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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 29, 2012
SPORTS: London Gears up for Olympics
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Faster, Higher, Stronger
June 29, 2012   
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The 30th summer Olympic Games begin in London at the end of July. For 16 days, around 10,500 athletes will be competing for medals in more than 300 events, and hundreds of millions of viewers will watch the games on television.

No other international sports event costs so much to stage. In no other event are competitions held in so many different venues and in so many different sports.

Olympic symbols
The Olympic rings are the most recognized brand in the world. The International Olympic Committee has commissioned a survey to determine the strength of the Olympic brand. The survey findings show that 83 percent of respondents are familiar with the Olympic five-rings logo, while 81 percent are familiar with the Red Cross symbol, 80 percent with UNICEF, 61 percent with Disney, and 58 percent with Nike.

The Olympic flag shows five interlocking colored rings on a white background. It was designed in Stockholm in 1912 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the French historian and educator who in 1896 played a central role in reviving the ancient Greek Olympic Games. He firmly believed that the Olympics, the biggest international sporting event, would help build understanding among nations. In 1928 de Coubertin won the Nobel Peace Prize for this idea.

According to the Olympic Charter, the five interlocking colored rings of equal diameter symbolize a union of five continents and a meeting of athletes from around the world at the Olympics, and not—as is commonly believed—the colors of the continents. However, the popular belief is that the colors correspond to individual continents: the blue is attributed to Europe, the black to Africa, the red to America, the yellow to Asia, and the green to Australia.

Global games
A total of 245 athletes from 13 countries took part in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. All the competitors were men. They competed in only nine sports: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. In 2008, in the Beijing Olympics, almost 12,000 athletes from 202 countries took part. A total of 301 competitions in 28 disciplines were held.

The Olympic Games enjoy huge interest among television viewers worldwide despite the fact that watching live broadcasts is sometimes difficult due to time differences. The Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008, were watched by a third of the world’s population—2 billion people in all, according to the Media Buyer Planner website. This year’s television coverage of the Olympic Games in London is expected to attract twice as many viewers—4 billion, according to estimates by the organizers.

Polish multimedalists
Historically, track-and-fielder Irena Szewińska, a sprinter and long jumper, won the largest number of Olympic medals for Poland, seven: three gold, two silver and two bronze. She took part in five Olympic Games between 1964 and 1980. Race walker Robert Korzeniowski (pictured right) won a total of four medals, all of them gold, between 1996 and 2004. Sixteen athletes have each won at least three Olympic medals. These include swimmer Otylia Jędrzejczak, canoer Aneta Pastuszka-Konieczna, and Renata Mauer-Różańska in shooting.

In addition to medals, Olympic medalists usually receive flowers, but sometimes also mascots or laurel wreaths (such was the case at Athens in 2004, for example).

The medals for which athletes will be competing in London have been minted at Britain’s Royal Mint, which has been making coins and medals for the British army for centuries. For this year’s Olympics the mint has prepared around 4,700 medals, which will be handed out during 805 medal ceremonies.

More than a medal
For most athletes, winning an Olympic medal is the crowning glory of their sports career. Many would not hesitate to trade their world championships medals and other trophies for a Olympic gold.

But some athletes decide to donate their medals for charitable causes. For example, Jędrzejczak put her Olympic gold up for auction. The money raised, zl.257,550, will benefit an oncology and hematology clinic at the Children’s Hospital in the southwestern city of Wrocław. Biathlete Tomasz Sikora also gave up his silver medal from the 2006 Turin Olympic Winter Games to be auctioned off to finance medical treatment for 16-year-old biathlete Tomasz Dudek, who suffered a serious accident while training at a shooting range. Biathlon is a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. A bullet pierced Dudek’s skull and stuck in his brain.

Wrestler Agnieszka Wieszczek has received zl.57,000 for her bronze medal in Beijing. She donated the money to pay for the treatment of Radek Księżyk, a 12-year-old boy with multiple heart defects from Katowice. The Olympic gold medal of hammer thrower Kamila Skolimowska, who died in 2009, was bought from her parents by the Polish Olympic Committee for zl.200,000. The money was used to endow a fund named after Skolimowska and intended for the treatment and rehabilitation of young Polish athletes with Olympic prospects.

London 2012
The British capital will be hosting the summer Olympic Games for the third time in its history. The Games will open July 27 and close Aug. 12. The main competitions will be held at Hyde Park, Greenwich Park, Regent’s Park, Wimbledon and the newly renovated Wembley soccer stadium. The marathon route will run through the streets of Westminster and the City of London financial district. The Olympic village is in the eastern part of the city. The total estimated cost of the Games is 10 billion pounds. The organizers have prepared 8 million tickets, the cheapest costing around 20 pounds.

There were some minor scandals related to ticket sales—fake tickets appeared in circulation at one point and there was also a situation where, as a result of a mistake made when entering data, twice as many tickets were sold for synchronized swimming sessions as there were places available. The error occurred in online orders. Those overbooked were offered tickets to other disciplines instead.

London is so close to Warsaw and so many Poles live and work in the British capital that Polish fans with red-and-white national flags are certain to appear at all the Olympic venues, stadiums, sports fields and routes.

Polish Olympic hopes
Polish athletes have officially competed in the Summer Olympics since 1924. Earlier, when Poland was under foreign rule, the occupying countries used Polish athletes as members of their national teams. To date a total of 1,914 athletes have represented Poland in 25 Olympic sports. The record number of medals, 32, was won by Polish athletes at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. This year the general expectation is that the Poles should do no worse than four years ago at Beijing and eight years ago at Athens, when they grabbed 10 medals.

The biggest Polish Olympic hopes are those who have a previous record of Olympic trophies or have won other big events. These chiefly include track-and-fielders Tomasz Majewski (shot put), Anita Włodarczyk (hammer throw), Piotr Małachowski (discus), and Paweł Wojciechowski, Monika Pyrek and Anna Rogowska (pole vault). Other Olympic hopes, as usual, include rowers, canoers and swimmers, in addition to mountain biker Maja Włoszczowska, tennis player Agnieszka Radwańska and the men’s volleyball team. Fans also hope that some new talents and stars will emerge at the London Olympics.

Agnieszka Dokowicz

- Tug of war was a team event in the Summer Olympics at every Games from 1900 to 1920. At the 1900 Olympics the joint Swedish and Danish team was a player short so Danish journalist Edgar Aaybe joined in, helping secure a gold medal for the team.
- In 1904 at St. Louis, the marathon was held on an extremely hot day. Many runners fainted. American Fred Lorze crossed the finish line first, but looked suspiciously fresh and free from exhaustion. After examining the case, it turned out that the runner had been given a 17-kilometer ride in a car that picked him up on the road.
- Canadian George Lyon, after winning the golf tournament at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, walked on his hands to the podium to collect his medal.
- Wars prevented several Olympics from taking place. The Games were not held in 1916 because of World War I, nor in 1940 nor 1944, because of World War II.
- During the 1920 Antwerp Olympics cyclists had to cross railway tracks. Some of the riders had to stop for more than 4 minutes to let a train pass.
- In 1928, Australian rower Henry Pearce gained such a huge advantage over his rivals that he stopped to allow a flock of ducks to pass, and nevertheless grabbed the gold.
- In 1956, the water polo final between Hungary and the Soviet Union deteriorated into a bloody fight. A few weeks earlier Soviet troops had entered Hungary. The athletes fought so fiercely that the water in the pool was stained red.
- In 1972 at Munich, Palestinian terrorist group Black September killed 11 members of the Israeli team. The Games were discontinued but subsequently resumed after a ceremony to commemorate the dead.
- Today Olympic gold medals are in reality made of silver. They are gold-plated and must contain no less than 6 grams of pure gold.

London Olympics in Numbers
- 8 million tickets for spectators
- 10 million liters of water in the Aquatics Centre
- 866,000 tiles in the swimming pools and other facilities at the Aquatics Centre
- 300,000 trees planted in the Olympic village
- 80,000 grandstand seats available at the Olympic Stadium
- 20,000 journalists
- 10,500 athletes competing in 26 disciplines
- 6,000 workers hired to build the Olympic village
- 2,800 housing units in the Olympic village
- 2 huge, 723-inch LCD screens at the Olympic Stadium
- 300-meter-long whitewater course
- 205 countries represented at the Games
- 28 degrees Celsius constant temperature at the cycling track
- 2 venues completed 2 years before opening day
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