50 things to ponder about the London Olympics

Posted: July 27, 2012

THESE OLYMPIC Games have been called the most massive peacetime undertaking in London's history. The money spent and the facilities created are a stark contrast to 1948, when the city was still getting to its feet after the devastation of World War II.

So pull on your swimming goggles, tighten up the strings on your badminton racket and find a cab if you still need a place to sleep. Just like the U.S. women's basketball team, there is no stopping the momentum of the 50 things you need to know about the Olympics.

1 English filmmaker Danny Boyle, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, is directing the Opening Ceremonies (Friday, 7:30 p.m., NBC).

2 Six of the 12 women on Geno Auriemma's women's basketball roster played for him at Connecticut. The U.S. has won 33 Olympic games in a row and is an overwhelming favorite to capture a fifth consecutive gold medal.

3 "We might be the most dominant team in the Olympics since the Red Army [Soviet Union hockey] teams," Auriemma told the Hartford Courant. "We're supposed to win, and we're supposed to win by a lot. It's a lot for the players to carry around. There are no parades if you win the silver medal. .... This is like UConn on steroids."

4 The only U.S. men's basketball player with three Olympic medals is David Robinson, who captured two golds and a bronze from 1988-96. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who each have a bronze and a gold, had better join him by the end of these games.

5 The uniform numbers for the basketball players are required to be between 4 and 15. But in the 1948 Games, R.C. Pitts wore No. 99 for Team USA. The obituary for Pitts, who died last October at 92, says that he flew 22 bombing missions over Germany during the War II.

6 FIBA, basketball's international governing board, is trying to get three-on-three basketball added as an Olympic sport as a way to give more countries a chance to get on the top podium.

7 Never heard of Ben Ainslie, but Charlie Sheen is our choice to play him in the biopic. Ainslie, described as the greatest British sailor of all time, was DQ'd at the world championships in December after jumping off his boat to confront a TV cameraman that Ainslie thought had kicked up a wake. Nice.

8 South Africa's Oscar Pistorius is the first double amputee to compete in an Olympic running event. He will run the 400 meters and in the 4 x 400 relay.

9 The tabloids are celebrating the news that Pistorius is dating Russian supermodel Anastassia Khozzissova. That makes two reasons to root for Pistorius.

10 Women outnumber men on the composite U.S. Olympic roster for the first time in history. There are 269 women and 261 men. Of the 530 athletes on the U.S. roster, 302 are first-time Olympians.

11 Swimmer Katie Ledecky set the U.S. Olympic Trials mark in the 800-meter freestyle to earn her first Olympic berth. She is the youngest U.S. athlete, having turned 15 in March and just completed her sophomore year of high school. Impressive.

12 Qatar not only is sending women to the Olympics for the first time ever, it has even designated shooter Bahiya Al-Hamad to carry the country's flag. Saudi Arabia and Brunei also are sending women for the first time.

13 Brunei is in Southeast Asia, near Malaysia and Indonesia.

14 Drama alert: British hurdler Dai Greene is not happy that USA's LaShawn Merritt, the reigning Olympic champion in the 400, has been cleared to compete after serving a 21-month suspension for a positive drug test. Greene has threatened to confront Merritt on the track.

15 Merritt will try to join Michael Johnson as the only repeat winners in the 400. He says that his use of the sexual enhancement product ExtenZe was responsible. OK, what in the name of Jimmy Johnson is a 25-year-old world-class athlete doing with ExtenZe?

16 The rules have been changed so that only one cyclist per nation is permitted to compete in individual events. "This will water down the field," said Francois Pervis of powerful France. "The Olympic races will be 10 times easier than the world championships."

17 Hugh McCutcheon, who led the U.S. men's indoor volleyball team to gold in Beijing, is coaching the American women. The ladies earned a silver in 2008, but have never won gold.

18 Drama alert: Thailand thinks Japan tanked a women's volleyball Olympic qualifying match in June to avoid being placed in the same pool as heavyweights Brazil and USA. The claims were rejected by volleyball's governing board.

19 Shooter Kim Rhode can become the first U.S. athlete to win an individual medal in five consecutive Olympics. She had just turned 17 when she won gold in the double trap in Atlanta in 1996.

20 Sandra Uptagrafft will compete for Team USA's pistol team and husband Eric is on the rifle squad. We suggest clearing the room if these two start having a marriage quarrel.

21 The USA is favored to win its first women's gymnastics gold since the Kerri Strug team in 1996. Jordyn Wieber is one to watch. "She reminds me very much of Nadia, to be honest," said coach Bela Karolyi, referring to legendary Romanian Nadia Comaneci.

22 Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps each will have something at these Games that they did not have in 2008: a fellow countryman who is a legitimate threat to their dominance. The competition figures to make their pursuits of history even more compelling.

23 Yohan Blake beat Bolt in the 100- and 200-meter finals of Jamaica's Olympic Trials. The men's 100 takes place Aug. 4-5. The 200 is from Aug. 7-9.

24 English kayaker Ed McKeever is nicknamed "Usain Bolt on Water." As a result, it is OK to call Bolt "Ed McKeever on land."

25 Remember, there are no mulligans for a false start of a track meet any longer. If you jump, you get DQ'd. Bolt was bitten by the tighter rules and disqualified from the 100 at last year's worlds.

26 This will be the third and final Olympics for volleyball tandem Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. "We know that London is our last tournament together for the rest of our careers," said Walsh, who is retiring. "That's a really big deal after an amazing ride."

27 Sen. Harry Reid's suggestion that the U.S. Olympic uniforms ought to be burned because they were made in China was a predictable reaction. But how about China's rebuke? "If there is anything that should be burned," China's state news agency countered, "it should be the hypocrisy of the U.S. politics."

28 If Mummers clubs can get their New Year's costumes made by working-class neighbors, it shouldn't be too difficult for the USOC to keep the work in-house.

29 In the pool, Phelps declined to try to match his 2008 record of eight gold medals and instead will compete in just seven events. Ryan Lochte (Lock-TEE) figures to be his toughest individual competitor. The two will race in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys.

30 Phelps has 16 Olympic medals and needs three to break the individual record held by Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina. Phelps has 14 golds and two bronzes. Latynina racked up nine golds, five silvers and four bronzes from 1956-64.

31 In the true spirit of American commercialism, Lochte is selling $100 novelty eyeglasses on RyanLochte.com. The updated Olympic motto now reads Citius, Altius, Fortius, Payus.

32 The five sports that have been in every modern Summer Olympics (since 1896) are cycling, fencing, gymnastics, swimming and track & field. Hindsight will be added in 2020. (Rim shot)

33 "We were so gutted. We were so disappointed. We saw the sort of [overwhelming] reception that we got and it didn't really correlate with how we felt inside." — U.S. women's soccer midfielder Heather O'Reilly, on being hailed as heroes despite losing last year's World Cup to Japan in a shootout.

34 Seems table tennis is much more than a sport in certain parts of the world. "The Olympics for China are everything," said BBC analyst Ian Marshall. "If you can win an Olympic medal, you don't have to work the rest of your life." ... Yeah, but what happens if you don't win?

35 "Our competitors do not have the same pressure," said Huang Biao, China's men's and women's table tennis coach. "If they win, that's a bonus. If they lose, that's expected." It would reek of arrogance if it wasn't so true.

36 Men's flyweight Rau'shee Warren is the first U.S. fighter to compete in three Olympics. No American is considered a lock to win a medal. Sad.

37 Wonder how fans of British royalty are going to react when American female boxer Queen Underwood is introduced prior to her first match. Shame King Rice isn't still playing basketball. Prince Fielder?

38 Wimbledon is hosting the tennis competition, which lead Switzerland's Roger Federer to observe: "As you can imagine, with the history I have at Wimbledon , it's going to be super exciting."

39 Wouldn't mind seeing Britain's Andy Murray get another crack at Federer, who just beat Murray to tie Pete Sampras with his seventh Wimbledon men's singles title.

40 With Rafael Nadal pulling out with an injury, Pau Gasol will be Spain's flagbearer.

41 The All-England club is relaxing its policy of requiring players to wear all white and expect to see some corporate logos sprinkled throughout the courts. It's almost like letting the caddies swim at Bushwood Country Club.

42 There have been some rules changes, which has started to reverse Japan's dominance of judo. "We know people complain that judo is complicated to understand," said Nicolas Messner, spokesman for judo's international governing body. "But even if you don't understand the rules, it's clear when someone gets thrown to the ground who has won the match." Can't argue with that.

43 Still need a place to crash? No sweat. Taxi driver David Weekes was offering his cab for 50 pounds per night ($77.50 USD).

44 Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, is part owner of a horse on the U.S. dressage team. (Heard she outsourced the jockey. Just kidding.) Mrs. Romney's horse, Rafalca, is ridden by Jan Ebeling. The Romneys met Ebeling in 2002 while Mitt was helping organize the Salt Lake City Games.

45 Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne and granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, is part of England's equestrian team.

46 Final equestrian note (promise). Canada's Ian Millar is competing in his record 10th Olympics. His first was in 1972 when he was 25. It would be the 11th Olympic appearance, except Canada was part of the 1980 boycott.

47 Holley Mangold, whose brother Nick plays center for the New York Jets, is an American weightlifter. Sanya Richards-Ross, whose husband is Jags cornerback Aaron Ross, is on the U.S. track team.

48 China's Zhou Lulu and Russia's Tatiana Kashirina share the women's world weightlifting record of 723 pounds (328 kg). The American record of 569 pounds (258 kg) is held by Sarah Robles. The men's world record is 1,040 pounds set by Iranian legend Hossein Rezazadeh at the 2000 Games.

49 The combined weight of Eagles interior offensive linemen Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins is 894 pounds, 146 pounds lighter than what Rezazadeh lifted.

50 Former distance runner Sebastian Coe, who won Olympic gold in 1980 and 1984 in the 1,500 meters, is the chairman of the London organizing committee and has been the face of the Games for Great Britain. "I remember the feeling I had 40 minutes before setting out [onto] the track in front of 100,000 people," he said. "Now I wonder how I will measure that against the 40 minutes before the Opening Ceremony."   

Contact Ed Barkowitz at barkowe@phillynews.com

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