The Olympics are just days away. In anticipation, we're compiled a primer for the London Games, outlining much of what you need to know. Consider it an Olympics FAQ.
When are they, and where?
The 2012 Games, the third Olympics to be held in London, begin July 27 and end Aug. 12. More than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries will compete in 26 sports at 34 venues, mostly on the main Olympics campus in east London. Two sports actually have preliminary rounds before the games officially begin: women's soccer on July 25, men's soccer on July 26, and men's and women's archery on July 27, hours before the opening ceremony.
What will the opening ceremony be like?
Danny Boyle, who won an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire,” is preparing a three-hour, $42 million spectacle to kick off the games at the Olympic Stadium July 27. The opening scene, meant to present an idealized vision of pastoral England, will replicate a country meadow, with real grass, tilling farmers and grazing livestock -- horses, cows, goats, chickens, ducks, geese and sheep. From there, the stage will morph into more contemporary scenes. The show involves 900 schoolchildren, 10,000 adults, 13,000 props, a million-watt PA system and a performance from Paul McCartney.
How can I watch?
This is the first Olympics when every minute of every event will be streamed live online – on nbcolympics.com and on NBC’s Live Extra apps, which requires subscription to a cable or satellite service. On television, NBC will broadcast signature events, including swimming, track and field, gymnastics, diving and beach volleyball. Coverage there begins with the opening ceremony at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 27. NBC’s cable channels – NBC Sports, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo and Telemundo – will provide supplemental coverage. Bravo, for example, will focus on tennis, and CNBC will feature boxing. For more information on television listings, go here and for online listings, here.
Anything new this year?
With the addition of women’s boxing, London 2012 will be the first Olympics in which female athletes will compete in all the same sports as men. That’s reason to celebrate, but critics point out that the women’s field will be much more limited. There will be only three weight classes, compared to 10 for men. Olympics officials say they’re open to the possibility of adding divisions in 2016.
Another addition is mixed doubles tennis, which will be played at the Olympics for the first time since 1968, when it was included as an exhibition event. The last time mixed doubles was a medal event was 1924, when Americans Hazel Wightman and R. Norris Williams won gold.
Two sports, baseball and softball, have been dropped since the last games in 2008. The IOC voted both out in narrow votes seven years ago, and ever since leaders of the two sports have been lobbying to get them reinstated. Their next chance is for the 2020 Olympics.
Is there a risk of terrorism?
Officials say they know of no specific threat against the Olympics. The government’s official threat level remains at “substantial,” meaning that there is a strong possibility of an attack, but not an imminent one. The government has developed a massive but intricate security network -- at an estimated cost of $854 million -- to keep the Olympics safe. The plans include a helicopter carrier stationed on the Thames River, Royal Air Force jets ready to scramble at moment’s notice, and the deployment of thousands of soldiers, police officers and private guards. The defense ministry will also install surface-to-air missiles, capable of downing a hijacked airplane, on the roof of a public housing complex near the Olympic village. In recent weeks, authorities have arrested 14 people on suspicion of terrorism, but their alleged plots are not believed to be associated with the games. Two weeks before the opening ceremony, G4S, a private security company with a government contract to provide coverage at Olympic sites, revealed that it didn’t have enough personnel to meet its mission, and the government had to send in 3,500 British troops to fill the gap. Officials say everything will be in place in time for fans’ arrival.
How many Americans will compete?
Team USA includes 530 athletes, enough to compete in 246 of 302 total medal events. They range in age from 15 to 54, and represent 45 states.
Among the most durable of the Team USA members are seven athletes who have been to four previous Olympics. Five of them are women: high jumper Amy Acuff, archer Khatuna Lorig, equestrian Karen O’Connor, volleyball player Danielle Scott-Arruda and shooter Kim Rhode. The men are equestrian Phillip Dutton and shooter Emil Milev. Another 21 Americans are returning for their fourth Olympics.
What events should I follow?
Part of the joy of the Olympics is stumbling upon events that you’d never otherwise see. But there are also many matchups that we consider required watching. Here are a few:
Phelps/Lochte: Perhaps the greatest rivalry this year. Michael Phelps, who is poised to break the record for most all-time Olympic medals, went 3-1 against Ryan Lochte at the Olympic trials. In London, they’ll likely go head-to-head in two events, the 200m and 400m medleys.
The women’s 200m: Every year since 2004, either in the Olympics or the world track and field championships, sprinters Allyson Felix and Veronica Campbell Brown have finished first and second. Felix, an American, has won three times at the worlds, while Campbell Brown took two Olympic golds. Their showdown in London is one of the 2012’s most anticipated matchups.
The women’s 100m hurdles: Yes, everyone will be watching to see if Lolo Jones can atone for her stumble in the finals at Beijing four years ago. But the woman who won gold that day, and who beat Jones in the Olympic trials this year, is Dawn Harper, who will be out to prove that 2008 wasn’t a fluke. Australian Sally Pearson is another big threat, as is Jamaican Brigitte Foster-Hylton.
The men’s 100m: This is the signature event for Jamaican Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, and the reigning Olympic champion from 2008. This year, Bolt has serious competition: American Tyson Gay, who beat Bolt in 2010, and countryman Yohan Blake, who edged out Bolt in both the 100m and 200m at the Olympic trials. London might be the place where Bolt’s reign ends.
Women’s soccer: Led by top scorer Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Hope Solo, the American team is the favorites to win gold, as they did in the last two Olympics. Their biggest obstacle remains Japan, whom the Americans beat earlier this year.
Women’s gymnastics: The U.S. team, anchored by Jordyn Wieber, is considered the front-runner, with China, the 2008 team gold winner, a close second. Don’t count the Russians out either; they came in second to the Americans at last year’s world championships.
Walsh Jennings/May-Treanor: The beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor is back to defend their back-to-back gold medals at Athens and Beijing, an incredible run in which they didn’t lose a single match. But momentum isn’t necessarily on their side. Walsh Jennings took time out after Beijing to have a child. May-Treanor injured her Achilles tendon. They didn’t start playing together again until last year.
Men’s gymnastics: This will likely come down to a battle between China and Japan, with America trying to stay in the mix. China has dominated the sport so consistently for so long that they are enter the games as the favorites for gold. Japan, however, is a rising power, led by all around 2008 Olympic champion Kohei Uchimura.