London Olympics 2012: The Not-So-Well Known Olympic Games

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Hit a 12.2-centimeter gold ring with an arrow from 70 meters away. Sounds simple, right? The 128 competitors at the London Olympic Games make hitting that small target look easy as they compete in four head-to-head elimination events. Each athlete has 72 arrows per event — 72 chances to hit the gold ring at the center of the target, which is worth 10 points. Of course, the target includes more scoring opportunities than just the gold ring, but players want to rack up as high a score as possible to advance to the next round. This incredibly precise sport has been around the Olympic Games for more than 100 years. In the 14th century, it was used as a means to protect a nation, and English law made archery a mandatory activity for men ages 7-60.
Events: Men’s and women’s individual; men’s and women’s team
Olympic debut: Paris 1900
Last U.S. gold medal win: Sydney 2000

It seems unlikely that a small rubber ball and goose feathers would travel very fast over a badminton net. But a shuttlecock can travel at speeds of more than 240 mph. So the Olympic competitors better be ready for it. The object of the game, first played by 19th century British military officers, is to prevent the opposing team from returning the shuttlecock over the net. The game has been dominated by Asian countries with China, Indonesia, and Korea winning 23 of the 24 gold medals ever awarded.
Events: Men’s and women’s singles; men’s and women’s doubles; mixed doubles
Olympic debut: Barcelona 1992
Last U.S. gold medal win: Yet to win

Men’s boxing has been around since the 7th century B.C., but this year, the women step into the ring for the first time, meaning every Olympic sport this year is open to men and women. For gold medal contention, women complete four two-minute rounds while men compete in three three-minute rounds. Points are awarded for each punch to an opponent’s body or head. Fighters knocked to the ground who don’t get up within 10 seconds lose. Boxers have a limited time to achieve world fame and recognition as they are not allowed to compete in the Olympics past age 34.
Events: Men’s light fly (49kg), fly (52kg), bantam (56kg), light (60kg), light welter (64kg), welter (69kg), middle (75kg), light heavy (81kg), heavy (91kg), super heavy (+91kg); women’s fly (51kg), light (60kg), middle (75kg)
Olympic debut: St. Louis 1904 (men), London 2012 (women)
Last U.S. gold medal win: Athens 2004

White-knuckle action meets the world stage in the canoe slalom. Rowers race down a white-water rapids course while maneuvering around gates. Speed must mesh with accuracy because touching a gate or missing one completely results in time penalties that could cost a competitor a medal. The canoe sprint is no less adrenaline packed. The waters may not be churning, but racers have no time to relax as they go head-to-head propelling themselves across the still waters to beat their opponent. The youngest ? and later in life, the oldest ? sprint competitor to win gold is Germany’s Birgit Fischer. Her Olympic career spanned the years of 1980-2004 winning eight gold and four silver.
Events: Slalom: men’s single, women’s double, men’s and women’s kayak. Sprint: men’s kayak single (1000m, 200m), kayak double (1000m, 200m) kayak four (1000m), canoe single (1000m, 200m), canoe double (1000m); women’s kayak single (500m, 200m), kayak double (500m), kayak four (500m)
Olympic debut: Munich 1972 (slalom), Berlin 1936 (sprint)
Last U.S. gold medal win: Slalom: Barcelona 1992; sprint: Helsinki 1952

This game takes a different kind of strength than the explosive, brute power in track or gymnastics. It takes wit, diligence, finesse. Two opponents stand on a 14-meter piste testing each other’s skill and expertise with a foil, epee, or sabre. Each weapon has its own rules and point system, but the goal is to score 15 hits for a win in singles play and 45 hits in team play. Italy’s Nedo Nadi displayed total sport domination at the 1920 Games when he became the only fencer to win a gold medal with every weapon.
Events: Men’s and women’s individual foil, epee, and sabre; men’s and women’s team foil, epee, and sabre
Olympic debut: Athens 1896
Last U.S. gold medal win: Beijing 2008

Judo is the Japanese word for “the way of suppleness,” and this sport is anything but. It’s a battle of toughness and intensity set on a circular mat for five minutes of combat. The Japanese martial art of Judo originated from Jujitsu and has been a part of the Olympic Games for more than 50 years. Athletes attempt to gain points in a series of throws and holds to beat the competitor in their weight class. Athletes who achieve the best score (ippon) by a hold, throw, strangle, or armlock have immediate victory.
Events: Men’s -60kg, -66kg, -73kg, -81kg, -90kg, -100kg, +100kg; women’s -48kg, -52kg, -57kg, -63kg, -70kg, -78kg, +78kg
Olympic debut: Tokyo 1964
Last U.S. gold medal win: Yet to win

The shooting contest in the Olympic Games includes rifle and pistol events with still targets. But in the shotgun portion, athletes try to hit a clay target launched in front of them. For some, the love of the sport is enough to overcome any obstacle. A grenade injured the right hand of world-class shooter Károly Takács in 1938, but that could not keep him out of the game. He taught himself to shoot left-handed and won gold at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.
Events: Men’s 50m rifle three position, 50m rifle prone, 50m pistol, 10m air rifle, 25m rapid fire pistol, 10m air pistol, trap, double trap, skeet; women’s 10m air rifle, 50m rifle three positions, 25m pistol, 10m air pistol, trap, skeet
Olympic debut: Athens 1896
Last U.S. gold medal win: Beijing 2008

Table Tennis
Great Britain’s table tennis Olympian Andrea Holt recently broke the world record for longest table tennis rally while she was at an airport in the United Kingdom. It may not be an Olympic stage, but an eight hour and 20 minute rally is impressive anywhere. The first player to 11 points (with a margin of two points) wins the match. Singles matches are determined by the best of seven games while doubles matches are best of five. China has dominated the sport winning 20 of the 24 gold medals awarded since the sport’s 1988 debut.
Events: Men’s and women’s team; men’s and women’s singles
Olympic debut: Seoul 1988
Last U.S. gold medal win: Yet to win

In the Korean martial art of Taekwondo, competitors punch and kick their way to victory. The body has scoring zones worth varying amounts, and athletes must rack up their score by accurately delivering a kick or a punch to their opponent’s body. Fighters have three two-minute rounds to defeat the competitor in their weight class. Afghanistan found success in the game when it won its first-ever Olympic medal with a bronze at the 2008 games.
Events: Men’s -58kg, -68kg, -80kg, +80kg; women’s -49kg, -57kg, -67kg, +67kg
Olympic debut: Seoul 1988
Last U.S. gold medal win: Athens 2004

The newest gymnastic discipline to the world stage is the trampoline. Athletes launch themselves into the air and complete awe-inspiring stunts at heights up to 10 meters. Competitors perform a series of 10 skill routines on two trampolines positioned side by side. Form and control are necessities as 11 judges will be watching and critiquing the gymnasts on difficulty, execution, and time of flight. Athletes can be penalized for taking too long to start their routine or landing on the frame of the trampoline.
Events: Men’s competition, women’s competition
Olympic debut: Sydney 2000
Last U.S. gold medal win: Yet to win