London 2012: Unfamiliar Olympic sports explained

Get to grips with those sports we will be watching in the coming weeks…

Powered by article titled “London 2012: Unfamiliar Olympic sports explained” was written by David Hills, for The Observer on Saturday 21st July 2012 21.01 UTC


The details 28 July-5 August, Wembley Arena. 86 men and 86 women compete in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Matches are the best of three, players trying to reach 21 points by a clear margin of two.

What it is Frantic. A battle of speed and tactics as players fire shuttlecocks at each other’s heads at speeds over 200mph.

What it is not That game you play in the garden. The stars China dominate. Men’s favourites are Dan Lin, Lee Chong-Wei and Long Chen; women’s are Wang Yihan, Wang Shixian and Wang Xin. Brits Imogen Bankier and Chris Adcock have a chance in the doubles.

Beach volleyball

The details 28 July-9 August, Horse Guards Parade. 96 competitors in teams of two, played on wet London sand. The aim is to land the ball in the opponents’ half. Players can take three touches after serving before the ball must cross the net. A pool stage leads on to the knockouts.

What it is A serious sport. What it is not Just about bikinis. Brit Zara Dampney warned the Sun’s campaign for skimpy swimwear instead of leggings: “If it is cold we’re going to have to cover up.”

The stars USA and Brazil. American Misty May-Treanor is the biggest and best name.

Cycling – BMX

The details 8-10 August on a purpose-built 400m course in the north of the park. 32 men and 16 women will compete.

What it is A limb-snapping stamina and agility sport over steep dirt mountains.

What it is not 12-year-old boys doing endos and bunnyhops.

The stars Crewe-born Shanaze Reade crashed out in Beijing, but says: “I felt sick then … Now I’m back and fighting.” Brit Liam Phillips has a chance in the men’s race, but Latvian Maris Stromberg, Frenchman Joris Daudet and Australia’s Sam Willoughby start as favourites.


The details 28 July-5 August at the ExCeL. 212 swashbucklers in 10 medal events will lay into each other with foils, épées and sabres. Individual bouts involve three periods of three minutes each – or until one fencer scores 15 hits.

What it is Full of swagger. What it is not Playground sword fighting. Fencing is crammed full of rules, infringements and jargon. Best to know your piste from your riposte before setting off.

The stars South Korea and Italy are tipped to dominate across the events. No Brit has won a medal since 1964.


The details 28 July-12 August. 168 men and 168 women will compete at two venues: the Copper Box and the Basketball Arena. Teams of seven pass, bounce and throw the ball at goal using any body part above the knee. Players can hold the ball for up to three seconds and take up to three steps. Matches consist of two 30-minute halves.

What it is Angry netball.

What it is not Hard to follow. It is still a novelty for Brits, but the game is speedy, tense and engagingly confrontational.

The stars Norway head the women’s field, while France won the men’s event in Beijing.


The details 29 July-11 August at Weymouth and Portland Harbour. There are 10 medal events, six for men and four for women, with 380 competitors and a range of vessels. Points are awarded based on finishing positions in most events.

What it is Great to be at if you don’t understand the rules, even better if you do. British summer storms could add an edge.

What it is not A time to relax. Britain have finished first in the last three Olympics. The pressure to meet expectations is high.

The stars Ben Ainslie can cement his status as one of the all-time great Olympians.


The details 28 July-6 August. 390 shooters in 15 events at the Royal Artillery Barracks. Each country is limited to 28 competitors. Targets are stationary in the pistol and rifle events, but are on the move in the shotgun.

What it is A slow-moving battle of mind over body, all about angles, composure and concentration. Involves a lot of lying down.

What it is not What you wanted to get in the ticket lottery.

The stars The Brits to watch are former double Olympic champion Richard Faulds and world No1 Peter Wilson. Faulds, 35, made his Olympic debut aged 19 in Atlanta.


The details 8-11 August at the ExCeL. 128 competitors in eight medal events – four weight categories for men, four for women. Points come from kicking and punching your opponent’s scoring zones, with a turning head-kick worth four points. Contests are in three two-minute rounds. Rules are tight: a serious indiscretion attracts a Gam-Jeom: a one-point penalty.

What it is Elegant controlled aggression.

What it is not Like Saturday night in Croydon. The stars Half of the medals in Beijing went to South Koreans. For Team GB, the talking-point remains Aaron Cook’s omission.


The details 3-4 August at the North Greenwich Arena (the O2 before and after the Games). 32 gymnasts will bounce it out in an event which has been in the Games only since 2000. Competitors perform 10 skill routines, with 11 judges marking them on difficulty, timing and execution.

What it is Full of fine jargon: watch out for a graceful fliffus (a double somersault with at least a half-twist). A triffus is a triple.

What it is not Easy to spot the faults, unless someone falls off the edge.

The stars Canada are confident, and this is a chance to secure their first gold.


The details 5-12 August at the ExCeL. 344 grunting competitors. There are 18 Greco-Roman events for men only in seven weight categories, and in the freestyle seven categories for men and four for women.

What it is Sweaty spandex. Greco-Roman wrestling, part of the first modern Games in 1896, involves using only upper bodies and arms; freestyle is more spontaneous. The aim is to force the back of the opponent’s shoulders on to the mat, with points awarded for throws and holds.

What it is not Artistic. The stars Russians. They won 21 golds in the last four Games. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *