ARCHERY

Archers shoot arrows from 70 meters -- about three-quarters of a football field -- at a bull's-eye that is 4.8 inches across, about the size of a grapefruit. In shooting each arrow, they pull more than 30 pounds of force so that, with years of training and competition, a lot of archers have one side of their backs become overmuscled, pulling the spine over. That can be alleviated by doing the same number of pulls with the opposite arm in training. Aerobic fitness, and the corresponding ability to control the heart rate, are crucial. During competition, there is no "coughing" while a fellow archer is shooting, and no trash-talking.

Olympics video

Did you know?

Khatuna Lorig, a 38-year-old naturalized American who will make her fifth Olympic appearance in London, tutored actress Jennifer Lawrence in wielding a bow and arrow for Lawrence's role as Katniss Everdeen in the blockbuster movie "The Hunger Games." Born Khatuna Kvrivichvili in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, Lorig won a bronze medal in the team archery event for the Unified Team of former Soviet republics at the 1992 Barcelona Games, competed as Khatuna Lorigi for Georgia in 1996 and 2000, and -- as Khatuna Lorig -- reached the quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Games as a member of the U.S. team, then served as American flag-bearer in Beijing's closing ceremonies.

Watch for:

Arizona native Brady Ellison, ranked No. 1 in the world, is positioned to win America's first archery medal in 12 years. Miranda Leek, a 19-year-old Iowan, might be the most competitive American woman in a sport lately dominated by South Korea.

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BADMINTON

Olympic badminton is played out in an almost solemn setting. Players enter an otherwise dark arena, with a bright light shining on the court, revealing only the net and two shuttlecocks, placed in precisely the same spots on either side of the net. (Something like the minimal setting of an Off-Broadway production of "Waiting for Godot.") When the actors -- rather, players -- appear for a mixed doubles match, partners warm up quietly with each other, almost like pantomime. The action is considerable, mostly hand-eye movements begun when one player literally flicks a serve over the net, and the speed builds exponentially, the shuffle often reaching as fast as 150 mph -- faster than any other Olympic net sport. The linespersons wear white gloves.

Did you know?

Of the 24 gold medals awarded since badminton made its Olympic debut in 1992, 23 have been won by China, Indonesia and Korea. The 24th went to a Dane. In fact, of the 72 total badminton medals, only seven have gone to non-Asians.

Watch for:

America's best chance for a badminton medal is the result of Tony Gunawan's immigration from Indonesia. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Gunawan was an Olympic doubles replacement for Sigit Budiarto, who had been suspended for steroid use after winning a world title with partner Candra Wijaya. Gunawan and Wijaya then captured the gold medal for Indonesia. In 2005, Gunawan and U.S. partner Howard Bach won America's first world championship in the sport. Gunawan also coaches the only other American Olympian in badminton, Californian Rena Wang.

BASKETBALL

Olympic basketball debuted at the 1936 Berlin Games, played in an outdoor tennis stadium, with the gold-medal final contested on a court turned to mud by heavy rain. The U.S. team, after successfully fighting to rescind a strange international federation attempt to ban all players over 6-3, beat Canada, 19-8, in the championship final. The U.S. proceeded to win 62 consecutive games, over eight Olympic appearances, before it was beaten by the Soviet Union in the disputed 1972 gold-medal final. A replay of the last three seconds, after the U.S. had taken a one-point lead, resulted in Aleksandr Belov's layup that won the game for the Soviets. The Americans protested by refusing to accept their silver medals. Six years later, Belov died under mysterious circumstances, only 26 years old.

Did you know?

The international basketball federation's 1989 vote to allow NBA players into the Olympics, opening the door to the so-called U.S. "Dream Team" of 1992, actually was opposed by the U.S. basketball federation. Officials of that federation, which billed itself as "amateur," feared a loss of their power over the sport, feared that the rich pros' presence would hurt their fundraising efforts, and believed the anticipated lopsided scores, in the Americans' favor, would diminish TV ratings.

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Current Olympians Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James played on the only U.S. Olympic team that lost more than one game, the 2004 side that went 5-3 and won bronze. The last Olympic loss for the U.S. women, meanwhile, was in the 1992 Barcelona semifinals, to the Unified Team of former Soviet Republics.

BEACH VOLLEYBALL

Logically, beach volleyball's origins are in Southern California -- specifically the beach community of Santa Monica -- and Hawaii. The first professional tournament was in 1976 at Pacific Palisades, Calif., Santa Monica's neighbor, organized by a volleyball magazine editor. The sport was introduced to the Olympics at the 1996 Atlanta Games and quickly became a major focus of television coverage because, many suspect, of the players' minimal dress. Many of the top players had emigrated from traditional indoor volleyball, including Karch Kiraly, half of the '96 U.S. men's gold-medal duo, and Brazil's Jackie Silva, half of that year's women's champions.

Did you know?

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Organizers established bathing suits as beach volleyball uniforms and the women typically wear bikinis, but some grumbling among athletes has nudged the sport's international federation to "allow" shorts to be worn, though they must be a maximum length of one-half inch above the knee, and sleeved tops. "Many of these countries," a federation spokesman said, "have religious and cultural requirements, so the uniform needed to be more flexible."

Watch for:

The American pair of Misty May-Treanor, now 34, and Kerri Walsh Jennings, 33, returns for a shot at a third consecutive gold medal, though Brazilians Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva recently surpassed them as the world's best team. A second U.S. team of Jen Kessey and April Ross also is a medal contender.

BOXING

Olympic boxing tournaments are not seeded, so it is possible for the two best fighters in a weight division to meet well before the medal round. Also, since 1952, semifinal losers do not have a box-off for third place, so two bronze medals are awarded. Future heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was among those bronze medalists after a controversial light-heavyweight semifinal loss at the 1984 Los Angeles Games to New Zealander Kevin Barry, whom Holyfield apparently had knocked out in the second round. Yugoslav referee Gligorije Novicic disqualified Holyfield for a late hit. Yugoslavia's Anton Josipovic, the eventual gold medalist beckoned Holyfield into the ring to join him on the winner's podium.

Did you know?

American Eddie Eagan, the Olympic light-heavyweight champion at the 1920 Antwerp Games, is the only person to win a gold medal in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. In 1932, he was part of the victorious four-man U.S. bobsled team at Lake Placid. Eagan modeled himself on the fictional dime-novel hero Frank Merriwell. A graduate of Yale, Harvard Law and Oxford, he had a career as a lawyer and, when he died in 1967, was buried with both his gold medals.

Watch for:

Women's boxing debuts in London in three weight classes -- flyweight (112 1/2 pounds), lightweight (126) and middleweight (165 1/2). Almost as revolutionary is that these Games will be the last time a major international boxing tournament employs headgear and a computerized scoring system, before moving toward the pro model.

CANOEING

Actually, many of the "canoeing" events are really "kayaking" competitions. While a canoe paddle has only one blade, requiring the athlete to switch the paddle from side to side while in a kneeling position, a kayaker uses a paddle with a blade on each end and, while seated, alternately dips each end of the paddle into the water. Besides the flat-water canoe and kayak races, there are separate white-water -- or slalom -- events that are contested on an obstacle course similar to ski slaloms.

Did you know?

German Birgit Fischer's last of 12 Olympic medals -- eight gold, four silver -- in canoeing at the 2004 Athens Games, came 24 years after she had won her first at the 1980 Moscow Games. That made her both the youngest (at 18 in 1980) and oldest (42 in 2004) Olympic canoeing champion. When East Germany, before German unification, boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games, it may have cost Fischer as many as three more golds. Her niece, Fanny Fischer, won a kayaking gold in 2008.

Watch for:

Twins Peter and Pavol Hochschorner of Slovakia are expected to contest for an unprecedented fourth straight gold in the slalom pairs event. The Hochschorners, 32, lead their nation's dominance in white-water events, with all seven of Slovakia's gold medals during this century coming in canoe slalom.

CYCLING

Mountain-bike racing -- over forest roads, fields, dirt and gravel paths -- was added to the Olympic cycling program, which had consisted of road and track cycling, in 1996. In 2008, BMX (or bicycle motorcross) joined the Olympics. This year, the new addition is the six-event omnium, to be contested over two days: a flying-start 250-meter race against the clock; a 30,000-meter endurance test in which points are awarded for periodic sprints and lapping the field; a 4,000-meter pursuit; a 15,000-meter scratch race; a 1,000-meter time trial; and an elimination race in which the last cyclist after every two laps is disqualified until only one rider remains.

Did you know?

Lance Armstrong competed in three Olympics, two of them before the first of his record seven Tour de France victories in 1999, and has only a single bronze medal -- in the 2000 Sydney Games road time trial -- to show for it. Armstrong was 14th in the 1992 Barcelona Games road race and sixth in the 1996 Atlanta Games road time trial before being diagnosed with cancer. He returned to competitive cycling a year later.

Watch for:

Great Britain's Chris Hoy, a triple gold-medalist at the 2008 Beijing Games, returns in track cycling, powered by 27-inch thighs that allow him to go from 0 to 44 mph in less than 10 seconds. Hoy took up cycling at age 6 after seeing the BMX scene in the 1982 Steven Spielberg movie "ET."

DIVING

Springboard is three meters -- 9 feet, 10 inches above the water. The platform is 32 feet, 9 3/4 inches above the water, which makes a platform dive similar to jumping out a third-story window. Synchronized diving, off both the springboard and platform, was added to the Olympic program at the 2000 Sydney Games. Synchronized diving consists of two teammates mirroring each other's moves.

Did you know?

American Larry Andreasen, who won a bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in springboard diving, later developed an obsession about setting a high-dive record. In 1988, when he was 42, Andreasen was arrested for diving off a 160-foot bridge in Long Beach, Calif. He then set about trying a 385-foot dive from the Vincent Thomas Bridge near Long Beach. Three times police coaxed him down before he could jump. The fourth time he climbed atop the Thomas bridge tower, when he was 44, Andreasen dived--and died from multiple injuries.

Watch for:

Chinese divers have won the last four gold medals in men's springboard, three of the last five in men's platform, the last six in women's springboard, five of the last seven in women's platform, and five of the six ever awarded in synchronized diving.

EQUESTRIAN

Olympic equestrians must be at least 18 years old. Furthermore, their horses must be at least 7 years old. Riders in the jumping and dressage events are required to wear formal dress or, if they are members of the military or police, wear uniforms. The sport is all about obedience; penalty points are accessed whenever the horse balks at a command. In dressage -- the guiding of the horse through a series of complex maneuvers by slight movements of the rider's hands, legs, and weight -- horses are judged by their attitude, whether they actually appear happy, whether they exhibit signs of tension and stress, such as tail swishing, head tossing or pinning back their ears.

Did you know?

Every four-legged athlete in Olympic competition carries a horse passport, initiated by the sport's international federation more than 30 years ago to minimize delays in transit and to satisfy the protocol of various nations. Among other information, the passport carries a record of illnesses and vaccinations, something like a child's vaccination record provided to schools.

Watch for:

Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, both from upstate New York, are pursuing a third straight gold medal in team show jumping -- after both of their previous victories came in events tainted by several doping violations against competitors' horses. Another show jumping headliner will be Ian Millar who, at 65, will be competing in a record 10th Olympics. A native of Nova Scotia, he is widely known as "Captain Canada."

FENCING

Fencers compete on a long, narrow strip called a "piste," with weapons -- foil, epee and sabre are the three wielded -- linked to an electronic scoring system that records touches. First to 15 -- or whichever athlete is ahead after nine minutes -- wins. If there is a tie, one minute of sudden death (though no athletes are harmed) is added. If neither attains a hit during that minute, a random electronic indicator determines the winner.

Did you know?

In team sabre competition, Hungary reeled off 46 straight wins over 40 years, beginning with the 1924 Paris Games and continuing into the 1964 Tokyo Games. U.S. men, meanwhile, never have won a fencing gold medal, unless the one-time event of "single sticks" at the 1904 St. Louis Games is counted. The only entrants in that competition were three Americans, who couldn't help sweeping the event.

Watch for:

Oregonian Mariel Zagunis will be attempting to win a third consecutive gold medal in women's sabre. Her first Olympic victory came at the 2004 Athens Games after Zagunis, then 19, was a last-minute substitute on the U.S. roster because Nigeria chose not to send its entrant. Zagunis' parents, Robert and Cathy, met at the 1976 Olympic rowing trials and both competed in the '76 Montreal Games. Race Imboden, a 19-year-old Brooklyn resident who will attend Notre Dame, is a rising star in foil.

FIELD HOCKEY

International field hockey must be played on artificial turf and, in the case of the London Games, that turf will be colored blue. Though the game is similar to ice hockey in the basics -- players use sticks to propel an object into a goal past a well-armored goalie -- there are plenty of subtle differences. In field hockey, for instance, players may hit the ball with only one side of the stick (the flat side; the other is rounded). Shots may be taken only from within the striking circle, a semicircle extending out 16 yards from the goal. The ball may not be kicked at any time.

Did you know?

Though school field hockey teams are almost exclusively female in the United States, men have played the sport on the highest international level for more than 100 years. In fact, men's field hockey has been an Olympic sport since 1908, and women's field hockey wasn't added to the Olympic program until 1980. India was the sport's first superpower and, when British India was partitioned in 1947, creating the separate nation of Pakistan, those two countries produced the next six gold-medal teams. The Indian-Pakistani dominance has since faded, and India's first failure to qualify for the Olympics came at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Watch for:

The only woman to have been named world field hockey player of the year seven times, Argentina's 34-year-old Luciana Aymar -- "La Maga"; "The Magician" -- will compete in her fourth (and final) Olympics in London, hopeful of adding a gold medal to the silver and two bronzes she already won.

GYMNASTICS

Men's and women's gymnastics are essentially two distinct sports, played out on different equipment than puts more emphasis on strength for the muscled men and more on showy acrobatics for the usually teenaged women. (Former U.S. gold medalist Bart Conner, who is married to former Romanian Olympic champ Nadia Comaneci, once was asked why women's gymnastics appeared more popular than men's. "Leotards," he said.) While men compete on rings, parallel bars, pommel horse and horizontal bar, the women battle on uneven bars and balance beam. Both contest the vault and floor exercise, though the women do the latter choreographed to music.

Did you know?

Gymnasts who originate moves during international competition have their names permanently attached to those unique elements. Thus there is the Tsukahara vault (for five-time Japanese gold medalist Mitsuo Tsukahara), the Yurchenko vault (for Soviet double gold winner Natalia Yurchenko), and Thomas flair (for three-time American world champion Kurt Thomas, whose dominant years in the sport coincided with the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games and therefore never won an Olympic medal), as well as scores of other branded moves.

Watch for:

Bronx native John Orozco of the Bronx in the men's all-around competition. Oronzco, 19, appeared on his way to the world championships in 2010 when he tore his Achilles' tendon during the national championships, but rebounded to finish second in this month's U.S. trials behind Cuban immigrant Danell Leyva.

HANDBALL

Nothing like what Americans know as "handball," whacking a small rubber ball against a wall, team handball is a hybrid of soccer and basketball, played with teams of seven players and featuring lots of flying bodies attempting to hurl a ball -- slightly larger than a softball -- into a goal that is 3 x 2 meters (roughly 3 x 2 yards). Team handball has its roots in Europe, and its international competition continues to be dominated by Europeans: 32 of the 33 Olympic men's medals and 20 of the 27 women's medals have gone to European nations, and seven of those eight non-European medals were won by South Korea. (China took the other one.)

Did you know?

The last time the U.S. handball team qualified for the Olympics, at the 1996 Atlanta Games, six Long Islanders were on the roster -- Matt Ryan of Miller Place (who was team captain), Darrick Heath of Hempstead, brothers Tom and Joe Fitzgerald of North Babylon, Greg Caccia of Bay Shore and Bobby Dunn of Glen Cove. In 2002, when New York City still was in the bidding process for this summer's Olympics, the national team handball champions were staged at Nassau Coliseum, the envisioned site of 2012 Olympic team handball. Update: Joe Fitzgerald is now Father Joe Fitzgerald at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Syosset.

Watch for:

Both the men's and women's gold medal teams from the 2008 Beijing Games, France and Norway, also are the reigning world champions and solid favorites to repeat.

JUDO

The Japanese word "judo" translates to "gentle way," an only slightly misleading description for this martial art, which emphasizes balance, leverage and movement over out-and-out force. The sport was given its form by 19th century Japanese educator Jigoro Kano, who had experienced bullying in school, and is designed to use an opponent's strength against him, by focusing on throws and a variety of rolls, falls, throws, chokes, joint-locks and strikes. Judo language remains strictly Japanese -- a winning score of 10 points is an "ippon," a disqualification a "hansokumake," an inner thigh counter throw an "uchi-mata-gaeshi," an arm lock a "juji-gatame" and so on. The sport made its Olympic debut at the 1964 Tokyo Games, with women first included at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Did you know?

No American ever has won an Olympic gold in judo, but there have been 10 U.S. winners of either silver or bronze. One of those was Michael Swain at the 1988 Seoul Games, when Swain was the reigning world champion. Swain had picked up judo from an uncle who learned it in the military, and though the only thing he knew about Japan was its automobile prowess -- his father owned a Honda dealership in New Jersey -- Swain began making annual trips to Japan after high school to train in judo. He got the bronze when his loss to Britain's Kerrith Brown was reversed by Brown's doping positive. "I didn't want to win this way," Swain said then, "but I can always lie to my grandchildren."

Watch for:

Kayla Harrison, a 21-year-old from Wakefield, Mass., has emerged as a gold-medal candidate with her 2010 world title and various international victories since then in the half-heavyweight class, 172 pounds.

MODERN PENTATHLON

The modern pentathlon takes its format from the theoretical adventure of a soldier ordered to deliver a message during combat: He sets out on horseback, but when the horse is shot from under him, he resorts to using his sword. When the sword breaks, he goes to his pistol. When he runs out of bullets, he escapes across a river, and finally runs through the woods to his destination. Thus, a competition of riding, fencing, shooting, swimming and running -- though the Olympic order has been shuffled: It is now fencing, swimming, riding, running and shooting. Originally a five-day event, the modern pentathlon -- facing possible elimination from the Olympic program -- now is squeezed into a single day.

Did you know?

A real soldier -- 26-year-old army lieutenant George S. Patton -- finished fifth the first time the Olympic modern pentathlon was contested, at the 1912 Stockholm Games. According to David Wallechinsky's Complete Book of Olympics, Patton received an injection of opium before his cross-country run and claimed he was cheated out of the gold medal. He said he was penalized for a missed target in shooting though he insisted his bullet had gone through the bull's-eye hole made by a previous athletes' shot.

Watch for:

Arkansas native Margaux Isaksen, 20, was 21st at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but won the Pan American title in 2010. She has recovered from a broken wrist -- bucked by a horse in pentathlon warm-ups last year -- and a case of mononucleosis.

ROWING

There is some evidence that modern rowing races evolved during Shakespeare's time on the River Thames, as gambling opportunities handicapping the speed of man-powered ferries and water taxis. The sport was included in the program of the first Modern Olympics, the 1896 Athens Games, but bad weather forced rowing's debut to be postponed to the 1900 Paris Games. Women's rowing was added at the 1976 Montreal Games. Athletes compete in 15 events, roughly half of them sculling -- in which each rower pulls two oars -- the others sweeps -- in which each rower pulls one oar.

Did you know?

The single sculls gold medalist at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics was Jack Kelly, whose daughter was actress (and later Princess of Monaco) Grace Kelly. Her son, Prince Albert of Monaco, was a five-time Olympian in bobsled ("Prince Albert in a Can"), last competing at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. Albert's wife is the former Charlene Wittstock, whom he met at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she swam the leadoff leg for South Africa's fifth-place 4 x 100-meter medley relay team.

Watch for:

Rowing continues to be dominated by Western nations and athletes -- Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. Though Great Britain's Steve Redgrave, five times a gold medalist, has retired, fellow Brit Matthew Pinsent could win a fifth gold in London. Australia's Drew Ginn already has won three golds in three Olympics.

SAILING

What formerly was called Olympic "yachting" is now Olympic "sailing," though the two words basically are interchangeable. The word "yacht" appears to have come form the obsolete Norwegian "jagt," and it was in that North Sea region that the racing of sailboats apparently originated in the 17th century. Because of the evolution of boating technology, only one of the nine current Olympics classes -- the two-person Star -- has been in the program since before 1984.

Did you know?

Because sailors need open water, their Olympic competition regularly is staged miles from the host city. (For the London Games, the sailing will be roughly 100 miles southwest of London in Weymouth.) For the first official Olympic sailing race, at the 1920 Antwerp Games, the venue was Ostende, about 60 miles from Antwerp. But after some results were voided in a dispute over the course, the duel between two Dutch teams -- the only entrants -- was rescheduled for September, two months after the event began, and moved to Holland. Only one other time in Modern Olympic history was an official event contested outside the host country: For the 1956 Melbourne Games, because of horse quarantine and travel issues, the equestrian competition took place in Sweden.

Watch for:

English-born Anna Tunnicliffe, four-time U.S. yachtswoman of the year and gold medalist in the one-person laser radial class at the 2008 Beijing Games, will sail in the new women's match-racing event with crew members Molly Vandemoer and Bayport's Debbie Capozzi.

SHOOTING

The air rifle competition offers an ideal example of the challenge in Olympic shooting events, of which there are 15 (nine for men, six for women): In air rifle, competitors stand 10 meters -- slightly more than 10 yards -- from the target, taking aim at a bull's-eye only a half-millimeter across, or only slightly bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. Furthermore, on the occasions when a shooter achieves a perfect score, the sport's international federation alters the target by decreasing the size of the bull's-eye for future competitions. If there is a tie score in this sport, medal positions are determined by a shootout. A real shootout.

Did you know?

Karoly Takacs, a member of Hungary's world championship pistol team in 1938, lost his shooting (right) hand to an exploded grenade during army training. After World War II canceled both the 1940 and 1948 Olympics, Takacs appeared at the 1948 London Games, shooting lefthanded, and won the gold in the individual rapid-fire pistol competition. He won again at the 1952 Helsinki Games.

Watch for:

American medal contenders include 32-year-old Californian Kim Rhode (women's double trap gold in 1996, double trap bronze in 2000, double trap gold in 2004, skeet gold in '08); she could become the first U.S. athlete to medal in five straight Olympics. Matt Emmons won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games in rifle, prone position and survived thyroid cancer in 2010. Glenn Eller is the defending men's double trap gold medalist and Vincent Hancock the defending Olympic skeet champion.

SOCCER

Soccer's world governing body, FIFA, forever has kept the sport's Olympic status weak, first by creating the World Cup tournament in 1930 to be the sport's premier event, and more recently with rules limiting the participation of elite players. Also, for decades, antiquated Olympic "amateur" rules helped state-sponsored teams from the Communist bloc to win every Olympic gold between 1948 and 1992. In 1992, when pros finally were welcomed, FIFA declared no professional over 23 was Olympic-eligible. Since 1996, FIFA has allowed each nation only three over-23 players.

Did you know?

England has not won a medal in soccer since 1912. Since 1960, in fact, Great Britain has not fielded an Olympic soccer team, mostly because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- whose "national" teams are separate from England in all other international competitions -- have feared losing their independence within FIFA. For 2012, FIFA assured those federations will not be affected by joining Team GB.

Watch for:

Team USA has won three of the first four women's Olympics but now must deal with threats from Germany, Japan, Sweden and Brazil.

SWIMMING

In a way, Olympic swimming completed a lap around the historical pool at the 2008 Beijing Games when 10,000-meter "open water" races -- one each for men and women -- were added. Though that distance event is a far cry from the original Olympic swimming event -- a 100-meter freestyle at the 1896 Athens Games -- it did return the sport to open water. The 1896 Olympics were held in early April and the first gold medalist, Alfred Hajos of Hungary, had to deal with 55-degree temperatures in the Bay of Zea. For the 1900 Paris Games, competitors swam in the River Seine -- with the current. Modern Olympic pools facilitate more speed by dissipating turbulence with "wet decks" that eliminate side walls and let waves wash into surface drains; heavier lane dividers that lessen ripples between lanes; greater water dGY

Did you know?

Whoever swims in Lane 4 is the most likely to win, because the swimmer with the fastest qualifying time is placed there, in the middle of the pool. The next fastest qualifier is in Lane 5, third-fastest in Lane 3 and so on.

Watch for:

Michael Phelps. He already has more medals (16) than any male in Olympic history and is two behind Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina. Though he was outperformed by fellow American Ryan Lochte at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, Phelps is scheduled for as many as seven events and must be considered a contender whenever he swims.

SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING

A breath-holding, as opposed to breathtaking, sport, synchronized swimming is a women-only endeavor in which the athletes -- performing with their heads routinely under water -- regularly hold their breath for two or three minutes. International rules recommend no swimmer go beyond 40 seconds, for safety reasons, but Olympians often push the envelope. Introduced to the Olympics at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, synchronized swimming -- a form of water ballet or water gymnastics, subjectively scored -- often has been denigrated as a non-sport, but the David Wallechinsky Complete Book of the Olympics proclaims it to be more physically demanding than shooting, dressage or playing rightfield in baseball.

Did you know?

Fourteen months after the 1992 Olympic synchronized swimming solo event -- since discontinued; there now are duet and team events -- a second gold medal was awarded to apparent runner-up Sylvie Frechette of Canada because of a judging dispute. The original winner, American Kristen Babb-Sprague, kept her gold, as well. But when Babb-Sprague, married to Toronto Blue Jays catcher-infielder Ed Sprague, appeared at a Blue Jays game shortly after her controversial victory, Canadian fans took it out on Ed -- booing him at every plate appearance.

Watch for:

Russia has won both the team and duet golds in the past three Olympics and is the heavy favorite again. Its biggest star, Natalya Ishchenko, has been called the Michael Phelps of synchronized swimming.

TABLE TENNIS

First included in the Olympic program at the 1988 Seoul Games, this sport commonly known by the trademarked name of Ping-Pong, in fact generates no "pingpong" among top players. Rather, the sound they produce is a distinct "tick-tack," and at such a speed that the opposing hits run together -- "ticktackticktackticktack" -- a metronome on steroids. The ball weighs less than an ounce; the net is a mere six inches high on the 9-by-5-foot table, but players pour hours of running and reaction drills and weight training into each shot, swinging from the heels, grunting, springing from a crouch.

Did you know?

Deng Yaping, who never grew past 4-10 1/2, spent five years being denied a spot on Chinese national teams because her coaches considered her too short, then proceeded to win the 1991 world championships and Olympic gold medal in singles at the 1992 Barcelona Games and 1996 Atlanta Games.

Watch for:

China dominates international table tennis -- especially in women's competition, in which China has won 11 of the 12 gold medals in Olympic history. More than that, Chinese-born players have represented 12 different nations -- Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore among them -- in Olympic women's competition.

TAEKWONDO

With roots in ancient Korean martial arts, taekwondo evolved into a specific sport in 1957 and staged its first world championship event in 1973. It became a "demonstration sport"--a designation since dropped from Olympic programs--in 1988 and 1992 and achieved full-medal status at the 2000 Sydney Games. A translation of the word taekwondo--"tae" means "to kick or smash with the foot;" "kwon" means "to destroy with the fist;" "do" means "the art of"--signals its fairly violent, with scoring based on blows to the head, abdomen and sides of the body. No holding, pushing, grabbing, faking of injury is allowed.

Did you know?

Under pressure from mainland China, the International Olympic Committee continues to refer to the island nation of Taiwan as "Chinese Taipei" and demands the Taiwanese compete under a neutral IOC flag. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Chen Sjhih-hsien's victory in women's flyweight taekwondo brought Taiwan its first-ever gold medal, followed 20 minutes later by Chu Mu-yen's gold in men's flyweight, after which Chu declared in a press conference, "I am from Taiwan." At the 1960 Rome Games, Taiwan's C.K. Yang had won Taiwan's first medal of any color--a silver--when he finished second to his UCLA teammate, American Rafer Johnson, in the decathlon.

Watch for:

South Koreans took four of the eight 2008 gold medals in what they consider their national sport and expect to do well again. American siblings Steven and Diana Lopez, both bronze medalists in the 2008 Beijing Games, return. Their brother Mark, who won silver in 2008, does not.

TENNIS

This year's Olympic tennis venue, the famous grass courts at Wimbledon, has caused more buzz for the sport than any previous Games since tennis was reinstated to the Olympic program at the 1988 Seoul Games. Tennis had been included in the first of the Modern Olympics, in Athens in 1896, though just for the men, with the women's first appearance at the 1900 Paris Games - and remained through the 1924 Games, also in Paris. It was brought back as a "demonstration" sport at the 1984 Los Angeles Games before achieving full-medal status in 1988, with men's and women's singles and men's and women's doubles. Mixed doubles, which had been included until 1924, returns this year.

Did you know?

The only winner of the so-called "Golden Slam" - champion of the four Grand Slam tournaments (Australian, French, Wimbledon, U.S. Open) plus Olympic gold - is Steffi Graf, who swept the five events in 1988. Graf had won tennis' Olympic "demonstration" at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when she was the youngest competitor at 15. Her future husband, Andre Agassi, won Olympic gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Roger Federer's only Olympic medal is a gold in men's doubles (with Stanislas Wawrinka) at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Watch for:

The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, are attempting to win a third Olympic gold in doubles together. They were champions at the 2000 Sydney Games and 2008 Beijing Games, though they missed 2004 because of Serena's knee injury.

TRAMPOLINE / RHYTHMIC GYMNASTICS

These two disciplines come under the umbrella of "gymnastics" as Olympic sports, though there is little relation that "artistic gymnastics" that includes such familiar activities as balance beam, floor exercise, high bar, etc. Trampoline, contested by both men and women, was added to the Olympic program at the 2000 Sydney Games and has received little attention in the United States, likely because no American has come close to winning a medal. Rhythmic gymnastics, which debuted at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, is that quirky women-only endeavor requiring separate routines using a hoop, rope, clubs, a ball and a ribbon. In rhythmic gymnastics, such acrobatic feats as cartwheels, flips and handsprings are forbidden. Eastern European athletes have dominated.

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Among the reasons for automatic deductions in scoring in rhythmic gymnastics is for an athlete to have her bra strap showing. Among the accessories in rhythmic gymnastics is for each athlete to perform while her personal pianist provides music. And judging controversies abound.

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In trampoline, China's He Wenna is favored to repeat her 2008 women's gold-medal performance, while the reigning men's champion, China's Lu Chunlong, is expected to be tested by countryman Dong Dong.

TRIATHLON

In 1974, the first competitive swim-bike-run triathlon debuted in San Diego, and by 1989 an official world championship was contested in France, leading to sport's Olympic introduction -- for both men and women -- at the 2000 Sydney Games. The first medal awarded at those Games, in fact, was in the women's triathlon, when an estimated 200,000 spectators lined the route -- leading to the finish near Sydney's iconic opera house and picturesque harbor -- in hopes of seeing Australian Michellie Jones, the pre-race favorite, win gold. When Jones was outrun over the last 200 meters to finish second to Switzerland's Brigitte McMahon, she decided, "When you think about it, a silver medal ain't bad." McMahon, five years later, failed a doping test and retired.

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The Olympic triathlon -- 1,500-meter swim (not quite a mile), 40-kilometer bike race (just short of 25 miles) and 10,000-meter run (6.2 miles) -- is not quite as extreme as what is known as the Ironman Triathlon -- 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race, 26.2-mile full marathon run. But the first men's Olympic champion, Simon Whitfield of Canada, always wanted to be included in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the triathlon was a reasonable start.

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Since everything seems to come in threes with the triathlon, consider that three Brits -- Helen Jenkins, Jonathan Brownless and his brother Alistair -- are considered the strongest threats to medals at their home Olympics.

VOLLEYBALL

James Naismith's Springfield College physical education classmate, William Morgan, invented a sport, too. Five years after Naismith cooked up a game called basketball in the late 1890s, Morgan -- who, like Naismith, pursued a career at the YMCA -- devised an athletic pastime in Holyoke, Mass., that he named "mintonette." It was renamed "volleyball" soon after. Morgan wanted an activity more suitable to older folks and judged his game to be less strenuous than Naismith's, though that wouldn't appear to be the case any longer. Volleyball was given Olympic status in 1964 and the women's elite teams have been known to endure some of the most demanding training regimens in sport.

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The 2008 U.S. women's team, which won the silver medal in Beijing, was coached by Lang Ping, who had been known as "the iron hammer" when she was star spiker for China's 1984 Olympic team that beat the Americans in that gold-medal final. Before that '84 match, in fact, Ping had seen a TV image of the U.S. coach and some of his players wearing mock gold medals and exhorted her teammates to "pluck the medals from their necks." Lang has settled in the United States and has a daughter, Lydia Bai, on the Stanford University volleyball team.

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After a three-Olympic drought without a medal of any kind, the U.S. men won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games and are considered a co-favorite with Brazil. The American women also had been without a medal through three Olympics before taking silver in Beijing, and are expected to contend with defending Olympic champion Brazil again.

WATER POLO

Originally called "aquatic football" and "water rugby" -- water polo is a rough enough sport that athletes typically wear two bathing suits, so that all that tugging at an opponent underwater doesn't result in embarrassment. Its origins appear to trace to Great Britain in the 19th century, and it first appeared at the Olympics in 1900, one of the earliest Olympic team sports. Britain won the first four Olympic tournaments but, by the 1932 Los Angeles Games, Hungary had taken the first of nine gold medals -- including the last three. Women's water polo was accepted into the Games in 2000.

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Though water polo in the United States is essentially a California phenomenon, New York City's Wolf Wigo -- OK, he played collegiately at Stanford -- was a three-time Olympian and, at the 2000 Sydney Games, was the team's leading scorer. The NYAC has fielded water polo teams for years and Wigo first made that team as a 13-year-old.

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The Hungarian men have not lost an Olympic match since the preliminary round of the 2000 Sydney Games and went on to win gold that year, at the 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games. Though several key members of the team are in their 30s, Hungary is expected to add to its 17-match Olympic winning streak and contend for a medal of some color. The U.S. women have medaled (silver, bronze, silver) in all three of their Olympic tournaments and likely will again.

WEIGHTLIFTING

Though other sports, to their discredit, have produced more in-competition doping positives in recent Olympics, weightlifting had been an early leader for that dubious distinction through the first two decades of aggressive testing in the 1970s and 1980s. That prompted this observation from an Edmonton reporter, when four of seven Canadian team members failed drug screenings before the 1988 Seoul Games: "The game is the Olympics, the sport is weightlifting, the event is clean and jerk. And so far, the score is three clean, four jerks." Following the 1992 Barcelona Games, all weight categories were changed in an attempt to start over with "clean" records. Still, the single American women's weightlifting gold medal, awarded to Tara Nott when the sport first was contested by females in 2000, resulted after Bulgaria's Izabela Dragneva, the apparent winner, tested positive.

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American men have not won a gold weightlifting medal since Charles Vinci's victory at the 1960 Rome Games in the 123-pound class. Vinci was a repeat champion after having barely made weight, then winning, at the 1956 Melbourne Games. In that case, a last-minute haircut finally sheared off the last seven ounces of excess poundage when an hour of heavy exercise didn't work.

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American television will have its eye on Holley Mangold, the 5-8, 357-pound younger sister of Jets center Nick. Far more likely to star in the women's super-heavyweight class is Russia's Tatiana Kashirina. Germany's Matthias Stainer is attempting to match his 2008 gold in men's super-heavyweight.

WRESTLING

For the uninitiated, this is not a sport with makeup, costumes, feathered boas and opponents swinging folding chairs or appearing to crack heads into turnbuckles. Nothing choreographed. The easiest way to spot an Olympic wrestler, in fact, is to look for the cauliflower ears -- the puffy deformity caused by blows that lead to excessive growth of scar tissue. Cauliflower ears are a badge, like missing teeth on hockey players and calluses on gymnasts. In Olympic wrestling -- a far, far cry from WWE -- there are two disciplines: freestyle and Greco-Roman. (In Greco-Roman, actually invented in France in the 19th century, holds below the hips are prohibited.) Women's wrestling was added to the Games in 2004.

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Rulon Gardner, the Wyoming dairy farmer who became an unlikely star after upsetting three-time Olympic Greco-Roman champion Aleksandr Karelin of Russia at the 2000 Sydney Games, attempted an Olympic comeback at 40 this year but failed to make weight to participate in the U.S. Olympic trials. Gardner, who has survived a plane crash, motorcycling accident, self-inflicted arrow wound that punctured his abdomen, a toe lost to frostbite after a snowmobiling mishap and an appearance on TV's "The Biggest Loser," insisted he could return for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

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Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan field strong men's teams. Japan and China have had top women's contenders. An American favorite in the men's competition is Jordan Burroughs, a New Jersey native who won two NCAA titles at Nebraska. The best medal hope among U.S. women is Elena Pirozhkova, born in Russia and raised in Massachusetts.