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Let the Games begin!

IN JUST two days time, the greatest (sports) show on earth begins and you may as well sit back and enjoy it.

With 36 sports and around 17,000 athletes from 200 countries involved, the big problem is navigating your way through the packed schedule.

Never fear, the Herald is here, offering you a quick and easy guide to essential viewing over the next 16 days.

First off has to be the athletics, and without question the race everyone wants to see is the men's 100m final on Sunday, August 5.

Usain Bolt, with his huge stride, proved head and shoulders above the opposition at the last Games in Beijing, but he looks vulnerable this season.

At the Jamaican trials, he was beaten by team-mate Yohan Blake.

Bolt's world record of 9.58 was set in 2009. This year, his best time is 9.76 -- one-hundredth of a second behind Blake on 9.75.

Also in the mix are Tyson Gay, the second fastest man ever, who ran 9.69 in 2009, and Asafa Powell, with a lifetime best of 9.72.

It means the four fastest men in history could line up against each other.

Not since the infamous 1988 final, when three world record-holders toed the line, has the entry oozed such quality.

At the other end of the scale is the men's 10,000m on Saturday, August 4, which will see Britain's Mo Farah take on the might of the east Africans.

Two years ago, Farah may have been double European champion in the 5,000m and 10,000m, but he still lagged behind the might of the Africans.

Leading them was Ethiopian Kenenise Bekele, unbeaten in the 10,000m between 2003 and 2011 and the world and Olympic record holder for both 5,000m and 10,000m.

Farah embraced the challenge - he left his comfortable life behind and started spending months at a time in Kenya, eating simple food and training like a maniac.

When he then moved with his young family to Portland, Oregon, to train with former marathon hero Alberto Salazar, he married what he had learned to the best of modern technology. That included an underwater treadmill and the dreaded ice chamber to keep injury at bay.

Will it be enough? Bekele showed vulnerability when he dropped out of the 10,000m in last year's World Championships, but still ran the year's fastest time for the distance. For distance running fans, this will be the race of the games. Go Mo!

Another British athlete to watch is heptathlete Jessica Ennis, the poster girl for London 2012, who will star in two days of ferocious competition, starting on Friday, August 3.

Four years ago, a brokenhearted Ennis missed the Beijing Games with a career-threatening injury. In the years following, she fought her way back, winning world and European titles.

Then came the World Championships in Daegu last summer.

A terrible throw in the javelin handed the world title to the Russian Tatyana Chernova. And at the World Indoors, in March, Ennis lost out to the defending Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska of the Ukraine.

Ennis was down, but by no means out, and in May, beat the world's best in Gotzis, with a personal best score of 6,906 points.

Ennis is strong in the hurdles and 200m; the 6ft 2in Chernova excels in the long jump and 800m, while Dobryska will pick up points in both shot and javelin. An intriguing competition then, with the American Hyleas Fountain, second in Beijing, another to watch.

So, what of the 35 other sports? Italy's wildly extrovert swimmer Federica Pellegrini competes in the 400m freestyle on Sunday next, July 29.

Pellegrini, a sporting diva with a tangled private life, is as famous out of the pool as in it. In 2009, aged 21, she posed naked for Vogue, her body spray-painted gold and, earlier this year, flaunted her tattooed charms in a bedroom shoot with her current beau in Vanity Fair.

Yet she is a formidable sportswoman, making her Olympic debut in Athens with a silver in the 200m freestyle and last year, at the World Championships in Rome, becoming the first woman to break four minutes in the 400m freestyle.

After his heroics in winning the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins will attempt to tow fellow British team member Mark Cavendish to victory in Saturday's 250km road race, which will also feature an Irish team led by Nicolas Roche.

What of the rest? One thing is certain, over the next fortnight new heroes will emerge -- and not all of them will be medal winners.

Let the Games begin!