You probably don't care about every sport in the Olympics, and frankly, neither do we. Dressage? Yeah, right. Some events, however, are worth putting on your radar, if not for the sports themselves then for some of the athletes competing. The following pages are a guide designed specifically for you, the Muscle & Fitness reader, with your interests in mind, complete with sports to watch, athletes to look out for, and, of course, facts and stats to impress your friends at the gym.
The goal in Olympic weightlifting is simple: Lift more weight than anyone else. Male competitors are divided into eight weight classes, and athletes in each class compete in two events, the snatch and the clean and jerk. It's a point-based system, and competitors are allowed three attempts at each lift with the best counting toward their total score. If two athletes tie for the same weight, the one with the lower body weight wins. If both competitors weigh the same amount, the athlete who lifted the weight first wins.
"No lift" is called when at least two out of three referees deem a lift unsuccessful. One of the most common illegal moves during the clean and jerk is the "press-out." This is when a lifter—struggling to lock his arms out above his head—lowers the weight slightly and then uses the "bounce" to push the weight all the way up.
At the Athens 2004 Games, Hossein Rezazadeh of the Islamic Republic of Iran clean-and-jerked 263.5 kilograms (580 pounds) for the gold medal.
Munich 1972 was the last Olympic Games to have three lifts. The clean and press— which required the competitor to clean the bar up to his shoulders, wait two seconds for referee approval, and then press the weight overhead using just his arms—was removed when it became too difficult for referees to judge proper technique.
Kendrick Farris: The U.S. used to be a major force in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, but interest has flagged in the past few decades and now the medalists are coming from overseas. Farris could help to turn the tide. At 26 years old and less than 190 pounds, he's totaled 362kg (798.1 pounds) in the snatch and clean and jerk, and hopes to set a clean and jerk world record in London. Farris had already set two American records at the Beijing 2008 Games, where he placed eighth.
After Michael Phelps' performance at the Beijing 2008 Games, swimming will no doubt be one of the most watched sports at the Games. There are 16 men's medal events. The sprint events in the four strokes—freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly—are the purest test of speed and stamina and take place over distances ranging from 50 to 1,500 meters. Then there's the medley, a combination of all four strokes, the 4x100 medley relay, and 4x100 and 4x200 freestyle relays. Last is the marathon: an energy-sapping, 10-km race in the Serpentine, equivalent to 400 lengths in the pool, in London's Hyde Park.
The London 2012 Games will serve as the debut of Speedo's new Fastskin3 system—a new swimsuit, goggles, and cap combination that the company expects will result in new records being set across the board in London. The new system is claimed to be even faster than the LZR Racer suits that allowed swimmers in the Beijing 2008 Games to set 23 new world records.
Michael Phelps is the world record holder for five individual events: the 200m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly, and the 200m and 400m individual medley; and three team events: the 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x200m freestyle relay, and the 4x100m medley relay.
Olympic swimming events took place in open water until the rules were formalized for the London 1908 Games—the first Olympic Games to host the event in a pool. At the Paris 1900 Games, for example, swimmers battled it out in the River Seine.
Ryan Lochte: It wasn't long ago that the six-time Olympic medalist used more than 100 rolls of toilet paper to wrap the cars of his college's female swim team. Lochte's training, however, is no joke—like his strength and conditioning sessions with former strongman competitor Matt DeLancey. "We flip tires, lift chains, pull ropes, throw kegs in the air, and do all types of strengthening exercises," says Lochte, who, at the end of the day, is still just doing what he loves. "My philosophy is loving what I'm doing and making sure that I'm having fun all the time," he says. "If you follow that philosophy in sport and in life you will always be happy and always be successful."
*Men's marathon takes place on Friday, Aug. 10.
Water polo looks kind of easy, until you realize the players' feet can't touch the bottom or sides of the pool. They're treading water the whole time—four eight-minute periods of constant movement. Then there's the game, which requires strength, stamina, and superior swimming ability and ball skills. Players may swim as much as three miles in a single match.
Holding, sinking, or restraining a player not in possession of the ball results in the offending player having to leave the pool for up to 20 seconds, giving the opposition a significant advantage known as "man-up play." A foul is also called if a player holds the ball underwater while being tackled by a member of the opposing team.
Hungary has won gold in water polo at nine of the past 18 Olympic Games.
The most famous water polo match in history was played between Hungary and the USSR at the Melbourne 1956 Games in the midst of the Hungarian Revolution. Hungary won the aggressive game 4-0, which was later dubbed the "Blood in the Water" match.
Tony Azevedo: Six days a week, U.S. Olympic water polo players swim for three hours, hit the gym for two, then get back in the pool for another three—with no off-season. "I'll tell anyone that our sport is the toughest in the world," says Azevedo, the team's captain and quite possibly the best water polo player on the planet. Not bad for a man who doctors said would never walk again when his heart stopped beating for almost four minutes after a bad fall as a child.
There's a reason the winner of the decathlon is deemed "The World's Greatest Athlete." Comprising 10 sports, or "elements," each one calling for a unique skill set and tailored training, the decathlon demands nothing less than a perfectly well-rounded athlete. Over two days, decathletes compete in the 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and 1,500m. This combination of jumping, sprinting, and throwing, designed to test an athlete's speed, jumping power, strength, and stamina, makes the decathlon the most objective test of all-around athletic ability in the entire Olympic Games.
Athletes are scored in each element based on their performance, and scores are tallied over the course of the competition. The rules for individual elements remain the same, except for the long jump and throwing events, for which decathletes get just three attempts. The decathlon ends with the 1,500m, a grueling finale; if two athletes are tied for score at the end, the athlete with the higher scores from the most elements wins.
American Bryan Clay stomped out the competition in the decathlon at the Beijing 2008 Games by an impressive 240 points—the widest margin since 1972. Although he won the gold medal, Clay's 8,791 points weren't enough to eclipse Roman Sebrle's record of 8,893 from the Athens 2004 Games, where Clay finished a close second with 8,820 points.
The tradition of the Olympic decathlon winner receiving the title of "The World's Greatest Athlete" goes back to the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Games when King Gustav V of Sweden proclaimed to decathlon winner, American Jim Thorpe, "You, sir, are the world's greatest athlete." Whether or not Thorpe truly replied to the Swedish monarch with "Thanks, King," the title caught on, and the Olympic decathlon winner has since been dubbed "The World's Greatest Athlete."
Trey Hardee: When Hardee stepped up for his third attempt in the javelin throw at the 2011 World Championships, he had no idea that the best throw of his career would also be the one to tear his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and land him on the operating table. But with just one more event to go—the 1,500-meter run—and a lead over the competition, Hardee couldn't just stop. He wrapped his arm, exploded off the blocks, and clocked his best time of the season to win the decathlon gold medal.
Arguably the most taxing sport in the entire Games, wrestling calls on every muscle in the body and requires athletes to be strong, fast, and quick thinking. In the Olympics, there are two wrestling events, Greco-Roman and the freestyle. In the Greco-Roman event, a wrestler can use only his arms and upper body to attack his opponent's upper body. Freestyle wrestlers, by contrast, may use any part of their bodies to take their opponent down. In both variations, the goal remains the same: pin the back of your opponent's shoulders to the mat.
Illegal actions like pinching, scratching, and biting result in points being awarded to the wrestler's opponent. Some holds are deemed illegal if executed from a particular direction or with more than one hand, and leaving the mat also results in a penalty.
The longest wrestling match in Olympic history occurred at the Stockholm 1912 Games, when Russia's Martin Klein and Finland's Alfred Asikainen battled it out for 11 hours before Klein was finally able to get the pin. He was unable to wrestle for gold the next day due to exhaustion.
One of the world's oldest sports, wrestling first appeared in the ancient Olympic Games in 708 B.C.
Ellis Coleman: Coleman, 20, achieved Internet fame for his astounding "Flying Squirrel"—a takedown in which he dives over his opponent, secures his waist, and then spins him head-over-heels onto the mat. We really hope he breaks it out in London.
The 10 seconds or less that athletes spend sprinting down the straight barely hint at the sheer volume and variety of training leading up to that moment. Winning the 100m sprint takes exceptional lower-body power to explode off the blocks, unwavering endurance to maintain blistering speed for the duration of the race, and bulletproof mental focus to sustain textbook form with every stride. In addition to track training, which includes sprinting distances up to four times longer than the actual event, athletes do heavy-weight, low-volume explosive lifts to increase power and force, and aerobic drills specifically designed to induce as much lactic acid buildup as possible to turn severe discomfort into just another day at the office.
The start is by far the most crucial portion of the entire race, and a significant focus in any sprinter's training. While anything can happen over the course of a race, the start is often a sound indicator of who will win. Watch for false starts—when one or more athletes begin either before or within 0.10 seconds of the gun being fired. Athletes who falsestart from the blocks, drift out of their lane, or obstruct another sprinter during the race are promptly disqualified.
In his breakthrough season, Usain Bolt took the Beijing 2008 Games by storm, shattering world records in the 100m (9.69 seconds) and 200m (19.30 seconds), as well as a 9.96-second leg in the 4x100m relay to give Jamaica its first-ever gold medal in the event.
Before 2003, every sprinter on the track was allowed one false start off the blocks. This gave athletes the opportunity to attempt an early start without consequence and was thus changed to allow just one false start per race for the entire field. This rule only made it easier for sprinters with slower reaction times, who could now deliberately false-start to make the rest of the field more cautious on the next start. In 2010 the rule was changed to immediately disqualify any and all false starts. Brutal.
Tyson Gay: The only athlete to defeat Usain Bolt in the 100m sprint since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the second-fastest sprinter of all time (behind Bolt), Tyson Gay is considered the only man capable of dethroning Bolt on the 100m track in London. He's even dropped the 200m event to focus solely on the 100 in London. "I came up emptyhanded in my last Olympics, so going there healthy, knowing I have a fair shot at bringing home a medal, excites me," says Gay, who, after months of rehab from various injuries, including one that sidelined him in Beijing, feels more focused than ever. "I'm more patient, more of a perfectionist," he says."I'm focusing on every stride."
Editor's Note: Fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake beat Usain Bolt in both the 100 M, and 200 M at the 2012 Jamaican Olympic Trials. Bolt still holds world records in both distances. Both men qualified for the London games.
The high jump is all about who can clear the greatest height with a running jump, and the difference between success and failure can be less than a hair. Every aspect of the jump needs to be accounted for: the starting distance from the bar, the angle of the turn, the speed of the approach, and then there's the jump itself. In order to condition their bodies for this niche sport, high jumpers strive to be as strong and light as possible, with particular emphasis on lower-body explosivity to jump high, and core strength to lift their legs over the bar.
For a jump to pass, the athlete must take off using one foot only, and the bar has to remain on its supports throughout the attempt. The slightest contact can cause the bar to drop, but if it doesn't, the jump passes. Each athlete is given three attempts to clear a given height before being eliminated.
The current Olympic record was set by American Charles Austin, who won gold at the Atlanta 1996 Games. With the bar set at 7.92' by Poland's Artur Partyka and two failed attempts in the can, Austin glided over the bar to stay in the game and then topped that with a clearance of 8.07' that Partyka was unable to match.
Prior to 1968, high jumpers approached the bar with a more feet-first approach, scissor-kicking their legs over the bar. American high jumper Dick Fosbury revolutionized the sport at the Mexico City 1968 Games with the move now known as the "Fosbury Flop." As he prepared for takeoff, Fosbury pivoted his body and sailed over the bar headfirst with his back toward the bar, flicking his legs over at the last minute. Fosbury cleared every height put in front of him, set the then-Olympic record (7.35'), and walked away with gold.
Jesse Williams: "I'm going to be really hard to beat at the Olympics," says Williams, who's been eyeing gold in London ever since returning empty-handed from Beijing. Since 2008, Williams has switched to a nearly full paleo diet, cutting out processed foods and grains, and getting all his carbs from fruit and vegetables, which he says has helped him cut fat and increase his strength. A 226-pound snatch and 292-pound clean put the 175-pound high jumper among the most powerful athletes on Team USA. He's mentally buff, too. "When I'm confident," Williams says, "I feel like I'm unbeatable."
There are three kinds of gymnastics at the Olympics: rhythmic, trampoline, and artistic. Forget the first two; despite its name, artistic gymnastics is one of the most badass events in the Olympic Games and also one of the most popular. The men's individual apparatus division includes the floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and horizontal bar, each requiring the perfect mix of strength, balance, control, and grace, not to mention the balls to attempt some of the most batshit-crazy stunts you've ever seen.
Routines are scored based on difficulty, quality of execution, and sheer ambition. The sport is extremely competitive, and the slightest wobble, misstep, or misalignment can make all the difference—so pay attention to the details. It's this competitive nature that pushes gymnasts to attempt breathtaking, daredevil stunts.
The Soviet Union's Nikolai Andrianov won 15 medals for gymnastics while competing between the 1972 and 1980 Games—the most a man had ever won in any Olympic sport before Michael Phleps.
Gymnastics has been a modern Olympic sport since the Athens 1896 Games. Rhythmic gymnastics was introduced at the Los Angeles 1984 Games, and trampoline joined the schedule at the Sydney 2000 Games.
Danell Leyva: "You'd have to be crazy to do the stuff you're doing." That's what Leyva's own gymnastics idols have been saying to him since he took home gold at last year's World Championships. "The most challenging part about gymnastics is that your success is driven by your ability to pull off stunts that have never been done before," he says.
Short, three-round fights, combined with the random pairing of boxers without regard for ranking, make boxing one of the most unpredictable and dramatic sports in the Olympic Games. Literally fighting for gold and national pride, Olympic boxers leave it all in the ring and provide guaranteed action-packed and emotionally charged entertainment.
Bouts consist of three rounds, each lasting three minutes, and judges award points for every punch that a boxer successfully lands on his opponent. There are 10 weight classes, from light flyweight to super-heavyweight, with each category housing anywhere between 16 to 28 boxers. The event is run in single-elimination format, so every fight counts.
With 108 medals to date, the United States has won more Olympic boxing medals than any other country. Cuba and Italy come in second and third, respectively, with a combined total of 107 medals.
Boxing was first featured in the Olympic Games in seventh-century B.C., when boxers fought with thin strips of leather wound around their fists. The sport became an Olympic fixture at the St. Louis 1904 Games. Among the gold medal winners since then are Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) in 1960, George Foreman in 1968, and Oscar de la Hoya in 1992.
Errol Spence: By the time he turned 21, Spence had done basically everything an amateur boxer could possibly do—all of it, unbelievably, after getting involved in the sport at the late age of 15. As the 2011 U.S. amateur champion and 2009 National Golden Gloves champion, his list of accomplishments is as impressive as any amateur fighter's in history. After the Olympics, the Dallas native will begin his professional boxing career.