Article

Women's gymnastics is usually the most-watched sport of the Summer Olympics.

Photograph by Kieran Doherty, MyShot

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By Kimberly Dumke

Friday, February 10, 2012

The ancient Olympic Games began in Olympia, Greece, in 776 BCE. The goals of the games were to honor the god Zeus, showcase the athletic skill of competitors, and promote good relations among Greek cities.

At first, there was just one event—a footrace for men—and the games lasted only one day. Over the years, the games grew to several events, lasted five days, and included athletes from distant Greek colonies. No women were allowed to compete, and married women were not even allowed into the stadium as spectators. The games were usually held every four years—a period of time that came to be known as an olympiad—until 393 CE.

The modern Olympic Games were created by Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France. The first modern Olympics took place in Athens, Greece, in 1896, with 241 male athletes from 14 countries competing. Since then, the games have been held every four years—except in 1940 and 1944, when they were canceled because of World War II—in a different place around the world. They have continued to add sports and participants.

Women first competed at the 1900 games in Paris, France. In 1924, the first Winter Olympic games, featuring sports on snow and ice, were held in Chamonix, France. The Paralympic Games, for athletes with a physical disability, first took place in 1960 in Rome, Italy. The first Youth Olympics, for athletes between the ages of 14 and 18, was held in Singapore in 2010.

The 2012 Summer Olympics will be held in London, England, from July 27 to August 12. London also hosted the Olympic Games in 1908 and 1948. More than 9 million spectators will watch more than 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries.

Athletes will compete in 26 sports. Some sports have multiple disciplines. For example, the sport of gymnastics includes three disciplines: artistic, rhythmic, and trampoline. The games will feature a total of 38 disciplines, with multiple events for individuals and/or teams.

Aquatics

Aquatics includes the disciplines of diving, swimming, synchronized swimming, and water polo.

Diving
(Venue: Aquatics Centre, London)
In the 18th century, gymnasts in Germany and Sweden began performing tumbling routines into water. That led to the development of competitive diving.

The Olympic debut of men’s diving was in 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri. Women’s diving was introduced at the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden.

Today, diving competitions are favorites among spectators. The events feature a springboard, which is 3 meters (9.84 feet) high, or a fixed platform, which is 10 meters (32.8 feet) high. Individual divers and duos for synchronized events receive scores up to 10 from a panel of judges.

Swimming
(Venue: Aquatics Centre and Hyde Park, London)
Competitive swimming as a sport began in Europe around 1800.

Swimming has been featured in all modern Olympic Games since they began in 1896. Originally, the races were held in open water, such as lakes. Rules were formalized in 1908. That year’s London games featured the first Olympic swimming competition held in a pool. Women first competed at the 1912 games.

Today, there are 34 medal events. Four strokes are used in Olympic competition: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. The individual and team relay medley races feature all four strokes. An Olympic-sized pool is 50 meters (164.04 feet) long. Racing distances range from one length of the pool to 1,500 meters (4,921.26 feet).

The 2012 games will also feature a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) marathon event held at the Serpentine, a lake in London’s Hyde Park.

Synchronized Swimming
(Venue: Aquatics Centre, London)
Around the turn of the 20th century, water ballets became popular in Europe and the United States. Water ballet developed into synchronized swimming, a combination of swimming, dance, and gymnastics.

The debut of synchronized swimming in the Olympics was at the 1984 games in Los Angeles, California, in the U.S. While some games featured a solo event, today there are only competitions for duets and teams of eight.

Competitors perform short routines set to music, and judges score them on various components, including choreography and execution. Only women compete in Olympic synchronized swimming.

Water Polo
(Venue: Olympic Park, London)
A team sport, water polo is played by groups of seven in a pool with a goal at each end. The objective is to get a ball into the opponent’s goal while never touching the bottom or sides of the pool during play. The sport developed in the late 19th century as an aquatic form of rugby, demonstrating swimming skill and strength. Athletes might swim 5 kilometers (3 miles) during a match!

Team sports, including men’s water polo, were introduced at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Women’s water polo debuted at the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia.

Archery
(Venue: Lord’s Cricket Ground, London)

Bows and arrows were first used for hunting and warfare about 10,000 years ago. Archery—using a bow to shoot an arrow as close to a target as possible—developed as a competitive activity in medieval England. Today, it is practiced in more than 140 countries.

Archery was featured in the 1900 Olympics in Paris. It was dropped after 1908, returned in 1920, then was dropped again. It was reintroduced in 1972 at the Olympics in Munich, Germany, and has been part of the games since then.

Men and women compete individually, shooting from a distance of 70 meters (229.7 feet). The targets have a diameter of 122 centimeters (48 inches), with a 12.2-centimeter (4.8-inch) gold ring in the center.

Athletics
(Venues: Olympic Stadium and The Mall, London)

Athletic contests in running, walking, throwing, and jumping are some of the world’s oldest sports. Ancient Egyptian tombs depict athletic events as early as 2250 BCE. The very first Olympic Games featured a sprint of approximately 192 meters (629.9 feet). Athletics have been a major part of every Olympics since.

Today, four areas make up the athletics competition. Track events are footraces ranging from 100 to 10,000 meters (109.4 yards to 6.2 miles). Field events feature throwing and jumping, and include shot put and long jump. Combined events involve running, jumping, and throwing, and include the decathlon. Road events include marathons and race walks. Athletes compete as individuals and teams, called relays.

Athletics will be the largest sport in the 2012 Olympics, with 2,000 athletes competing in 47 events.

Badminton
(Venue: Wembley Arena, London)

Badminton is played on a rectangular court by individuals or teams of two. The objective is to score points by striking a shuttlecock—a feathered projectile—with a racket over the net so it lands in the opponent’s half of the court. The game was created in the late 1800s by British military officers stationed in India. They added a net to an ancient game called “battledore” and later brought the new game back to England. Currently, the sport is dominated by Asian countries, including China, Indonesia, and South Korea.

Badminton made its Olympic debut at the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain. Olympic shuttlecocks contain 16 feathers, which are plucked from the left wing of a goose, and can travel at speeds over 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) an hour! There are singles and doubles competitions for both men and women, as well as mixed doubles for a duo with a man and a woman.

Basketball
(Venues: Basketball Arena and North Greenwich Arena, London)

Dr. James Naismith, a physical education teacher and instructor at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, created basketball in 1891 as a way to keep students active during the winter. The sport is played by two teams of five players on a court that measures 28 meters (91.9 feet) long by 15 meters (49.2 feet) wide. Points are scored by shooting a ball through the opponent’s net (basket). Originally, peach baskets and soccer balls were used. In 1906, the peach baskets were replaced by metal hoops with backboards. The orange ball that is now commonly used was introduced in the late 1950s.

Men’s basketball debuted as an Olympic sport at the 1936 games in Berlin, Germany. Women’s basketball began in 1976 at the Olympics in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Professional players from the NBA were first allowed to participate in the 1992 games in Barcelona. Prior to that, only professionals from Europe and South America were allowed to compete in the Olympics.

Boxing
(Venue: ExCeL, London)

A combat sport that dates back thousands of years, boxing involves two people using their fists to fight each other. The sport’s regulations, called the Marquess of Queensberry rules, were codified in 1867. There were 12 rules, including the introduction “fair-sized” gloves. Today, the essence of these rules is still in place. Boxers compete in various weight categories and score points for every punch landed on their opponent’s head or upper body.

Men’s boxing made its first Olympics appearance in 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri. Women’s boxing will be a full medal event for the first time at the 2012 London games, with competitions in three weight classes.

Canoeing

The first official canoe and kayak races were held in the mid-19th century. In canoes, athletes kneel and use a paddle with a single blade to propel and steer the boat. In kayaks, competitors sit in the boat, use paddles with blades at both ends, and steer with a small rudder.

Today, the sport of canoeing has two disciplines: canoe slalom and canoe sprint.

Canoe Slalom
(Venue: Lee Valley White Water Centre, Hertfordshire)
The first competition for canoe slalom was held in Switzerland in 1932. It was modeled on slalom (Alpine) skiing, where racers must pass through a series of gates. Originally, the canoe course was on flat water, but this was later changed to whitewater rapids, and has up to 25 gates. Racers try to avoid the gates because touching or missing any incurs penalties. Boats are small and light to allow better maneuverability.

The Olympic debut of canoe slalom was in 1972 in Munich. However, it did not become a permanent part of the program until 1992. There are canoe races for men’s individuals and duos, and kayak races for men’s and women’s individuals.

Canoe Sprint
(Venue: Eton Dorney, Buckinghamshire)

Sprints are head-to-head races on still water. Boats are long and streamlined.

Canoe sprint became a full Olympic sport in 1936 in Berlin. In 2012, there will be races for individuals, as well as teams of two and four. The race distances will be 1,000 meters (3,281 feet), 500 meters (1,640 feet), and, for the first time, 200 meters (656 feet).

Cycling

The first human-powered vehicle with two wheels was invented by Baron Karl von Drais of Germany. He introduced it to the public in 1817, and it is considered the forerunner of the modern bicycle. The first bicycle race was likely held in 1868 in Paris.

Today’s Olympics include four cycling disciplines: BMX, mountain, road, and track.

BMX
(Venue: BMX Track, Olympic Park, London)

Motocross, races for motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles held on enclosed off-road circuits, began in the United Kingdom in the early 1900s. BMX (Bicycle Motocross), the non-motorized equivalent, started in the late 1960s in California and is now popular all over the world. The bikes have only one gear and one brake, and the wheels are smaller than a standard road bike. These features help navigate race tracks that have jumps, bumps, and tight corners.

BMX debuted as an Olympic medal sport for men and women in 2008 in Beijing, China. Riders at the London 2012 games will start on a ramp that is 8 meters (26.3 feet) high. Since the track is short, there are multiple heats leading up to the final and each race lasts only about 40 seconds.

Mountain Bike
(Venue: Hadleigh Farm, Essex)

Like BMX, mountain biking is a young sport that developed in California and is now popular around the world. Races are held on rough and hilly countryside. The bicycles are built for speed, durability, and comfort.

Mountain biking became an Olympic sport for men and women in 1996 at the games in Atlanta, Georgia. In London, there will be just one race for each gender. All racers will start together and the winner will take the gold medal. The men’s and women’s races will last about an hour and forty-five minutes.

Road Cycling
(Venues: The Mall and Hampton Court Palace, London)

The first modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens featured a road cycling event, but the discipline did not become a permanent part of the program until the 1912 games in Stockholm. In 2012, there will be two events each for men and women: a road race where everyone starts at the same time, and a shorter time trial where riders start 90 seconds apart.

Track Cycling
(Venue: Velodrome, London)

As early as 1870, people in England went to bicycle races held indoors on wooden tracks. These tracks closely resemble modern velodromes, which have steeply banked oval tracks with two straight sections and two 180-degree circular bends.

Track cycling has been part of almost every Olympics. The 2012 games will have five track cycling events for men and five for women. Two of each are team events. One of the three individual events is new—the omnium. In the omnium, individual riders will compete across six different events, including races against the clock as well as other racers.

Equestrian

Equestrian is also known as riding, horseback riding, and horse riding. The sport is more than 2,000 years old, originating when the Greeks introduced dressage (the French word for “training”) to prepare their horses for war.

While equestrian disciplines first appeared at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, they were different than today and there were none in the next two games. The 1912 games in Stockholm introduced the disciplines of dressage, eventing, and jumping, which have been in the Olympics ever since.

Originally, only commissioned military officers were allowed to compete in equestrian events, so it was a men’s-only sport. Competition was opened to civilians, including women, starting at the 1952 games in Helsinki, Finland.

Equestrian is one of the few Olympic sports in which men and women compete directly against each other. Only two medals are awarded—one for individual and one for team—in each discipline.

The equestrian disciplines, along with the equestrian portion of the modern pentathlon, are the only Olympic events that involve animals. The three equestrian disciplines are dressage, eventing, and jumping.

Dressage
(Venue: Greenwich Park, London)

The objective of competitive dressage is to show a horse performing movements on request, demonstrating the harmony of a horse and rider.

Eventing
(Venue: Greenwich Park, London)

Eventing is sometimes called “combined training” and has three parts: dressage, cross-country riding, and jumping. At the 2012 games, the eventing competition will take place over four days.

Jumping
(Venue: Greenwich Park, London)

Jumping, also known as “show jumping,” grew out of necessity when fences were built in England around the 18th century. These barriers impeded hunters on horseback pursuing foxes, so they started jumping them. A timed event, jumping is held on a short course with 12-14 fences. Penalties are assessed if fences are refused or missed. (A fence is refused when the horse refuses to jump or attempt to jump over it.)

Fencing
(Venue: ExCeL)

Armed combat originated thousands of years ago with clubs, spears, and axes. Later, armed combat involved swords. Competitions in modern fencing—a combat sport using bladed weapons—began in the 19th century.

Fencing is one of only four sports that have been featured at every modern Olympics. Men’s foil and sabre events were included in the 1896 games in Athens. Epee events debuted in 1900 in Paris. Women’s fencing was added in 1924 in Paris. There are events for both individuals and teams of three.

Weapons and rules vary for the three forms of Olympic fencing. In epée bouts, the tip of a heavy sword is used to score points. The whole body is a target, and opponents can score points on each other at the same time.

In foil contests, the tip of a light thrusting weapon is used to score points on the opponent’s torso. In sabre, the tip and edge of a light cutting and thrusting weapon (derived from the cavalry sword) is used to score points above the opponent’s waist. Both foil and sabre have rules on timing and right-of-way, so only one competitor can score at a time.

Field Hockey
(Venue: Hockey Centre, Olympic Park, London)

Hockey, which comes from the French word for “stick,” is a team sport in which players use hook-shaped sticks to try to move a hard ball into their opponent’s goal. The modern game was formalized in the early 19th century in England. In some countries, including the U.S., the term “field hockey” is used for the game that is played on natural or artificial grass or gravel. (Other forms of the game are ice hockey and street hockey.)

Teams can have up to 16 players, but only 11 may be on the field, or pitch, at one time. The field measures 91.4 meters (300 feet) by 55 meters (180.4 feet).

Men’s hockey was first featured in the Olympics in 1908. Women’s hockey debuted at the 1980 games in Moscow, Russia. In 2012, teams will compete on a water-based synthetic grass field, which allows the ball to move more smoothly and quickly.

Football
(Venues: Six grounds around the United Kingdom, including one each in Scotland and Wales)

Games involving kicking a ball date back thousands of years. The rules of modern football, known as soccer in the U.S., were created in the late 1800s. Today, football is played in more than 200 countries, making it the most popular sport in the world. It is played by teams of 11 on a large field of natural or artificial grass. The objective is to score more goals than the opponent.

Men’s football first featured as an Olympic medal sport in 1908 in London. Except for the 1932 games in Los Angeles, California, it has been included in each of the games since then. Women’s football debuted in 1996 in Atlanta. For 2012, the men’s competition has an age restriction of 23 years or younger, although each team can include three older players.

Gymnastics

The sport of gymnastics involves performing exercises that require agility, balance, strength, skill, and grace. It dates back more than 2,000 years to ancient Greece.

Three gymnastics disciplines are featured in the Olympics: artistic, rhythmic, and trampoline.

Artistic Gymnastics
(Venue: North Greenwich Arena, London)

In the artistic gymnastics discipline, athletes perform routines on different apparatuses. The modern version evolved at the beginning of the 19th century in central Europe. There are six events for men: floor exercise, horizontal (or high) bar, parallel bars, pommel horse, rings, and vault. Women compete in four areas: balance beam, floor exercise, uneven bars, and vault.

Artistic gymnastics has been featured in all modern Olympics. A panel of judges gives scores factoring in execution and degree of difficulty. Medals are awarded for each apparatus, as well as best all-around individual and best team.

Rhythmic Gymnastics
(Venue: Wembley Arena, London)

Combining dance and gymnastics, rhythmic gymnasts perform short routines with hand apparatuses, such as a hoop, and musical accompaniment. It originated in the 19th century, and the first competitions were held in Europe in the 1930s.

Rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming are the only two Olympic disciplines for women only. Individual competition in rhythmic gymnastics made its Olympic debut in 1984 in Los Angeles. A group competition was added in 1996 in Atlanta. Apparatuses used are a ball, clubs, a hoop, a rope, and a ribbon. A panel of judges scores on artistry, difficulty, and execution.

Trampoline
(Venue: North Greenwich Arena, London)

The first modern trampoline was developed as a training tool for tumblers at the University of Iowa in 1936. It was used for training pilots during World War II, and later for astronauts. Meanwhile, it continually grew in popularity among the public, and the first ever Trampoline World Championships were staged in 1964 in London.

In competition, athletes perform short routines featuring twists, bounces, and somersaults. Highly skilled gymnasts can bounce up to 10 meters (32.8 feet) high!

The Olympics program first featured trampoline gymnastics in 2000 in Sydney, with individual competitions for men and women. Judges give scores for difficulty, execution, and flight time.

Handball
(Venue: Handball Arena, London)

The handball game of today was developed in the late 19th century in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. It is played by teams of seven on a court measuring 40 meters by 20 meters (130 feet by 66 feet) that has a goal at each end. Players use their hands to pass and throw a small ball into the opponent’s goal. During a 60-minute match, many goals may be scored. In fact, it is not uncommon for there to be 50 goals or more!

The 1936 Berlin Olympics featured field handball, which was played outdoors. Indoor handball for men debuted at the 1972 Munich games. Competition for women began at the 1976 Montreal games.

Judo
(Venue: ExCeL)

The word “judo” means “gentle way” in Japanese. A combat sport and modern martial art, it was created by Jigoro Kano in late 1882 in Japan. It uses a complex combination of attack and defense. Competitors use their hands and feet to strike, thrust, throw, and hold, with the ultimate goal of getting the opponent on his or her back on the ground.

Men’s judo became an Olympic medal sport in 1964 in Tokyo, Japan. A women’s competition was added in the 1992 Barcelona games. There are seven weight classes for men and seven for women. During the five-minute bouts, competitors score points for different throws and holds. However, if a competitor throws the opponent on his/her back with sufficient force and control and is awarded the maximum score (ippon), the contest immediately ends.

Modern Pentathlon
(Venue: Handball Arena, Aquatics Center, and Greenwich Park, London)

Modern pentathlon involves five challenges that take place on the same day. First is fencing, where each competitor must fence against every other athlete. Next is a 200-meter (656.2-foot) freestyle swim. That is followed by a 12-jump equestrian (horseback-riding) course. Competitors are given scores for these challenges, which determine where they start for the final two events: a combined run/shoot, where competitors run several 1,000-meter (3,281-foot) stretches and then shoot at sets of five targets.

Modern pentathlon made its Olympic debut in Stockholm in 1912. At the 2012 Games, there will be 72 athletes (36 men and 36 women) competing for two medals. The winners will be the ones who cross the finish line first during the run/shoot.

Rowing
(Venue: Eton Dorney, Buckinghamshire)

People have been using oared boats for transportation and recreation for thousands of years. Modern rowing races began more than 200 years ago.

There are two forms of rowing competition: sweep, where rowers have one oar, and sculling, where they have two oars. There are events for solo rowers and for teams of two, four, and eight. Some types of races use a coxswain (or “cox”), who sits facing the rowers and coordinates their rhythm and power.

Rowing first appeared as an Olympics medal sport in 1900 in Paris. Only men were allowed to compete until the 1976 Montreal Olympics. At the 2012 games, 353 men and 197 women will compete for 14 medals. The course for all events is 2,000 meters (1.24 miles).

Sailing
(Venues: Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbor)

Evidence of sailing—the propulsion of a boat with sails usually made of fabric—exists throughout human history.

Sailing was scheduled for the first modern Olympics in 1896, but was canceled because of severe weather, so it debuted in Paris in 1900. It was known as “yachting” until 1996. In 2012, there will be 10 medal events—six for men and four for women—featuring a variety of craft, including dinghies, keelboats, and windsurfing boards. Each event consists of a series of races in which points are awarded for finishing position.

Shooting
(Venue: The Royal Artillery Barracks, London)

The first shooting competitions were held in the late 1800s in the U.K. and the U.S. Men’s shooting has been featured in almost every modern Olympics. Women’s competitions were added in 1984 in Los Angeles.

There are three types of events: pistol, rifle, and shotgun. Competitors in pistol and rifle events shoot at a stationary target with 10 rings from distances of 10, 25 or 50 meters (32.8, 82 or 164 feet). Shotgun competitors take aim at moving clay targets.

Table Tennis
(Venue: ExCeL)

Also known as ping-pong, table tennis originated in the 1880s in England as an after-dinner game among the upper class. It is played by two to four people on a hard table divided by a net. Using small rackets to hit a light, hollow ball, players score points when the opponents fail to return the ball.

Table tennis has been an Olympic sport since the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea. Medals are awarded for men’s and women’s singles and doubles.

Taekwondo
(Venue: ExCeL)

Loosely translated, the word “taekwondo” means “the way of the foot and fist” or “the art of kicking and punching.” It is a Korean martial art that combines various unarmed combat styles and dates back to the late 1950s.

Taekwondo became an Olympic medal sport in 2000 in Sydney. In Olympic competition, the objective is to land punches and kicks on the opponent’s scoring zones. Points are awarded for valid kicks and punches to the torso, for spinning kicks, and for turning kicks to the head. In 2012, there will be four weight categories for men and four for women.

Tennis
(Venue: Wimbledon, London)

The game of tennis is played on a court with a net in the middle. Players use rackets to hit a hollow ball over the net and score points when their opponents fail to return the ball. The modern game originated in 19th century England.

Tennis was featured in the first modern Olympics in 1896. However, it was dropped in 1924 and did not return until 1988 in Seoul. For the 2012 games, mixed doubles (one man and one woman) will be appearing for the first time since 1924. There will also be medals for men’s and women’s singles and doubles.

Triathlon
(Venue: Hyde Park, London)

Some people believe the triathlon began in France in the 1920s, but the sport’s exact origins are not known. The first modern swimming/biking/running event to be called a “triathlon” was held in 1974 in San Diego, California.

The triathlon was first featured in the Olympics at the 2000 Sydney games. There are competitions for men and women, both of which consist of a 1,500-meter (4,921-foot) swim, a 40-kilometer (24.85-mile) bike ride, and a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run, in that order.

Volleyball

Volleyball is played on a court divided by a net. The objective is to score points by landing a ball in the opponent’s half of the court. There are two disciplines: beach volleyball and volleyball.

Beach Volleyball
(Venue: Horse Guards Parade, London)

Beach volleyball differs from regular volleyball in two ways: It is played outdoors on a court covered in sand, and teams have two players rather than six. The sport originated in the 1920s in Santa Monica, California.

Beach volleyball for men and women made its Olympic debut in 1996 in Atlanta. It soon became one of the most popular spectator sports. At the 2012 games, 3,000 tons of sand will be brought into a temporary arena to create the beach.

Volleyball
(Venue: Earls Court, London)

William G. Morgan, a YMCA physical education director, created a game he called “Mintonette” in 1895, in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He intended it to be a less-intense alternative to the new sport of basketball. The game soon became known as volleyball and spread to various YMCAs around the United States.

Today, volleyball is actually quite intense, and the speed of the ball can exceed 130 kilometers per hour (80.8 miles per hour)! It is played by two teams of six with a net height that is 2.43 meters (8 feet) for men and 2.24 meters (7.35 feet) for women.

Men’s and women’s volleyball made its Olympic debut at the 1964 games in Tokyo.

Weightlifting
(Venue: ExCeL)

The objective of weightlifting is to lift more weight than any other competitor. Some athletes can lift more than three times their own body weight!

Men’s weightlifting was included in early Olympic Games, where all athletes competed in the same events, regardless of their body weight. Weight classes were introduced at the 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium. Women’s weightlifting debuted at the 2000 Sydney games.

Competitors are now divided into 15 weight categories—eight for men and seven for women. There are two types of lift in each event: the snatch, where the bar is lifted from the floor to above the head in one movement, and the clean-and-jerk, where the bar is brought up to the shoulders and then “jerked” over the head.

Wrestling
(Venue: ExCeL)

Wrestling is a body-to-body combat sport with the objective of gaining and maintaining a superior position over the opponent. It is one of the oldest sports in the world, with origins that can be traced back thousands of years.

Men’s wrestling was first held at the ancient Olympics in 708 BCE. Greco-Roman wrestling, in which competitors are only allowed to use their arms and upper bodies to attack their opponents’ upper bodies, has been part of every modern Olympics. Freestyle wrestling, in which athletes may use all parts of their bodies to gain holds on their opponents, debuted at the 1904 games in St. Louis. Women’s wrestling, which is similar to men’s freestyle, was introduced in 2004 in Athens, Greece.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

agility

Noun

ability to move quickly, easily, and with flexibility.

apparatus

Noun

device or piece of machinery involving many different parts or instruments.

aquatics

Noun

individual or team (relay) sports of diving, swimming, synchronized swimming, and water polo.

archery

Noun

art and science of using bows and arrows for hunting, sport, or the military.

athletics

Noun

individual or team (relay) sports of running, walking, throwing, and jumping. Also called track-and-field.

badminton

Noun

sport where teams of one or two use rackets to volley a shuttlecock over a high net that divides the court in half.

BMX

adjective, noun

(Bicycle Motocross) bicycle riding over rough terrain or an obstacle course.

bout

Noun

an athletic contest or match.

boxing

Noun

sport of fighting with closed fists.

canoe

noun, verb

small, open boat with pointed ends.

cavalry

Noun

military unit that serves on horseback.

choreography

Noun

art of composing dances.

civilian

Noun

person who is not in the military.

combined training

Noun

individual equestrian sport with three parts: dressage, cross-country riding, and show jumping. Also called eventing.

coxswain

Noun

person who steers a racing boat, facing the rowers and coordinating their rhythm and power.

cross-country

adjective, noun

having to do with moving across the country, athletically associated with rough terrain (skiing, trekking) .

debut

Verb

to appear for the first time in public.

decathlon

Noun

individual sport where an athlete competes in 10 athletic (track-and-field) events.

derive

Verb

to come from a specific source or origin.

diameter

Noun

width of a circle.

dinghy

Noun

small sailing boat used for racing.

distinguish

Verb

to differentiate or recognize as different.

diving

Noun

individual or team sport where athletes integrate complex acrobatics with jumping into water.

dressage

Noun

sport where a horse performs movements on request, demonstrating the harmony of a horse and rider.

epee

Noun

light sword used in fencing with a bowl-shaped guard that protects the hand.

equestrian

Adjective

having to do with horses.

fencing

Noun

individual or team sport where athletes practice attack and defense with bladed weapons (swords) to score points on an opponent's body.

field hockey

Noun

sport where teams of 11 players use hook-shaped sticks to try to move a hard ball into their opponent's goal.

foil

Noun

light, four-sided sword used in fencing.

forerunner

Noun

event or thing that preceded something else.

freestyle wrestling

Noun

individual sport where athletes may use all parts of their bodies to try to gain holds on their opponents.

Greco-Roman wrestling

Noun

individual sport where athletes use their upper bodies to try to gain holds on their opponents.

gymnastics

Noun

individual or team sport where athletes perform acrobatic exercises that require agility, balance, strength, skill, and grace.

handball

Noun

sport where teams of seven players use their hands to pass and throw a small ball into the opponents goal.

head-to-head

Adjective

direct competition.

heat

Noun

one round of several in a competition.

impede

Verb

to interfere or slow down.

incur

Verb

to acquire something, usually unwanted or unpleasant.

in tandem

Phrase

one behind the other, or in single-file.

ippon

Noun

highest score awarded in a judo competition, for a perfectly executed technique.

judo

Noun

individual sport and martial art where athletes use their hands and feet to strike, thrust, throw, and hold with the ultimate goal of getting the opponent on his or her back.

kayak

Noun

small canoe made watertight around the waist of the occupant and moved in the water with a single paddle.

keelboat

Noun

shallow river boat, often used in transporting cargo or for rowing.

maneuver

Noun

a skillful movement.

marathon

Noun

42.195 kilometer (26 mile, 385 yard) foot race.

Marquess of Queensberry rules

Plural Noun

(1865) general set of 12 rules for boxing.

martial arts

Plural Noun

forms of self-defense and combat that do not usually use weapons.

mixed doubles

Plural Noun

sport where teams consisting of one man and one woman compete against each other.

modern pentathlon

Noun

individual sport where athletes compete in five distinct events: fencing, swimming, horseback riding, running, and shooting.

motocross

adjective, noun

race or sport for motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles on off-road courses.

objective

Noun

goal or aim.

Olympics

Noun

international sports competition divided into summer and winter games held every four years.

omnium

Noun

track cycling event featuring six races, including time trials and head-to-head competitions.

Paralympic Games

Plural Noun

international sporting event for athletes with physical disabilities, held every two years immediately after the Olympics.

pistol

Noun

small firearm, designed to be shot with one hand.

pitch

Noun

playing field, such as for soccer or cricket.

pommel horse

Noun

raised, padded apparatus with handles (pommels) used in men's artistic gymnastics.

rapids

Noun

areas of fast-flowing water in a river or stream that is making a slight descent.

Encyclopedic Entry: rapids

rhythmic gymnastics

Noun

individual or team sport where athletes perform short routines with a ball, clubs, hoop, rope, or ribbon.

rifle

Noun

firearm, shot from the shoulder, with spiral grooves in the gun barrel that allow the bullet to twist on exit.

rowing

Noun

individual or team sport where athletes use paddles to propel a boat.

sabre

Noun

thin, straight sword used in fencing, with points scored for touching the opponent's upper body.

sculling

Noun

type of rowing where athletes use two oars.

shotgun

Noun

large firearm with a long barrel, usually fired from the shoulder.

shot put

Noun

individual sport where athletes throw a heavy metal ball (shot) as far as they can.

shuttlecock

Noun

feathered object struck back and forth in badminton.

slalom

Noun

skiing course where racers follow a zig-zag pattern through gates or poles.

snatch

Noun

part of weightlifting where the weight is lifted from the floor to above the head in one fluid movement.

spectator

Noun

person who observes an event or situation.

sprint

Noun

short race.

stationary

Adjective

unmoving.

sweep

Noun

type of rowing where athletes use one oar.

synchronized swimming

Noun

individual or team sport where athletes perform short routines in water, set to music and judged on various components.

synthetic

Adjective

manufactured by people, not occurring naturally.

table tennis

Noun

individual or team sport where athletes use small rackets to hit a light, hollow ball, scoring points when opponents fail to return the ball. Also called ping-pong.

taekwondo

Noun

individual sport and martial art where athletes kick and punch to score points on their opponent

time trial

Noun

race where athletes are timed individually on a set course.

triathlon

Noun

endurance sport involving any three athletic events performed in a rowusually swimming, bicycling, and running.

vault

noun, verb

raised, padded apparatus used in artistic gymnastics, and the act of using it to push off of while leaping (vaulting).

velodrome

Noun

sports facility or arena with a steeply banked oval track with two straights and two 180-degree circular bends.

weightlifting

Noun

individual sport where athletes compete to lift the most.

whitewater

Noun

fast-moving parts of a river.

windsurfing

Noun

sport using a surfboard equipped with a sail.

wrestling

Noun

individual sport where athletes use their bodies to try to pin, or force their opponent's shoulders to the ground.

Youth Olympics

Plural Noun

international sporting event for athletes ages 14-18, held every two years coinciding with the Olympics.

Credits

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Writer

Kimberly Dumke

Editors

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

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