The girls’ team

** Spoiler alert, but only if you’re living in a bubble and don’t know the results from Sunday’s swimming competition yet.**

Did you know:

  • Women’s soccer has only been an Olympics sport since 1996 (ridiculous).
  • Women’s floor exercises in gymnastics are longer than men’s (70-90 seconds as opposed to 60-70 seconds) and use music, while men do not.
  • Dana Vollmer broke the 100M fly world record and scored the gold for Team USA this weekend.
  • This is the first year that all participating nations have women competing.
  • It’s also the first year that Team USA has more women than men competing.
  • Women are boxing for the first time in London, though they had a demonstration competition in 1904.  (Who dropped the ball in the meantime, ladies??)  With this advance, there are no remaining summer sports where women can’t compete.
  • In 1900, Charlotte Chattie Cooper was the first woman to win an Olympic title when she defeated her French counterpart in the women’s singles final (tennis).
  • After female athletes collapsed during track competitions in 1928 and were criticized for being “unfeminine” and “undignified”, they were banned from racing further than 200M, a ruling that stood at the Olympic level for 32 years.
  • In beach volleyball, women are required to wear two-piece uniforms, and there’s a maximum size for the bikini bottom.  (Yes, really.)

What amazing women have you been watching this week?  And what great ladies will you be cheering for as the Olympics continue?

That’s the name of the game

** Spoiler alert, if you have no clue what’s going on in women’s gymnastics.**

For those of you who are upset about Jordyn Wieber not making it into the gymnastics all-around, I suggest you go read Gold by Chris Cleave.  It’s an amazing Olympic novel about a pair of track cyclists who race for their livelihoods when their sport changes to allow only one woman per country to race at the London Olympiad.  Not only does it boast some awesome characters and a riveting plot (and, unlike his book Little Bee, I can read it without wanting to be sick), but it paints a new picture of Olympic competition – and what happens even before medals are awarded.

Because the fact of the matter is, these are sports we’re talking about.  They’re not always fair or objective, and there are made to be winners and losers – sometimes even on the same team.  Yes, Jordyn is the world champion – but that might just mean that on the day of the world championship, she did better than anyone else.  And yesterday wasn’t her day – Aly and Gabby simply outperformed her.  It could happen to anyone.  Whether or not it’s fair to limit each country to 2 max participants in the all-around is another issue, but Jordyn knew that going into it, and probably wouldn’t have cared about the fairness as long as she was one of the two.  It’s not like allowing the top 3 – as in previous years – is inherently more fair.

What do you think?  Was Jordyn scored unfairly?  Do these rules make any sense?  Is it weird that a competition to promote unity and conversation among nations is so focused on winners and losers?  Weigh in below!

Swimsuit edition

Hey, US swim team – call me maybe?

Seriously.  Call me.

As they say in The Wedding Singer – “One of our first class passengers would like to sing you a song inspired by one of our coach passengers.  And since we let our first class passengers do pretty much whatever they want, here he is.”  Still, I love it.  Good luck, swimmers!

5 things you didn’t know about athletics

How about those opening ceremonies, huh?  Wowzers.  Here are some fascinating facts to carry you through day 1 of the games.  First up: athletics.

    1. The first is that what we might call “track and field” or something like that is actually called athletics in the Olympics.  Now you know what all those commentators are talking about!  (Bonus fun fact: I HATE the word commentators.  Anyone with me on this one?)
    2. Pole vaulters don’t just have to push themselves over a high hurdle – their leap skyward starts by running down a track and getting their pole  precisely into a little square box at the bottom of the hurdle, first.  Can you imagine?  I walk into walls in the home I grew up in – I can’t imagine being coordinated enough to pull that off.  Kudos, pole vaulters.
    3. Straight from How to Watch the Olympics, my source for all this, comes this awesome history of race walking (yes, softball got cut but race walking is still in the games.  Don’t ask me to explain.).  “Race walking grew out of a craze for competitive ‘pedestrianism’ in the UK and USA in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Huge wagers were staked on how long it would take selected individuals to walk between specified points.  Celebrity walkers ranged from mutton-chop whiskered men and elderly women.  In 1749, an 18-month-old girl walked the length of Pall Mall in 23 minutes, to the delight of her backers.”
    4. In 2004, Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima was attacked by an Irish priest in the middle of his race, and he still managed to finish third.  That’s some dedication – on both parts!
    5. You know how the marathon is such an awkward distance (26.2 miles)?  If you’re like me, you probably assumed that when the Greek runner ran to Athens to announce the news of the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon (only to drop dead of exhaustion at the end) that this was just how far he ran and we were stuck with it.  FALSE.  That legend only accounted for 26 miles – the last .2 were added in 1908 at the London Games because the British royal family wanted the race to begin beneath the windows of the nursery at Windsor Castle and end opposite the royal box in the stadium.  It’s stayed that way ever since.  Those sneaky Brits…

I’ll be back tomorrow with more – may the odds be ever in your favor!

Your Olympic schedule

As much as I hate to admit it, there are a limited number of hours in the day.  And with so much going on, sometimes you have to pick and choose not only between going to the gym or making dinner, but between which sports you’re going to watch.  I know that volleyball, diving, gymnastics, rowing, and track cycling are going to be at the top of my list – what are your priorities for the 2012 summer games?  And even if you can’t watch them all, which sports are you excited for?  Let me know and I’ll try to tailor my future blog posts accordingly!

How to watch the Olympics

It’s almost that time – the summer Olympics officially kick off tomorrow in London (though some games like soccer have already started!).  I love the Olympics – the pomp and circumstance, the drama of people coming together from different cultures, the changing rules, the mere moments that people train their entire lives for – all played out on an international platform.  For different people, they mean different things – athletes are there to make a statement, to shatter a barrier, or simply to put all they have on the line and see how they measure up.  It’s the human experience at its most extreme.

I got into the Olympic mood by reading an amazing book called “How to Watch the Olympics” (scored through some very creative searching by my sister after I tried to recall what I briefly flipped through in a store).  It’s seriously one of the best books of this kind I’ve ever read, and I learned a ton during my commute.  I highly recommend it even if you can’t get it until after the games start – just flip to the sport you’re watching and you’ll learn a ton.

But until then, I’m going to be sharing some of the most fascinating tidbits I’ve learned from this book, from now until the end of the Olympics on August 12.  Feel free to add on your own trivia in the comments section!  Here’s what you need to know to start:

Five crazy things to know about the opening ceremony

  1. Danny Boyle (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) is directing the opening and closing ceremonies, and very little has leaked about his plans but they’re bound to be spectacular.
  2. In the opening parade, the procession is always led by the Greeks with the host country’s team bringing up the rear – and in between, all countries march in alphabetical order according to the host language.  I don’t know about you, but that blew my mind – I knew there had to be an order, and it’s hard to think of a fair one, but the simplicity there is genius.
  3. The Olympic flame can be lit in a variety of ways by a variety of people – previous lighters include someone who won a junior cross-country race to secure the honor, a schoolteacher, and an archer who lit the Barcelona torch with a flaming arrow.
  4. At one point, it was common to release the doves before lighting the Olympic flame.  That all changed in 1988, when some birds settled down on the lip of the torch and were fried to a crisp when the torch was lit.  Now, they release the doves after, so it’s their own fault if they fly into the flames, and some ceremonies have replaced the birds altogether, choosing fireworks, etc. instead.
  5. Watch carefully to see who gets the loudest cheers and who gets the silent treatment – Saudi Arabia might get kudos for sending women for the first time, countries facing strife and war usually get support, and Europeans in general will probably be streaming into nearby London to fill the stands and cheer for their countrymen.

Click here to find out how you can watch the Olympics – and let the games begin!