When the ancient Olympics began, the event lasted one day, only
Greeks took part, athletes competed naked and married women were
not even allowed to watch. The Games, with a break of about 2,000
years, have been evolving ever since. This year, in the 18 days
of competition in Athens, a record 202 countries will be
represented, athletes will don the latest aerodynamic bodysuits
and carbon-fiber-soled footwear, and women will, for the first
time in Olympic history, wrestle. New sights at these Games will
include ultrafast needle-nose canoes, hard-shell swim caps, a
redesigned gymnastics vault (sloped in front, and with a larger
surface area to ensure safer takeoffs) and, if anyone is daring
enough to try them, strapless swim goggles. Here are some of the
other new faces, places, moves and sports to look out for as
NBC--for the first time--provides virtually round-the-clock
Situated midway between Hawaii and Australia, the new Olympic
country of Kiribati (pronounced KIH-rih-bahss) looks on a map
like tiny Christmas tree lights strung along the equator. It
comprises 33 islands, has fewer than 100,000 residents and is so
remote that there are flights out only four days a week. Added to
the field for Athens, along with East Timor (Afghanistan and Iraq
rejoin the Games after being suspended by the IOC), Kiribati, a
British colony from 1916 to '79, will be represented by sprinters
Kaitinano Mwemweata and Kakianako Nariki (together, left) and a
weightlifter. Because medal hopes are unrealistic, says one of
the country's Olympic officials, David Little, "having the most
friendly team and the indisputably best flag will be our major
AN NBC BLITZ
Call it the first 24-hour Olympics. After the Salt Lake Games,
NBC Sports boss Dick Ebersol decided he wanted to televise the
Olympics on an unprecedented scale, and so the network and its
affiliates (MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Bravo, NBC HDTV and Telemundo) will
air a staggering 1,210 hours from Athens--nearly three times the
record 441 1/2 hours of coverage from Sydney and more than the
1,133 hours from the past five Summer Games combined. Prime time
will continue to feature tape-delayed gymnastics, swimming and
track and field, but for the first time viewers can get
significant coverage of all 28 sports--much of it live. (The
men's and women's 10,000 meters, for example, will air on NBC.)
Another element is the coverage by Spanish-language network
Telemundo, whose 169 1/2 hours will be the first exclusively
non-English-language Olympic broadcast in U.S. history. --Richard
A New Twist
Canada's 18-year-old whiz Alexandre Despatie (inset) won the 2003
platform world championship by nailing a backward 2 1/2
somersault with 2 1/2 twists (right), a dive that had never been
executed in a major competition. In Athens it will carry the
highest degree of difficulty (3.8)--and potentially produce the
highest point totals--of any platform dive performed. Rest
assured that Despatie's top rivals, from China, have been
practicing the back 2 1/2 intensively in preparation for the
Games. "Alex drew first blood," says Canadian coach Mitch Geller.
"If you're going for gold, you should be able to do this well."
How He Does it
Despatie begins his dive by standing on the edge of the 10-meter
platform with his back to the pool.
TAKEOFF He springs up and away from the platform, pulls his arms
to his body and begins somersaulting and twisting simultaneously.
For style points he must keep his legs taut, his feet together
and his toes pointed.
TRANSITION He finishes his 2 1/2 twists--while completing one
somersault--assumes the pike position (legs straight, knees to
forehead) and begins to somersault rapidly.
SOMERSAULTS As he does the final 1 1/2 revolutions, he sees the
blue of the pool flash by, helping him keep his bearings.
APPROACH He unfolds for splashdown.
ENTRY He is going 30 mph as he pierces the water, arrowlike,
hands together. He has "ripped" his entry, making nary a splash.
Modeled after cavalry battles, sabre competitions require fencers
to strike opponents from the waist up--"the idea being, kill the
man, spare the horse," says the U.S. Fencing Association's Cindy
Bent-Findlay. The one-on-one discipline, in which fencers can
score hits with any part of the blade, not just the tip (as is
the case in foil and epee) has been an Olympic men's event since
1896, but women's competition will make its debut in Athens as an
individual sport. The U.S.'s Sada Jacobson (far left, No. 1 in
the world) has a good chance at the gold, and her sister Emily
(No. 10) could win a medal as well.
Although the Athens organizing committee has taken flak about
several of its competition venues, it is receiving only praise
from whitewater paddlers. Games organizers have piped in 5.5
million gallons of the Aegean Sea for their man-made,
state-of-the-art, canoe and kayak slalom course, making this the
first time in Olympic history that those events will be held in
saltwater. That buoyant and frothy medium, say athletes who took
part in a test event on the course in April, will result in
bigger-than-ever whitewater--and more thrills and spills.
Contested internationally for some 20 years, women's freestyle
wrestling joins the Olympics with four weight classes. Japan is
the world champion, but the United States is close behind with
team members (above, from left) Tela O'Donnell (121 pounds), Sara
McMann (138.75), Toccara Montgomery (158.5) and Patricia Miranda
(105.5). A Phi Beta Kappa at Stanford, Miranda has been accepted
at Yale Law School and hopes to become a role model for women who
want to take up the sport--and plenty do: Some 4,000 U.S. girls
competed in wrestling last year, 20 times the number of
competitors in 1991.
The dos Santos
With one gravity-defying combination at last year's worlds,
Brazilian gymnastics dynamo Daiane dos Santos raised the standard
for floor routines. The 21-year-old performed a half twist into a
front-facing double flip (or double Arabian) at the tail end of a
tumbling pass; the move (left) was unprecedented in that it was
done with the legs straight and tight to the body. Since dubbed
the dos Santos, the move will be performed in Athens by its
eponym and possibly a few other bold souls--the U.S.'s Courtney
ROUNDOFF Dos Santos leans backward to generate speed through the
BACK HANDSPRING The final landing determines how fast she rotates
and how high she goes in flips.
TWIST She sweeps her arms to start the twist, which she begins as
soon as she leaves the ground.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID CALLOW The Kiribati flag, at right, depicts a golden bird above the sunand sea, and turns 25 this year, as the nation celebrates theanniversary of its independence with a berth in the Games.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID CALLOW
COLOR PHOTO: PETER JONES/REUTERS (DESPATIE)
TWO COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY MCKIBILLO.COM
COLOR PHOTO: CLAUDIA DAUT/REUTERS (SABRE)
COLOR PHOTO: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (KAYAK)
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY (WRESTLERS)
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL ZITO/SPORTSCHROME (DOS SANTOS)