The A-Z reference guide to the 2012 Olympic Summer Games

Are you as excited as we are about the Olympics this weekend? We are especially looking forward to the events that combine multiple disciplines, such as athletics, modern pentathlon and triathlon. Not sure what goes on in those events? No worries; we compiled a reference guide to bring you up to speed with each sport in the 2012 Olympic Games. And since for two weeks every four years we all like to become instant armchair experts of these events — offering our own commentary on every score, finish line and whistle blow, no matter how arcane the sport — this A-Z guide will pretty much make you the Bob Costas of your friends and family.



Object of sport: Shoot arrows as close to the center of a target as possible. Olympic archery targets are 122 centimeters in diameter, with the gold ring at the center (worth a maximum 10 points) measuring just 12.2 centimeters. Athletes shoot at the target from a distance of 70 meters. Athletes compete with recurve bows, distinctive as the limbs curve outward at the top. Men and women compete separately, both as individuals and in teams of three.
Fun fact: Archery is practiced in more than 140 countries around the world.


Object of sport: There are four main strands to the athletics competition:
1. Track events: can be divided into sprints, middle-distance and long-distance events — as well as those that include obstacles, such as the hurdles and steeplechase. The track also hosts men and women’s relays.
2. Field events: can be divided into throwing and jumping
3. Combined events: a combination of both track and field. These are the decathlon for men (10 events) and the heptathlon for women (seven events).
4. Road events: marathon and race walks
Fun fact: With 2,000 athletes competing in 47 events, athletics is the largest single sport at the games.


Object of sport: Similar to tennis, but players hit a shuttlecock over the net into their opponents’ half instead of a ball. A shuttlecock is a piece of cork covered in goat skin with 16 goose feathers attached to one end. It can be made from natural or synthetic materials. First to reach 21 points wins.
Fun fact: Shuttlecocks travel at speeds in excess of 400 km/h (248.55 mph).


Object of sport: The Olympic boxing competition will feature 10 men’s weight categories, from light fly weight to super heavy weight. Women’s boxing will feature fly weight, light weight and middle weight. Men’s bouts take place over three rounds of three minutes each; women’s bouts are four rounds of two minutes each. Boxers score points for every punch they land successfully on their opponent’s head or upper body. If a boxer is knocked to the ground and fails to get up within a count of 10 from the referee, the bout is over. Bouts can also be won or lost due to retirement or disqualification. A referee can also decide to stop the fight at any point if they think a boxer is unfit to continue.
Fun fact: Women’s boxing will make its Olympic debut at London 2012.


Object of sport: In basketball, points are scored by shooting the ball into your opponents’ net, or basket. The ball is moved up the court either by dribbling (i.e., bouncing) or passing to another team member. Twelve teams compete in both the men and women’s competitions, with 12 athletes (five players and seven substitutes) on each team. Two points are awarded for a regular shot from open play, with one point for each successful free throw (following an opposition infringement) and three points for a shot from distance (beyond the three-point line).
Fun fact: Six-hundred basketballs will be used during the London 2012 basketball competition.


Object of sport: There are two types of canoe events: the canoe slalom and the canoe sprint. Canoe sprint events are head-to-head races conducted on still water, while canoe slalom consist of white-water time trials. There are events for both canoes and kayaks.
Fun fact: The canoe sprint 200-meter race will make its Olympic debut at London 2012.


Object of sport: There are four disciplines:
1. Track: Teams and individuals race around an indoor track.
2. BMX: The competition is held on a track similar to motocross.
3. Mountain bike: Takes place over rough and hilly countryside. Riders must complete a set number of laps of the course. The first rider to cross the finish line wins the gold.
4. Road: The first rider to cross the finish line wins gold. For the shorter time trial, the riders start at 90-second intervals, and the winner is the rider with the fastest time over the course.
Fun fact: Track bikes have a fixed wheel and no brakes; riders stop by putting pressure on the pedals.


Object of sport: Execute the dive perfectly, score the highest amount of points by judges. There are four events: springboard, platform, synchronized 3-meter springboard and synchronized 10-meter platform.
Fun fact: Competitive diving developed from gymnastics in the 18th century, when gymnasts in Sweden and Germany began to perform tumbling routines into water.


Object of sport: There are three disciplines:
1. Dressage: The horse and rider perform a series of movements before a panel of seven judges, who award scores for individual movements and for the overall routine.
2. Jumping: Riders are timed on the course as they jump over obstacles that may include parallel rails, triple bars, water jumps and simulated stone walls.
3. Eventing: Comprises three events in one — dressage, cross-country and show jumping.
Fun fact: Equestrian is the only Olympic sport in which men and women compete against each other on equal terms.


Object of sport: Individual bouts last for three periods of three minutes each, or until one fencer scores 15 hits against his/her opponent. In team events, teams of three fencers compete against their opponents over a series of nine three-minute bouts, with the aim of accumulating a maximum of 45 hits to win the match.
Fun fact: Hits are recorded electronically using wireless technology.


Object of sport: Called soccer in the U.S., the aim is to score more goals than the opposition. Teams of 11 players compete across two 45-minute halves, with extra time and penalty shootouts used to decide drawn matches during the knockout stages of the competition.
Fun fact: Football was introduced as a medal sport at the Paris 1900 Olympic Games.


Object of sport: There are three disciplines:
1. Artistic gymnastics: Scores are given by a panel of judges, taking into account the degree of difficulty and the quality of the execution.
2. Rhythmic: a combination of gymnastics and dance. Individuals perform short routines to music using either a hoop, ball, clubs or a ribbon. Groups perform two routines, one with five balls and the other with three ribbons and two hoops.
3. Trampoline: Gymnasts perform a series of 10 skill routines, with a variety of single, double and triple somersaults with and without twists.
Fun fact: The trampoline competition made its Olympic debut at the Sydney Games in 2000.


Object of sport: Handball features two teams of seven players passing and dribbling a small ball with their hands. The aim is to throw the ball into the opposition’s goal. Matches consist of two 30-minute halves, with the team scoring the most goals being declared the winners.
Fun fact: Handball was developed in Denmark, Sweden and Germany in the late 19th century.


Object of sport: Players use hook-shaped sticks to advance a hard ball toward their opponent’s goal. Matches are played over two halves of 35 minutes each. It is played on a court.
Fun fact: The first men’s Olympic hockey final was played on Oct. 31, 1908, in London. England beat Ireland 8-1.


Object of sport: Two athletes gain points for throws and holds in a bid to beat their opponent during this a maximum of five minutes. The athlete with the highest score is the winner.
Fun fact: Striking was banned as a judo technique in the mid-20th century due to the sport’s original background as a method of self-defense.

Modern pentathlon

Object of sport: Made up of five disciplines: (horse) riding, fencing, shooting, swimming and running. After the riding, fencing and swimming events, the athletes’ total scores are converted into a time handicap. The handicap determines the starting times for the combined event in which athletes are required to shoot five targets within 70 seconds (three times) and run 1,000 meters (three times). The winner of the competition is the athlete who crosses the finish line first.
Fun fact: George Patton competed in the first Olympic modern pentathlon at the Stockholm 1912 Games.


Object of sport: Head-to-head races that use technique and teamwork to ensure getting the maximum speed and distance out of every stroke. A rower or team must time their race to perfection, ensuring they have enough energy left for a fighting finish, if necessary. There are 14 events ranging from single rowers to teams of eight.
Fun fact: Rowing is the only sport in which competitors cross the finish line backward.


Object of sport: There are 10 events that range from dinghies and keelboats to windsurfing boards. Each event consists of a series of races. Points in each race are awarded according to position: The winner gets one point, the second-placed finisher scores two and so on. The final race is called the medal race, for which points are doubled. Following the medal race, the individual or crew with the fewest total points is declared the winner.
Fun fact: There are 380 sailing competitors in this year’s games.


Object of sport: This event falls into three disciplines: rifle, pistol and shotgun events. In rifle and pistol events, competitors aim at a 10-ring target from a set distance (10 meters, 25 meters or 50 meters). Depending on the event, athletes are required to shoot from standing, kneeling or prone (lying down) positions. In shotgun events, competitors shoot at moving clay targets launched above and in front of them.

Fun fact: There will be around 270,000 clay targets in the shotgun competition.


Object of sport: The swimming competition tests an athlete’s speed, strength and stamina using the four strokes: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. All four strokes feature in the individual medley and medley relay events. Swimmers also compete in the freestyle relay events. Olympic races in the pool are conducted over a variety of distances, from 50 meters (one length of the pool) all the way up to 1,500 meters (30 lengths). The first athlete to touch the electronic finishing touchpad at the end of the pool in each race is the winner.
Fun fact: The swimming pool is 50 meters long, 25 meters wide and 3 meters deep. It is divided into 10 lanes.

Synchronized swimming

Object of sport: Aided by underwater speakers, duets or teams of eight swimmers perform short routines to a musical accompaniment. Judges mark a variety of components during the course of a routine, including choreography, difficulty and execution.
Fun fact: Synchronized swimming is a women-only Olympic competition.

Table Tennis

Object of sport: Table tennis is based on the same basic principles as tennis, but it has a very different scoring system and a ball weighing just 2.7 grams.
Fun fact: China has won 20 of the 24 available gold medals.


Object of sport: The object of Taekwondo is to land kicks and punches on the opponent’s scoring zones. One point is awarded for a valid attack to the trunk protector (i.e., padded equipment worn around waist), two points for a valid turning kick to the trunk protector, three points for a valid kick to the head and four points for a valid turning kick to the head. Each contest is made up of three two-minute rounds.
Fun fact: Taekwondo translated into English means “the way of foot and fist.”


Object of sport: Players hit a ball over the net into their opponents’ half. The object is to score points by playing the ball so that it cannot be returned over the net within the boundary lines.
Fun fact: The first tennis balls were made of wool or hair wrapped up in leather.


Object of sport: Triathlon races combine swimming, cycling and running, in that order. Olympic events are conducted over a variety of distances: The mens and women’s triathlons will consist of a 1,500-meter swim, a 43-kilometer bike ride and a 10-kilometer run. The race is completed from start to finish, with no breaks. The transitions between the swim, the bike and the run are part of the race — crucial seconds can be gained or lost in the transition area.
Fun fact: The world’s leading competitors take less than one hour and 50 minutes to complete an Olympic-distance triathlon.


Object of sport: Volleyball and beach volleyball are played by two teams of six. The object of the game is to land the ball in the opposition’s half of the court. After the serve, each team (made up of teams of two) is allowed three touches of the ball before it must cross over the net to the opposition. The beach volleyball court is usually outdoors and covered in sand.
Fun fact: Beach volleyball is one of the most popular spectator sports at the games.


Object of sport: Played by teams of seven in a pool with a goal at each end, water polo matches are divided into four periods of eight minutes. Starting with a race to the ball at the center of the pitch, each team has only 30 seconds to attempt to score before the ball is returned to the opposition. Players aren’t allowed to touch the sides or the bottom of the pool during play and may swim as much as 3 miles during a match.
Fun fact: Only the goalkeeper may handle the ball with more than one hand.


Object of sport: The aim is simple: to lift more weight than anyone else. Competitors are divided into 15 weight categories, eight for men and seven for women.
Fun fact: The strongest competitors may lift more than three times their body weight.


Object of sport: A body-to-body combat sport. Bouts take place on a mat and can last for a maximum of three periods of two minutes, with a 30-second break in between periods. Periods are decided by points and awarded for various throws and holds. A period is won by technical superiority by performing a grand amplitude hold (worth five points), scoring two holds worth three points or gaining a six-point lead.
Fun fact: Wrestling was first held at the ancient Olympics in 708 B.C.

Good luck to Team USA!

Bring home the gold!