Olympics 2012: Olympics survive another 4 years

By MIKE RABUN, UPI Sports Writer  |  July 8, 2012 at 6:01 AM
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The Olympics began as a festival to honor Zeus more than 2,700 years ago and when renewed in 1896 attracted only a modest gathering from 14 nations.

The production soon to take place in England will resemble those events in name only. Neither Zeus nor anything modest will be very much in evidence.

It has become, by far, the largest sporting carnival on the planet and everything associated with the London Olympics will be conducted on a grand scale.

The marriage of sports and business will once again reach a zenith unimagined when Baron Pierre de Coubertin succeeded in organizing the first of the modern Olympics in Athens 116 years ago.

That the Olympics have survived terrorism, boycotts and growing drug use is something of a surprise. But survive they have and nations continue to line up with their bids in hopes, despite the costs and other headaches, they might act as host to the world.

This year there will be about 10,500 competitors taking part in 26 sports. There are 203 nations eligible to send athletes to London -- ranging from Aruba to Zambia and Andorra to Zimbabwe. The vast majority of them will take advantage of the opportunity.

And the entire enterprise will be held under the kind of smothering blanket of security that has become a 21st Century necessity for big events.

It will all begin on July 27 with the tradition-bound opening ceremonies, during which the athletes will march into London's new Olympic Stadium. The highlight of the ceremony will be the lighting of the Olympic flame that will burn throughout the length of the Games, but there will also be a symbolic moment in which the purpose of the competition is briefly outlined.

An athlete from the host country will recite the Olympic oath, which reads:

"In the name of all the competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams."

The part about doping and drugs was added in 2000.

New facilities have been created for some of the Olympic sports, chief among them the stadium that will host the opening and closing ceremonies along with the track and field competition.

It was built in the middle of Olympic Park and waterways run along three sides of the structure. Five bridges link the stadium to the surrounding area.

But landmarks scattered throughout the city will play host to various competitions as well.

There will be medals earned at Wembly Stadium, Hyde Park, Lord's Cricket Grounds, Wimbledon, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich, the city's oldest royal park that has been greeting visitors for nearly 800 years.

In all, 302 gold medals will be awarded at the London Olympics, the same number handed out in Beijing four years ago. Baseball and softball have been ousted from the Games since then, but boxing for women has been added.

There will be activities involving deadly weapons (shooting, fencing and archery). Athletes will jump up and down on a trampoline, swim a marathon in open water, lift enormous amounts of weight over their head and paddle a canoe as fast as they possibly can.

And throughout the two weeks stories will abound.

Four years ago superstar American swimmer Michael Phelps became the first person to win eight gold medals in one Olympics. He will try to win seven more in London.

USA's Michael Phelps raises his arms after receiving his 7th gold medal for the Men's 100M Butterfly final at the National Aquatic Center (Water Cube) during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, on August 16, 2008. (UPI Photo/Roger L. Wollenberg)
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He also won six times in Athens in 2004 and his 14 overall gold medals are the most ever collected by a single Olympian.

Phelps, however, does not yet own the record for total medals. That mark is held by Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina, who piled up 18 medals over three Olympics beginning in 1956. Phelps has 16 total medals (including two bronze from 2004), so Latynina's record is likely to fall.

Usain Bolt set a world record of 9.69 to win the 100-meter dash for Jamaica at the Beijing Games and was considered unbeatable heading into this year's Olympics.

At the Jamaican Olympic Trials, however, he ran second to Yohan Blake. Their rivalry should lead to a dramatic 100 final that will be one of the highlights of the London Games.

The U.S. men's basketball team bounced back from its disappointment of 2004 by winning the gold medal in Beijing. Will injuries that have reduced the strength of this year's squad make the Americans vulnerable? Can the American women win their fifth consecutive Olympic basketball gold?

And when it comes to medals, how will the latest showdown between the United States and China turn out?

In each of the last four Olympics -- Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing -- the Americans have won the most medals. They hauled in 110 of them in China while the hosts had 100.

China, however, dominated in gold medals won -- 51 to 36.

Because the games were on their home turf, the Chinese made a strong push in Beijing and wound up with nine gold medals in gymnastics, eight in weightlifting, seven in diving, five in shooting, four in table tennis, three in badminton and judo, two in trampoline and boxing and one each in taekwondo, rowing, sailing, wrestling, swimming, fencing, canoeing and archery.

More than half the American gold medals came in just two sports --12 in swimming and seven in track and field.

Some athletes will be satisfied with nothing less than a victory and others are simply thrilled to compete. No matter the result, the biggest news will be that even though the Olympics do not look much like they once did, they will have survived for another four years.

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