The Olympic Games are almost upon us. From July 27 until August 12, athletes from 205 nations will converge in London for the world's greatest sporting event. As three-times Olympic hosts, London is guaranteed to put on a gold medal performance - from sporting excellence, to cultural festivals and live concerts, the Olympics offers something for everyone to enjoy. And for those less inclined for athletic rivalry, check out 'alternatives to the Olympics' feature for a variety of ways to escape the sporting frenzy.
Strength is measured in pounds. Speed is measured in seconds. Courage? You cannot measure courage.
The great Olympic ideal is so much more than pure athleticism. Through individual competition, countries are brought together in peaceful rivalry without the burden of politics, religion or racism. And every so often this ideal is wonderfully exemplified by athletes - simple acts of kindness that reveal the true measure of mankind. Here are some of the greatest feats of past Olympic Games.
Bobby Pearce, Amsterdam Olympics 1928
It’s 1928 and all of Amsterdam is enraptured with Olympic fever. The opening round of the rowing sees Australia’s champion oarsman, Bobby Pearce, triumph with a 26-second lead. Crowds gather along the Sloten Canal for round two and Pearce once again delivers with eight lengths to spare. There’s no denying Pearce’s athletic excellence, but looming quarter finals will no doubt be a fierce test of his ability. The Australian and a Frenchman race for the title, a victory that will take them one step closer to the Gold. Suddenly frantic spectators motion to something in the water behind him. A quick look over his shoulder and Pearce stops rowing, leans on his oars and watches the title slip out of reach as his rival gains a five-length advantage - a perfectly respectable family of ducks was crossing from shore to shore. Having ensured their safe passage and through what can only be considered to be pure athletic superiority, Pearce charges for the finish line, overtaking his opponent to secure a 30-second lead, a place in the semi-finals, finals, and eventually claiming the Gold. A true champion of humanity.
Jesse Owens and Luz Long, Berlin Olympics 1936
Jesse Owens was an American, and the grandson of a slave. Luz Long was a German, under the rule of Adolf Hitler. Separated by country and race and against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, they were nonetheless banded by the Olympics. Owens had but one chance left to qualify for long jump when Long introduced himself. Under the watchful eye of Hitler and in the face of competitiveness, Long offered Owens the advice he needed to qualify, and what would eventually lead to him taking home the gold. Owens later said, “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.”
Emil Zatopek, Helsinki Olympics 1952
When Zatopek won the gold medal for the 10,000m marathon, he had never run a marathon in his life before. The record he set that day was unbeaten for many years, before Ronald Clarke broke it in a smaller race in 1965. Having never won an Olympic gold, Clarke saw the Mexico Games of 1968 as his last chance to accomplish this feat. When altitude sickness prevented him from even participating, Clarke headed home to Australia, knowing he had lost the gold forever. Clarke, however, decided to stop in Prague on the way, to pay Zatopek a visit. Upon his departure, Zatopek passed him a small parcel, casually telling him, “because you deserve it”. Upon boarding the plane home, a flabbergasted Clarke discovered Zatopek’s Olympic Marathon gold medal. Zatopek’s sentiment of “great is the victory, but the friendship is all the greater” was more than just a saying, it was what he lived by. An olympic champion like no other.
Lawrence Lemieux, Seoul Olympics 1988
Olympic competitors compete to win, above all else - or so one would assume. It was surprising then when Canada’s sailing champion, Lawrence Lemieux, so readily gave up his strong second-place position. When two Singapore sailors capsized, Lemieux immediately went to their aid. It didn’t matter that he was giving up his his chance at a medal, or that the stranded sailors were competing in an entirely different race. After securing their safety, Lemieux resumed the race and went on to finish 21 out of the 32 competitors. Lawrence Lemieux’s rescue efforts might have lost him the medal, but it certainly brandished him a hero. The IOC later awarded him an honourary second-place finish, stating, "By your sportsmanship, self-sacrifice and courage, you embody all that is right with the Olympic ideal".
Not having a ticket for the Olympics, doesn't mean having to miss out on the action. If you still like to get a ticket, then don't hesitate because this is your last chance. For everyone else not concerned with being at the games, there are a variety of ways to make sure that you enjoy the world's number one sporting event.
To really get into the Olympic spirit before the games kick off, why not go on an Olympic Walk? This doesn’t mean donning your trainers, sweatband or spandex, but rather taking a leisurely tour of the area surrounding the Olympic Park as well as the other main sites of the 2012 Games. Tour Guides Ltd offers professional tours by Blue Badge accredited tour guides. The tour explores both the history of the area surrounding the Olympic Park and the transformation that London is undergoing. You will also have the opportunity to find out more about the London 2012 athletes and the long-term plans for London’s new infrastructure. For more information and to book a spot for this dynamic two-hour tour, check out tourguides2012.co.uk
Price: £9 adults, £5 children (15 and under), £7 senior or student (with a valid ID card)
Win Win Win - A London 2012 Walking Tour!!
Essential Travel in conjunction with tourguides2012.co.uk is giving away two spots on a tour of the London 2012 sites! To win, just name one of the famous London venues where the Olympic Games will be shown on big screens (hint hint: the answer is on this page).
Watch It Live For Free
Not having an Olympic ticket doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all the action. The walking, cycling, triathlon and marathon races take part on the streets of London, which means that anyone can make the most of this free viewing pleasure. Head to The Mall or Box Hill to experience the best that these spectator-friendly Olympic events have to offer. Or grab a spot on the south side of The Serpentine, to witness first hand all the excitement of the swimming marathon. For more information on where to go and how to get there, check out London 2012 Maps. Remember to get there early to claim the best ‘seat’ on the street.
Watch It On Big Screens
Hyde Park and Victoria Park will be a buzz of Olympic energy for the entire duration of the Games. All medal events will be aired on giant state-of-the-art screens, with Hyde Park boasting the largest and Victoria Park ensuring a more intimate viewing experience. Both venues will also host free live music as well as other entertainment. For more information about these venues, check out the official London 2012 venue guide.
BT River of Music, July 21 & 22
For one weekend only, the banks of the River Thames will be transformed into a musical phenomenon with free music performances representing each of the 205 nations participating in the Olympics. Between Battersea Park and London Pleasure Gardens, the Thames will be divided into six stages - Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania, each celebrating a different style of music and a variety of musicians, from up-and-coming local talent to leading international artists. Tickets are free, but you need to book your free spot to ensure entrance (there is a £3 processing fee). Tickets are going fast so go to BT River of Music to make sure you don’t miss out.
London 2012 Festival, 21 June - 9 September
London 2012 Festival is the official arts festival to compliment the sporting extravanganza. It will play host to music, plays, carnivals, fashion and food - and the list goes on. 10 million people get entrance for free. With over 12 000 performances and events, there’s definitely something for everyone to enjoy. For the full festival guide, go to London 2012 Festival.
Olympics At Home, Or Your Home Away From Home
Enjoying the Olympics from the comfort of your own home is a good substitute for anyone not interested in being in the thick of the action. Why not organise a friendly betting pool or host a themed dinner party with a smorgasbord of international cuisine. Or head to your local pub that’s sure to have the Games on, and perhaps even some Olympics happy-hour specials to get you into the cheering spirit.
For more tips on how to spend your time in London, check out our London 24 Hour Guide.
Alternatives To The Olympics
There may be a few of us who aren't totally obsessed with the Olympics. After all, the drum has been beating for a while now. Even the Olympic officials are suggesting more flexible hours during the events. So what to do with all that extra time? If you fit into this category, we've not neglected you. Find yourself a distraction below while the world loses itself in sport.
Indulge In Some Culture
Lost in the sporting reverie is the fact that Damien Hirst is showing his first major exhibition in the UK. Everyone has an opinion about whether a shark floating in a pool of formaldehyde, the installation cryptically named The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, is art. And if so, is such a thing worth the millions that Hirst sells his work for? Tracey Emin, she of the unmade bed and a contemporary of Hirst, also has an exhibit on at the Turner Contemporary to further confound or illuminate your understanding of what exactly art is.
Rail Ale Trail
Every pub and sports bar will inevitably have a TV tuned into the Games, with patrons eager to engage you in conversation about such and such event. If the thought of not being able to visit your local pub is too much to bear, then the Rail Ale Trail is for you. What could be better than a train trip through Irwell Valley with your favourite tipple in hand. The trail takes ale connoisseurs through the valley's tucked-away breweries on train and by foot (so you can earn that drink), with stops at the Trackside pub and Irwell Works Brewery in Ramsbottom. As the site proudly proclaims: "Every stop is a stout…or a bitter, or a mild, or a lager!"
For more information visit www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk
Go For A Run On The Isle Of Man
If you can't beat them join them, right? While the world's best run in congested London, you can enjoy the fresh air and clean environment of the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man marathon, on 22 July, is the perfect excuse to exile yourself to another island completely. Unlike the bigger city marathons, this feels like an amateur event. You won't have any gazelle-like Kenyans making you feel inadequate and slow. Best of all you can rest your tired limbs in the beautiful surroundings pictured to the right. Note that entries have to be in by 9 July and spots are limited.
For more information visit www.marathon.iomvac.co.uk