Not all of the athletes can or do march in the opening ceremony. (By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
LONDON - Michael Phelps won't. Tyson Gay will. And a pair of beach volleyball stars will, but not for long.
It's the quadrennial question of who will march and who won't at the opening ceremonies of the Games, which Olympians often describe as a peak life experience, but an exhausting one, because it requires hours on their feet.
Phelps has opening heats of the 400-meter individual medley Saturday morning, so marching on Friday night is out of the question, as it is for many athletes who start competition right away.
"We do end up watching most of it on TV," Phelps said, "and end up falling asleep."
Gay, U.S. recordholder in the 100 meters run, missed Beijing's opening ceremonies while nursing a sore hamstring. He plans to march here.
"You never know if this is going to be your last one," Gay said, "and you don't want to have any regrets."
The beach volleyball tandem of Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers will take what they call an "early exit," where athletes sneak out after their lap on the track rather than waiting for the ceremony to go on.
"You have an option to wait for all athletes" to finish, Rogers said, "or, right before you go on the field, there's a tunnel and you basically just go through and you're on your own. You have to make your own way back."
Dalhausser said he stayed for the finish in Beijing: "It was close to midnight. It was hot. It was another three hours of waiting around. It just wasn't that great for playing the next day. My legs were dead against Latvia."
Dalhausser and Rogers lost to a team from Latvia the day after but rallied to win gold anyway.
Fencer Courtney Hurley said she'll march but has mixed feelings. "I would rather watch on TV where you get the whole view than walk out and stand there for hours, an eight-hour day, standing up, hungry and thirsty," she said.
Her sister Kelley marched in Beijing and "said it was awful because it was so hot and you didn't get to see anything," Hurley said. "So it kind of sucks for the athlete, I think. But it's an experience you have to have. It's my first Olympics, and I probably won't do it again if I make more Olympic teams."
American shooter Matt Emmons won't march because his wife, Czech Republic shooter Katy Emmons, has her best event, air rifle, on Saturday morning.
"In 2004, I did go to the opening ceremony, but at that time I wasn't married or even dating Katy," he said, adding that he'll "spend the evening with her and take it easy. She wouldn't mind if I went to the opening, but I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that."
A USA Track and Field spokesperson said the response was mixed when athletes were asked at a team meeting in Birmingham for a show of hands on who planned to march: Some hands went up. Some didn't. And there were some shrugs.
"It's about the medal," Gay said. "But it's also about the experience. So I definitely want to go out there and enjoy the experience with my teammates."
Reigning Olympic 100-meter hurdles champion Dawn Harper said she and sprinter Allyson Felix have been told by coach Bobby Kersee that they will not march because of planned workout schedules.
Serena Williams said she will march unless she is scheduled to play Saturday.
"I was able to participate in opening ceremonies before and had a great, great time," she said. "It was such an unbelievable, really thrilling (experience) walking out there with all the wonderful athletes from the U.S. and just from around the world."
Greco-Roman wrestler Dremiel Byers, a sergeant 1st class in the U.S. Army, remembers the heat in Beijing, but he will march. "I'm just proud to be able to walk amongst the great athletes from our country," he said. "So it's a huge honor."
Besides, he added, "I think I would be in a lot of trouble if I didn't give my mom a chance to see me on television."
Contributing: Gary Mihoces, David Leon Moore and Jeff Zillgitt