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!