WHEN 24-YEAR-OLD Natalie du Toit [du-TWAH] of South Africa enters the water on Aug. 10 in the new 10-kilometer open-water event (following page), she will be the first Paralympian to compete in the Olympics. In 2001 Du Toit, then a potential Olympic pool swimmer, was struck by a car in Cape Town while riding her scooter and had to have her lower left leg amputated. Undaunted, she won five gold medals and one silver at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and then qualified for Beijing by finishing fourth at the 2008 open-water world championships. More publicized countryman Oscar Pistorius, ruled eligible in May to compete in Olympic track with two lower-leg prostheses, fell short of the Games' qualifying time in the 400 meters.
THE LATEST X Games event to make the big show, bicycle motocross will debut in Beijing with a quarter-mile-long obstacle course that features a 30-foot-high start hill (regular tracks have six- to 12-foot drops) and enough curves and jumps to help riders reach speeds of 40 mph. Although the sport got its start on the dirt tracks in California in the late 1960s, top Americans (above, from left) Donny Robinson, Kyle Bennett and Mike Day will have to fend off serious competition from Australia and Latvia. Their teammate Jill Kintner will fight to regain her dominance in the women's event after a six-year absence from the sport.
THE IOC says it will postpone events if Beijing's heat and notorious smog reach dangerous levels. As of mid-July, Britain, Canada and the U.S. were among the countries considering air-filtering masks for their athletes to wear off the field.
The Long Swim
FAR FROM the Olympic pool, at a man-made lake that will also host rowing, canoeing and kayaking, swimmers will race in the new 10-kilometer open-water event. With no lanes, a mass start and the element of wind and waves, open-water races can be rough and tumble—close to two hours of pain and chaos.
IN SCHOOLS and on television, China is teaching the "Olympic 4-step" to ensure that the home crowd is enthusiastic yet orderly.
AS PART of an effort to increase female participation (41% of the athletes at the 2004 Athens Games were women, up from 34% in Atlanta in '96), the IOC has added the women's steeplechase (above) and the women's sabre team fencing event to the schedule in Beijing.
THE YELLOW-AND-BLUE indoor ball adds color and has a dimpled surface that improves grip and stabilizes flight, allowing longer rallies.
GONE ARE the days of the perfect 10 in gymnastics. After controversies in Athens, the international federation created a new scoring system that will make its Olympic debut in Beijing. Routines will be judged by the sum of two point totals: difficulty and execution. There's no longer a perfect score, but medal hopefuls should aim for at least 16 points.
Photograph by Heinz Kluetmeier
ILLUSTRATION BY DAMIAN DEMARTINO
BILL FRAKES (STEEPLECHASE)
KELLY JORDAN/AP (SCORE)
BILL KAUFFMAN (VOLLEYBALL)
SCOTT BELLAND PHOTOGRAPHY (SWIM)