. A giant image of the former European and World heptathlon champion has been placed near London's Heathrow airport to greet visitors to the country for the duration of this summer’s Olympic Games. The 26-year-old Sheffield born Ennis is known as much for being one of the best, if not the best, female athlete in the world as she is for her looks. She will be looking to overcome the disappointment of missing the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to stress fractures in her right foot and claim her first Olympic medal. She faces stiff competition in the form of Russia's Tatyana Chernova, Ukraine's Nataliya Dobrynska and Germany's
Serena williams (USA) (Tennis)
The number one ranking on the WTA Tour keeps shifting, with a new starlet emerging almost every season. The best player in tennis, now that’s a title that’s belonged to the junior Williams for over a decade. On the wrong side of thirty these days, she showed she’s still the gal to beat, winning an astounding 14th major at Wimbledon last month. Will an Olympic gold follow?
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jam) (Sprints)
The 26-year-old has succeeded double Olympic champion Veronica-Campbell Brown as Jamaica's best female sprinter. After winning the 100m gold at Beijing, she'll now be aiming for a sprint double at London. Her hopes look good. On top of her gruelling fitness regimen, she should also have karma working in her favour... she is a Unicef goodwill ambassador, after all!
Valentina Vezzali (ITA) (Fencing)
It's hard to outnumber the popularity of a footballer husband, especially if you're from football-mad Italy. Valentina Vezzali, of course, isn't your average supermodel WAG. The 38-year-old fencing legend has five Olympic gold medals, 13 world championship gold medals and the sword skills of the protagonist of an Alexander Dumas novel (her Attaque au Fer would do The Three Musketeers proud).
Misty May-Treanor & Kerri Walsh (USA) (Beach Volleyball)
The Americans have been beach volleyball’s poster children ever since the sport was introduced into the Olympic fold in Athens. The partnership was put on hold after Walsh was due to give birth in 2010, but with baby Sundance now 2, the duo is back for a festival time.
Victoria Pendelton (GB) (Cycling)
When she won gold in Beijing she called it the saddest day of her life because the squad reacted angrily after news of her affair with coach Scott Gardner broke. Now, four years later she’s back to win gold, and this time it’s as a tribute to Gardner, now her fiancée.