Let’s get this straight—the 2012 Olympics are big. HUGE, in fact, with 10,500 athletes (including one without a country) competing in 302 disciplines (what is keirin, anyway?) from 26 sports. To cover it all without ruffling badminton aficionados and trampoline fans, NBC is serving up 5,500 hours of live and delayed coverage across its properties. So how do you decide what’s worth watching? We’ve done the work for you, breaking down each day’s broadcast coverage to bring you an action-packed daily blueprint that is sure to capture the drama and pageantry, the inspiring successes and (hilarious, we hope) disappointments that make the Olympics so special. So grab the remote control, pull up an easy chair and let the games begin!
FRIDAY, JULY 27
Opening Ceremony (7:30pm-12am, NBC)
Movie director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) choreographs thousands of performers—including rock legend Paul McCartney and a dozen or so live farm animals—in a $130 million spectacular called “Isles of Wonder” that will have a hard time living up to Beijing’s people-powered masterpiece. Who will light the torch now that David Beckham’s ruled out? Our bet is on Britain’s newest favorite son, Bradley Wiggins.
SATURDAY, JULY 28
Cycling—Men’s Road Race (5-11am, NBC)
Assuming we haven’t already lost you in the thick of Grand Touring season (Giro and Tour down, stay tuned for the Vuelta), this 250km (156-mile) race has enough hairpin turns, narrow lanes and bone-jarring bumps to ensure a fast and fireworks-filled ride. Take away race radios and add nine laps of Box Hill to wear down native son Mark Cavendish (the favorite) and his sprinting brethren, and you have the kind of exciting, unpredictable racing you’d expect of a spring classic. It’s anybody’s race, really.
Swimming—Men’s 400m IM Finals (8pm-12am, NBC)
Be sure to catch the first of two hyped matchups between Michael Phelps and upstart teammate Ryan Lochte, who beat him in both the 200m free and 200m individual medley at the 2011 World Championships. Though he soundly defeated Phelps in this race at the Trials (and Phelps had previously sworn off the grueling event), Lochte is still considered the underdog and, thus, the people’s favorite. Even five-time Olympian Dara Torres is giving him tips on how to beat Phelps.
Swimming—Women’s 400m IM Finals (8pm-12am, NBC)
American Elizabeth Beisel was 15 when she narrowly missed the podium in Beijing. Since then, she’s truly come into her own, swimming the fastest time in the world this year at the Trials, where she beat the runner-up by nearly three whole seconds. Her biggest competition is 2008 gold medalist Stephanie Rice, from Australia. Which will win—youth or experience?
SUNDAY, JULY 29
Cycling—Women’s Road Race (7-11am, NBC)
This is like the men’s race (see above), only more interesting because it’s…well, women, and we never really get to see them ride, do we? With only two laps of the steep Box Hill, though, it favors the time trialist- and sprinter-heavy Team USA. Watch for Shelley Olds, one of the fastest women in the world, to take it in a bunch sprint.
Swimming—Men’s 4x100m relay (7pm-12am, NBC)
Somewhere in the primetime lineup is this relay, which was won in dramatic fashion four years ago by Jason Lezak’s heroic, superhuman push in the anchor leg. Down by more than half a body length at the start of his leg, he turned in a split of 46.06, more than a second faster than the 100m freestyle world record, securing teammate Michael Phelps’ record 8th medal of the 2008 Games. This year, they’ll have to beat the dominant Australian team—and sprinter James “The Missile” Magnussen—to repeat their Cinderella story.