Goodbye baseball and softball, hello women's boxing, revamped medal events, rules changes, laser guns, a wild move, gender history and a trailblazing Paralympian
Returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1924, mixed-doubles tennis could produce some tantalizing pairings, such as good friends Andy Roddick and Serena Williams. Leander Paes (above, right) and Sania Mirza will team up for India.
Half of the 10 events on the now gender-equal track-cycling program are new, including the omnium, a two-day, six-discipline test. Team USA's Sarah Hammer (above)—the world-record holder in the individual pursuit—could medal in the event, to which she switched after the IOC dropped the individual pursuit three years ago.
Less Is More
Paddlers such as Great Britain's Ed McKeever (left) will have to get up to speed in a hurry: All flat-water canoe/kayak sprint races have been shortened from 500 meters to 200 to make them more exciting and television-friendly.
Modern pentathletes will not only have to adjust to laser pistols, which have replaced pellet guns for the shooting portion of their event, but they'll also have to get used to firing those guns with a high heart rate. Running and shooting have been combined, just as skiing and shooting are in the biathlon.
Too harsh? Track's new no-false-starts rule bounced Usain Bolt (page 88) from the 100 final at the 2011 worlds.
Anna Tunnicliffe and crew (above, 1) carry U.S. hopes in new match races, aboard Elliott six-meter boats.
U.S. wrestler Ellis Coleman's jump-over-his-foe, "flying squirrel" takedown is already a hit on YouTube.
As change continues to sweep through the Arab world (page 100), women from the kingdoms of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei will compete in the Olympics for the first time. Shooter Bahiya al-Hamad (above), 19, will bear the flag of Qatar at the opening ceremony and will be joined in London by countrywomen Nada Mohammed Wafa Arakji, a swimmer, Noor al-Malki, a sprinter, and Aya Magdy, a table-tennis player. The Saudis will send 800-meter runner Sarah Attar and judoka Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani. Brunei's first female Olympian will be 400-meter runner Maziah Mahusin.
South Africa's Oscar Pistorius (left) will become the Olympics' first double-amputee athlete and sixth Paralympian, after, among others, countrywoman Natalie du Toit, who swam at the 2008 Games, and Poland's Natalia Partyka, who competed in table tennis in Beijing. Pistorius, 25, whose legs were removed when he was 11 months old because of a congenital defect, will race in the 400 meters and the 4 √ó 400 relay. The carbon-fiber blades on which he races were declared legal for competition in '08, but Pistorius didn't meet the Beijing Olympic qualifying standards. Though he is not considered to be a medal contender this time around, he has the year's fastest time in the 400 by a South African (45.20 seconds).
After a decade as an amateur sport with organized world championships, women's boxing finally steps into the Olympic ring. Thirty-six female fighters from 24 countries in three weight classes (flyweight, lightweight and middleweight) will square off in bouts consisting of four two-minute rounds (compared to three three-minute rounds for the men). Flyweight Marlen Esparza (left, in red) and lightweight Queen Underwood are former world bronze medalists. Joining them on this year's U.S. team is a rising star, 17-year-old middleweight Claressa Shields.
Photograph by MATT DUNHAM/AP
Blade Runner Pistorius, a five-time Paralympic medalist and a South African hero, will run in two events at the Games.
DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (TENNIS)
THOMAS LOVELOCK (CYCLING)
JED JACOBSOHN (BOXING)
LEE MILLS/ACTION IMAGES/ZUMAPRESS.COM (CANOEING)
CHARLES PLATIAU/REUTERS (PISTOL)
BOB MARTIN (STARTING BLOCKS)
MARK DADSWELL/GETTY IMAGES (SAILING)
BRIAN PETERSON/MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.COM (COLEMAN)
MOHAN/DOHA STADIUM PLUS (AL-HAMAD)