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London 2012: A-Z of Olympic Events

olympic sport_silhouettes_23_07_12From archery to wrestling you can indulge your passion for any event at this year’s Games – see what’s on offer.

In the 14th century, archery was considered so important to the defence of the nation that an English law made it compulsory for every man aged between seven and 60.

It was 1908 when the marathon standard was set at exactly 26 miles. During the Olympic marathon in London, it was decided that the Royal family needed a better view of the finish line so organisers added an extra 385 yards to the race so the finish line would be in front of the Royal box. From then on the distance of a marathon has remained at 26 miles and 385 yards.

Simon Archer and Jo Goode won Britain’s first badminton Olympic medal in Sydney 2000 – a bronze in the mixed doubles. Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson went one better in Athens winning a silver in the same event.

Six hundred basketballs will be used during the London 2012 basketball competition.

Beach volleyball
Some 1,500 people turned up for a test Olympic beach volleyball event in London last summer and saw British pair Denise Johns and Lucy Boulton narrowly miss out on a bronze medal. Good luck for the real thing!

The Olympics has a reputation for producing the boxing stars of tomorrow. Muhammad Ali, Oscar de la Hoya and Lennox Lewis are all former Olympic gold medallists who have gone on to become world champions. And so is Audley Harrison, who went on to appear on Strictly Come Dancing.

Canoe Slalom
David Florence took a silver in the C1 (canoe single) in Beijing and is capable of going one better in London. Another British competitor with medal potential is Campbell Walsh, a K1 (kayak single) silver medallist at Athens in 2004 and European champion in 2008.

Canoe Sprint
Beijing gold medallist for the K1 1,000m, Tim Brabants is a qualified doctor who took 18 months out of the sport to work in an accident and emergency ward in Nottingham before returning to prepare for the 2012 Games.

Cycling – BMX
This fast and furious sport makes its second Olympic appearance. The first Olympic BMX gold medals went to Latvia’s Maris Strombergs and France’s Anne-Caroline Chausson.

Cycling – Mountain Bike
Of the 50 riders to start the men’s event in Beijing, just 28 made it to the finish. This brutal race has a 4.7km course with 172m of elevation change per lap. Each race will begin with one start loop of 441m.

Cycling – Road
Road Cycling featured at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, with an 87km race that started and finished in Athens. The four Olympic medal events at London 2012 (men and women’s Road Race and men and women’s Time Trial) along the streets of London and in Surrey are likely to be among the largest road cycling events of all time.

Cycling – Track
At Beijing 2008, Sir Chris Hoy became the first British athlete to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games since 1908.

GB diver Monique Gladding helped Great Britain secure an Olympic place in the women’s 10m platform event in her first major international since a horror injury left her battling for her life. The 30-year-old cracked her skull after hitting her head on the platform while competing in Russia in February 2011 but qualified in order to compete for this year’s event.

Hilda Lorna Johnstone is the oldest woman to have participated in the Olympics. She was 70 when she took part in the 1972 games in an equestrian event. The equestrian disciplines are unique among Olympic sports, as men and women compete on the same terms and horse and rider are both declared medal winners.

After the Paris 1924 Games, the Italian and Hungarian fencing teams settled a scoring controversy with a real-life duel.

At London 2012, the men’s football is an under-23s competition, although each team is allowed to include three older players. There is no age restriction in the women’s competition.

Gymnastics – Artistic
Beth Tweddle is going for gold in this year’s Olympics having just missed out on a bronze at Beijing. ‘I took a step back on my dismount from the parallel bars in the Olympic final and that one, small error turned a bronze medal into fourth place,’ she said.

Gymnastics – Rhythmic
The GB rhythmic gymnastics team only secured its place at this year’s Olympics after an appeal. In January, they missed a target score set by British gymnastics to prove they could compete at the Games. But they argued the qualifying criteria had not been made clear to them and an independent arbitrator ruled in their favour, following a hearing in London.

Though a minority sport in the UK, across Europe and Asia it is huge; the International
Handball Federation claims that over 30 million people regularly play the sport worldwide. It is a fast and furious game with many goals scored.

The influence of the British Empire on the development of hockey is seen in the dominance of countries such as India, Australia and our very own women’s team at the Olympic Games.

GB Judo was in crisis after failing to win a medal at last year’s World Championships in Paris. But, since a total revamp of the coaching staff, it seems like they’re back on track. The last GB medal was won by Kate Howey at Sydney 2000.

Modern Pentathlon
Women competed in Modern Pentathlon at the Olympic Games for the first time at Sydney 2000, where Team GB’s Stephanie Cook and Kate Allenby won gold and bronze.

In total, rowing has earned Britain 22 gold medals, 18 silvers and eight bronzes with Sir Steve Redgrave winning gold medals at five straight Games: in 1984 in the coxed four, 1988 in the pair with Andy Holmes, 1992 and 1996 in the pair with Matthew Pinsent and 2000 in the coxless four.

Great Britain was the most successful nation in the sailing competitions at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

Between 1896 and 2004, British athletes won 43 Olympic medals in shooting.

The crawl technique used in freestyle was developed by a British swimming instructor
named J Arthur Trudgeon, who based it on a Native American style of swimming that he had discovered during a trip to South America in the 1870s.

Synchronised Swimming
One of the two women-only events at the Olympics (the other being rhythmic gymnastics), synchronised swimmers are able to hear the music underwater thanks to underwater speakers (who knew?).

Table Tennis
Paul Drinkhall, Britain’s best Olympic hope, has been training with the best in Beijing, and saw enough to recognise their best players remain ‘almost unstoppable’.

Jade Jones made history by becoming Britain’s first Youth Olympic Champion at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in August 2010 and there are high hopes she will win a medal at this Olympics.

Irishman John Boland ended up with two gold medals in 1896, without even planning it. He was visiting a friend in Athens who entered him into the contest without his knowledge. He won a gold medal in the singles, then stepped in to play doubles when one of the players fell ill, and won gold again. More recently, Tim Henman, who was just 21, and Neil Broad won silver in the men’s doubles in Atlanta 1996.

International rules require that the minimum height of the ceiling in the competition hall be 8m and athletes have been known to touch a 9.14m ceiling with their fingertips.

Alistair Brownlee is a serious medal contender and will be hungry for victory after an injury early in the season, followed by a dramatic collapse in the London leg of the World Series, in which a mild stomach bug caused him to overheat during a sprint finish. It cost Alistair the title in 2010.

In the UK, volleyball is still a fringe sport, but numbers are increasing. Volleyball England hopes that by 2013 it‘ll have 58,500 adults and 8,000 young people taking part every week.

Water Polo
The sport was developed in England in the 19th century and the men’s competition has featured in every Olympics since Paris 1900. Great Britain won four of the first five Olympic Water Polo tournaments.

Zoe Smith, known as ‘the strongest schoolgirl in Britain’, is a bright prospect despite having her funding temporarily suspended due to concerns over her commitment. However, the teenager picked up a silver medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, held in Delhi, India, so medal hopes are still running high.

Before point-scoring was introduced, the longest wrestling contest in Olympic history occurred at Stockholm in 1912, when a middleweight match between Russia’s Martin Klein and Finland’s Alfred Asikainen lasted a mammoth 11 hours.

This article was first published in at home with Sally Gunnell in August 2012. [Read the digital edition here]

Picture credit: Shutterstock

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