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.
So you're excited about the Olympics, but you can't decide what to watch? Let our handy Olympics viewers’ guide do all that hard decision-work for you! From Michael Phelps to Usain Bolt, judo to modern pentathlon, we've got it all covered. (And keep up with the games by reading the rest of Slate’s coverage of the London Olympics.)
Friday, July 27:
Everyone will be watching: The 2012 London Games kick off officially with the opening ceremony, which, if I understand British culture correctly, will consist of 90 minutes worth of witty self-deprecation, a two-hour break for rain, and a climactic soccer riot. Also, it will probably involve some sort of elaborate tribute to Benny Hill, who died in 1992 but has not yet been properly mourned on the world stage.
Saturday, July 28:
Everyone will be watching: On the first full day of Olympic events, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will square off in the 400-meter individual medley. This event, which consists of the butterfly, the backstroke, the breaststroke, and the freestyle, requires stamina, mental toughness, and remembering which one the butterfly is again.
You should watch: Today’s schedule is straight out of the Thirty Years’ War, with medals awarded in shooting, archery, fencing, and judo. (The Bavarians were big on judo.) Turn away from the bloodshed and watch women’s freestyle relay swimming instead—it’s graceful, exciting, and decidedly non-violent. Plus, rooting for Austrian swimmer Melanie Schlanger is a great way to prove your loyalty to Emperor Ferdinand.
Sunday, July 29:
Everyone will be watching: There won’t be too many familiar names on the first night of women’s gymnastics, as American Olympic heroes Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin both failed to make the U.S. squad. The Eastern European coaches’ bushy mustaches, however, will offer welcome reassurance in otherwise alien surroundings.
You should watch: If you like water sports and conformity, then you’ll love today’s women’s three-meter springboard synchronized diving event. Eight countries have teams in competition, but my money’s on the British squad and 15-year-old Alicia Blagg, because teenage girls are great at trying very hard to do exactly what all the other girls are doing.
Monday, July 30:
Everyone will be watching: The U.S. women’s indoor volleyball team will face off against Brazil, the gold medalists from the 2008 Games. Here’s hoping that Team USA, which posed recently for ESPN’s Body Issue, will remember that volleyballs can be used for spiking in addition to being used to obscure nudity in a playful manner.
You should watch: While watching competitive judo, is it appropriate to yell “judo—chop!” every time you see somebody deliver a judo chop? Try it out today as you watch the various men’s and women’s judo events. Say it loud and often enough and you might find out firsthand what a judo chop feels like!
Tuesday, July 31:
Everyone will be watching: More swimming today, and while most eyes will be on Michael Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly, don’t miss Hungary’s Balazs Zambo in the 4-by-200-meter freestyle relay. Not because he’s going to medal or anything, but because he’s got the most chantable name in the Olympics. Try it for yourself: “Zambo! Zambo! He’s our man-bo! If he can’t do it, nobody can-bo!” Anyone? Anyone?
Photo by MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/GettyImages
You should watch: American fencer Race Imboden is a New York Times trend story waiting to happen: He’s 19 years old, he lives in Park Slope, he has a ridiculous haircut, and he’s a part-time DJ. As you watch the men’s individual foil events today, look to see what other trends he’s setting. Is he carrying around a hairless dog? Is he growing a Rollie Fingers mustache? He might not win gold, but you can still root for him to sweep the Style Section Olympics.
Wednesday, Aug. 1:
Everyone will be watching: Gymnastics is the marquee sport today, with Danell Leyva going in the men’s all-around finals. The Miami-based son of two Cuban defectors, Leyva has been called the future of men’s individual gymnastics. Although you suspect the true future of men’s individual gymnastics is “Gymnobot,” a flexible humanoid robot who’s a machine on the pommel horse, you’ll root for Leyva all the same.
You should watch: Are those rushing rapids I hear? Either AMC’s playing a rerun of The River Wild or it’s time for whitewater slalom kayaking! Tune in for one of the most dramatic events of the Olympiad, featuring hairpin turns and Croatian kayaker Dinko Mulic as a violent criminal on the run from the law. No, wait, that was Kevin Bacon in The River Wild. But I’ve got my eye on you, Dinko Mulic.
Thursday, Aug. 2:
Everyone will be watching: Gymnastics again, this time the women’s individual all-around event. Will 17-year-old Jordyn Wieber and 16-year-old American Gabby Douglas be the latest in a long line of Olympian teenagers to impress the world with their preternatural talent, poise, and resilience? Or will they fail to medal and be forced back into boring and awkward American teenage existences? Sounds like a Disney Channel original series in the making!
Justin Peters is Slate’s crime correspondent.