What To Watch at the London Olympics
Slate’s day-by-day cheat sheet to the events everyone will be watching and the hidden gems you won’t want to miss.
You should watch: American swimmer Cullen Jones, who competes today in the men’s 50-meter freestyle heats, got into competitive swimming as a child after almost drowning at a water park in Allentown, Penn. Resist the temptation to cheer him on by singing Billy Joel’s “Allentown,” which, while peppy, is a depressing song about post-industrial unemployment. Instead, choose something more appropriate like “I Go to Extremes.” Or, better yet, do your best to avoid thinking about Billy Joel entirely.
Friday, Aug. 3:
Everyone will be watching: The track and field events begin today, and medals will be awarded in the women’s 10,000-meter run. The Kenyans, naturally, are the favorites here, but watch out for Ethiopians Meselech Melkamu and Tirunesh Dibaba. Also watch out for the American runners—by which I mean you should be prepared to yell “Watch out!” to help the women of the USA avoid being trampled by the Kenyans as they get lapped again and again.
You should watch: As lithe, bouncy athletic duos go, Melkamu and Dibaba can’t compare to Dooley and Gluckstein, America’s synchronized trampoline heartthrobs. Unfortunately, synchronized trampoline isn’t yet an Olympic sport. Solo trampoline is, however, and Steven Gluckstein competes in that event today, all by his lonesome self. When you watch the trampoline events today, express your indignation by periodically exclaiming, “Man, that shit should be synchronized.” It would be most helpful if you exclaimed this while in earshot of an IOC official, but, really, just saying it to yourself in your basement will be fine.
Saturday, Aug. 4:
Everyone will be watching: This is the last day of swimming before the open water events get underway—aka, the kind of swimming in which duck avoidance is crucial to victory. Get your fill of the indoor pool by watching the men’s 4-by-100-meter medley relay, featuring Michael Phelps and Matt Grevers. I went to high school with Matt Grevers’ older brother. But then again, who didn’t go to high school with Matt Grevers’ older brother.
You should watch: If you’re the sort of person who gets annoyed by those old ladies in track suits who power-walk through shopping malls, then skip this next item. If you are an old lady in a track suit who likes to power-walk through shopping malls, have I got the sport for you! Race walking, in which athletes travel long distances at reasonable speeds, kicks off today with the men’s 20 kilometer event. You won’t want to leave your seat, so be sure to have an ample supply of hard candy at the ready.
Sunday, Aug. 5:
Everyone will be watching: Assuming he keeps up his fine Wimbledon form, Roger Federer will take the court in the men’s singles tennis finals today. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are also likely candidates to make the gold-medal match, but I’m putting my money on Fabio Fognini, the Italian tennis player whose hobby is “using the Internet.” That’s my hobby, too! Jamaica’s Usain Bolt will also try to hold off countryman Yohan Blake in the men’s 100-meter final. Bolt has explained away his recent poor showings by saying that a bad back has slowed him down. I have a bad back, too!
You should watch: The heavyweight female weightlifters face off today, and America’s best hope is Holley Mangold, the effervescent, 340-pound sister of New York Jets offensive lineman Nick Mangold. Is there a bit of a sibling rivalry between the Mangolds? On NBC’s Olympics website, Holley tells a story about how, when they were children, Nick once “chased me around the entire house and then finally got me in the backyard and tackled me, shoved my face in the grass and made me eat grass.” Here’s hoping she takes the gold medal, so that she can hit her brother over the head with it.
Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP/GettyImages
Monday, Aug. 6:
Everyone will be watching: Indoor track cycling is very popular in Great Britain, thanks primarily to the efforts of superstar Scottish cyclist Sir Chris “The Real McHoy” Hoy, who is perhaps the only active Olympian to have a velodrome named after him. Hoy is the favorite in the men’s sprint event. He’ll be paced by the dangerous Australian cyclist Shane “Can’t Eat Too Many Gherkins” Perkins.
You should watch: Fun fact: In 1958, pole vaulter Bob Richards was the first athlete to make the front of a Wheaties box. The competitors in today’s women’s pole vault finals have much lower profiles, but you’re hoping they give Holly Bleasdale a couple of boxes of Raisin Bran as a consolation prize.
Tuesday, August 7:
Everyone will be watching: Hurdler Lolo Jones has captured America’s heart with her enviable stomach muscles, her accomplishments in the field of virginity, and her inspiring backstory. Poor and homeless as a child, she nearly won gold in the 2008 Games before tripping over the penultimate hurdle. Now, she’s overcome spinal surgery to make it back to the Olympics. Jones is not the only hurdler with a sob story, though: Australian Sally Pearson had a stress fracture in her foot 10 years ago.
Justin Peters is Slate’s crime correspondent.