Beginning on Friday, about 90 percent of Americans are expected to participate in that great Olympic tradition: spectating. But with 271 medal events, 31 venues, and 170-plus hours of marathon NBC coverage, finding the results of the sprints or of synchronized swimming could be a task daunting to even the most faithful couch potato.
Here is a Monitor preview of the events to watch in Atlanta. NBC has provided programming information in time-block format. Please check local listings for updated specific schedules. All times are EDT.
July 19, 7-10 p.m.
Pageantry and song mark the opening of the centennial Games. Pop star Celine Dion and opera diva Jessye Norman lend their powerful voices to the lighting of the Olympic cauldron and the Parade of Nations.
Athletics (Track and Field)
July 26-29, July 31-Aug. 4
July 31, Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m.-12 midnight
A botched pole vault kept American Dan O'Brien from the 1992 Games. Atlanta is his chance at redemption and, with three world championships since then, the decathlete is at the top of his form. Fellow American Steve Fritz and the Belarus's Eduard Hmlinen are also strong medal contenders.
Final Day: July 28, 7 p.m.-12 midnight
American Jackie Joyner-Kersee will go for an unprecedented third straight gold medal in the heptathlon. While she may not loom quite as large in the long jump as she did in '92, the world's reputedly greatest female athlete should be able to shrug off the competition.
July 28, Aug. 4, 7-10 a.m.
Three-time Boston marathon-winner Uta Pippig of Germany is expected to win the women's gold. Kenyans Cosmos Ndeti (also a three-time Boston champ) and Ezekiel Bitok are expected to dominate the men's race, along with the current world champion, Martin Fiz of Spain.
Check local listings.
Algeria's Noureddine Morceli is the hands-down favorite for the 1,500 meters, while Steve Holman is the US's best shot at a medal. Ethiopia's Haile Gerbrselassie holds the world record in the 5,000 and 10,000 and should win both in a walk.
Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.-12 midnight
Ukraine's Sergei Bubka is the only man in the world to vault higher than 20 feet. His ability to leap over small condos in a single bound should propel him to the winner's podium.
Check local listings.
Brit Linford Christie and Donovan Bailey of Canada will contend with Dennis Mitchell and veteran Carl Lewis of the US for the 100-meter title of "the world's fastest man." Unless someone nails his running shoes to the track, world-record holder Michael Johnson will likely leave the pack behind in both the 200 and 400 meters. For the women, there don't seem to be any whippersnappers capable of dashing ahead of defending champ Marlene Ottey of Jamaica, US veterans Gail Devers and Gwen Torrence, and Russian Irina Privalova.
July 20-Aug. 4; Medal Rounds: Aug. 3, 7 p.m.-12 midnight; Aug. 4, 6:30-11:30 p.m.
It's a foregone conclusion that Dream Team III will slam-dunk its way to gold: Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal, and company are likely to make the game look more like a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition than an Olympic competition, even against such medal contenders as Croatia (led by Toni Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls). The US women's team is looking to trade up its '92 bronze for gold. But the "dream girls" may face some tough opposition from Australia and China, led by 6-ft., 9-in. center Haixa Zheng (a.k.a. "The Great Wall").
July 21, July 24-28, Aug. 3, 12 noon-6 p.m. each day; July 31, 7:30 p.m.-12 midnight
Texan Lance Armstrong, who dropped out of the Tour de France, should be rested and able to take Atlanta's sweltering heat. This could give him an edge in the road race over five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain. Defending champ Kathryn Watt of Australia, Monika Valvik of Norway, and American Jeanne Golay are the top female contenders.
In the women's track, two-time Olympic medalist Rebecca and Connie Paraskevin-Young are the home-team favorites. For the men, Marty Nothstein - the first American to win a world gold medal in 82 years - may go the distance.
July 30, 10 a.m.-12 midnight
The sport is making its Olympic premire. Look for world champions Bart Brentjens of the Netherlands and Alison Snyder of Canada.
Platform: July 26-27, Aug. 1-2, 7:30 p.m.-12 midnight; Springboard: July 28-31, 7:30 p.m.-12 midnight
China's Fu Mingxia is vying to become the first woman to win both the platform and springboard events in the same year since 1960. Teammate Sun Shuwei is the favorite for the men's platform, while Russian Dmitri Sautin is expected to win the springboard. But watch out for Mark Lenzi of the US, who came out of retirement to defend his '92 springboard title.
July 20-25, 28; 7:30 p.m.-12 midnight
Defending champion Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus says Atlanta will be his Olympic swan song. But to leave on a golden note, he will have to outdo China's Li Xiaoshung, who defeated Scherbo in the 1995 world championships. Ukraine's Lilia Pokopayeva will match her talents against the innovative grace of Russia's Svetlana Khorkina. Shannon Miller's five Olympic medals make her the US's most-seasoned contender, but national champ Dominique Moceanu's star is on the rise.
July 20-26; Finals: 7:30 p.m-12 midnight every night
For many events, it's a wide-open pool, but Russia's Alexander Popov may have the 50- and 100-meter freestyle locked down. Gary Hall Jr. is hoping to foil the Russian rocket's attempts to repeat his '92 double. Tom Dolan is touted as the US's best hope for gold. The rap-music enthusiast holds the world record in the 400-meter individual medley and will also compete in the 400-meter freestyle. Australians Kieren Perkins and Daniel Kowalski will fight over who gets to bring home the gold for the 1,500-meter freestyle.
Four-time Olympic champ Janet Evans hopes to add to her laurels in both the 400- and 800-meter freestyle. But she'll have to fight off teammates Cristina Teuscher and Brooke Bennett, and Germany's Franziska Van Alsmick. China's Le Jingyi is one of two women in the world to beat the 25-second clock in the 50-meter freestyle.
July 27-28, July 30; Finals: Aug. 2, 12:41 a.m.-2:11 a.m; Aug. 3, 12 noon-6 p.m.
Four names: Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Steffi Graf, and Monica Seles. 'Nuff said.
July 20-Aug. 4; Finals: Aug. 3, 7 p.m.-12 midnight; Aug. 4, 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
The US women, led by Tara Cross-Battle and high-jumping Teee Williams, are likely to spike home a win; while the Italian men may foil a US attempt at top honors.
Finals: July 27-28;12 noon-6 p.m.
This sandy, two-man sport makes its Olympic debut. The US is expected to dominate both men's and women's play. Look for the dynamic duos of Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes, and Nancy Reno and Holly McPeak on the winner's podium.
Other Events on Television
Baseball: July 28
Boxing: July 20-Aug. 2; Finals Aug. 3-4
Canoeing: July 26-28; July 30-Aug. 4
Equestrian: July 23-26; Jumping Finals: Aug. 3-4
Rowing: July 21-28
Soccer: Aug. 3
Synchronized Swimming: Aug. 2
Water Polo: July 20-24, July 26; Semifinals: July 27
Weightlifting: July 20-24, July 26-29
Wrestling: July 20-23; July 30-Aug. 2
Closing Ceremony: Aug. 4