BEIJING -- There are 10 hurdles on the 110-meter obstacle course where David Oliver earns his living, each one 42 inches high, every one rife with potential for instant disaster.
Oliver can become an Olympic champion today in what is arguably the most unforgiving event in track and field. He and world record-holder Dayron Robles of Cuba are the heavy favorites, especially with former world record-holder and Olympic champion Liu Xiang of China injured.
"You have 10 opportunities to go into a lapse that can be disastrous," said Oliver's coach, Brooks Johnson. "No other event has that, to that degree."
With Liu injured much of this year, Oliver and Robles have dominated the event. They've faced each other twice: Oliver edged Robles on June 1 in Berlin by one-hundredth of a second, and Robles beat Oliver on July 22 in Stockholm.
Since losing to Oliver in his first race of the year, Robles, 21, has won eight in a row. The native of Guantanamo broke Liu's world record by one-hundredth of a second on June 12, setting the mark at 12.87 seconds. Oliver, 26, ran his personal best of 12.95 on May 9.
After months of talking, analyzing and fretting, the matchup finally has arrived at the women's basketball tournament: Russia vs. the United States, Becky Hammon and her adopted team against her home country.
And the passions Hammon's move have stirred were just rekindled.
"We can't let one American girl's dream take down the 12 of our dreams," said U.S. center Lisa Leslie, who has been quoted as calling Hammon's decision to play for Russia "un-American."
Tonight's game in the semifinals also will feature a rematch of the 2006 world championship final, which Russia won without Hammon. The pre-Olympic Diamond Ball tournament was her first with the team, and it included a blowout loss to Team USA.
But Hammon has put her mark on an improving squad. She started Wednesday's quarterfinals matchup against Spain and sparked a comeback that turned into a rout in the second half.
Still, Hammon is realistic about Russia's chance against a prepared, deep U.S. team that hasn't been challenged at the Olympics:
"You always have a chance, but it's a long shot."
When the United States and Cuba meet on the baseball diamond, the results are almost always dramatic. The U.S. qualified for these Olympics in Cuba and beat the Cubans to win the tournament when finishing second was good enough.
Last week, Cuba won 5-4 in 11 innings in a round-robin game that saw U.S. infielder Jayson Nix lost for the tournament after a fouled bunt hit him in the face.
So there's no reason to expect anything but more of the same when the teams meet Friday in the semifinals at Wukesong Baseball Field.
"There's some past there, definitely some bad blood with players and coaches who have played before," U.S. second baseman Brian Barden said. "It was a tough game the last time, and we're hoping for a really good game this time."
The matchup was set when the United States beat Japan 4-2 in 11 innings Wednesday.
"The rivalry between Cuba and the United States is close to my heart," Cuba manager Antonio Pacheco said. "This is a big ballgame, and I think these are two very good teams."
Along a wall in the basement gym USA Boxing has called home during the Olympics are sheets of paper filled with some of sports' hoariest clichés.
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog" -- that kind of stuff.
But if team officials were smart, they would rip down those adages and spend a few minutes chatting with Deontay Wilder, who could provide enough wallpaper for the next three Olympiads.
Wilder, an engaging, lanky 22-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Ala., would certainly welcome the conversation. At this point, he's probably lonely. The 6-foot-7-inch, 201-pound heavyweight is the only American left standing.
Luckily, Wilder can bring the chatter, turning a phrase as smoothly as any left-right combo he might fashion in Friday night's semifinal bout against Italy's Clemente Russo.
"I love myself. I love how my mind works," he said, somehow sounding quite humble. "I love thinking about my future. I plan everything out."