Who to Watch in the 2012 Olympics

Published 2012-07-26 10:29:17

London Olympic logo 2012Doesn't it feel like the Olympics have been approaching forever? You can stop waiting - they are finally here! The Opening Ceremonies kick off the competition event on July 27th. Over 200 countries have qualified at least one athlete and pride is running high for each nation.

This can be an odd situation for an expat. If you root for the home team, which place is home? Where you're from, or where you live? For serial expats, this may be an even more complex challenge. Or should you cheer on the best, the longshot, or the big personality? So...Who should you watch? Here are a few unique athletes to watch for in the Games.

Oldest Athlete

Name: Hiroshi Hoketsu
Sport: Equestrian
Country: Japan
Age: 70 (He will be 71 years of age by the time of the competition)
Experience: 1964 Olympics in Tokyo; 1988 Olympics (qualified , but was unable to compete when his horse was quarantined); 2008 Beijing Olympics

Hoketsu is the oldest Olympian to ever compete for Japan, and is the second oldest Olympian to compete ever (after Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn who won a silver in the 1920 Summer Olympics). The Japanese athlete made it into the Games after winning an international dressage equestrian event in France. Hoketsu will be competing with his 15-year-old horse, Whisper.

Hoketsu commented on his qualifying, "To put it pompously, it was a miracle. Last summer, I thought it would be impossible to make London, so it fills me with deep emotions."

Only Athlete In A Hijab

Name: Aya Medany
Sport: Modern Pentathlon - Five separate events of a 200-meter freestyle swim, three kilometer cross-country run, show jumping course, pistol-shooting, and fencing.
Country: Egypt
Age: 23
Experience: 2004 & 2008 Olympics

Starting her career at the Athens Olympics in 2004, Medany was just 15. She has not met the high expectations in previous competitions, but now faces serious conflict between her Muslim faith and sport. The hijab offers only moderate difficulty in slowing her down when running. The more serious issue is the requirement for swimmers to wear suits that "shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor extend below the knee".

The other difficulty she had to deal with has been the Revolution in Egypt. Along with the feelings of instability, she had to deal with a loss in training time and a vital chance to compete on home soil.

Medany has said
"The sport hasn't got good funding and now we have a lot of problems, especially after the revolution," she says. "We can't even talk, we don't know what to do, although at least until now they have let us travel."

Comeback Story

Name: Peter Hudnut
Sport: Water Polo
Country: USA
Age: 32
Experience: World championships since 2002; 2008 Olympics

While training to compete on the 2004 Olympic team, Hudnut suffered a crippling back injury. Doctors found two fractured vertebrae with a synovial cyst growing between them. Hudnut had surgery to remove the cyst and started rehabbing with just 10 months before the roster for the Olympic team would be finalized. He was selected as alternate for 2004 Olympic Team and made the team in 2008.

Again Hudnut was in a difficult situation for this Games. After the 2008 Beijing Games, Hudnut took two years off from competitive water polo and lost his athletic touch gaining 35 pounds. In 2010, he realized he wanted back in the game and got to work training. He has once again made the team and is set to compete.

Most Pregnant Competitor

Name: Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi
Sport: Shooting
Country: Malaysia
Age: 29
Experience: bronze medal at 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou; gold medal at 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi; gold medals 2011 Southeast Asian Games

Taibi discovered that she was pregnant, then two days later she qualified to represent Malaysia in at the 2012 Olympic Games. Initially, Malaysian sporting officials were reluctant to let Nur Suryani compete in the Games, worried the travel and stress might effect her health. Nur Suryani cleared with her doctor and said, "I got the qualification, so it's mine."

She is actually not the first pregnant woman to compete at the Olympic Games. Among the short list, a pregnant skeleton racer competed in the 2006 Winter Games, a pregnant curler competed in 2010, and a pregnant figure skater won a gold medal in Sweden in 1920. She is, however, the most pregnant woman to compete.

To her baby, Nur Suryani says "You are very lucky, you're not born yet and you already went to the Olympics."

Last Chance

Name: Sir Chris Hoy
Sport: Cycling
Country: Scotland
Age: 36
Experience: three gold medals in 2008; multiple world champion

One of the most successful British Olympians and Scotland's most successful Olympian. He is nearing retirement, but as the most successful Olympic male cyclist of all time he is still expected to secure at least one gold medal. Knighted Sir Chris by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009, the "Real McHoy" is one of the UK's favorites.

First Time Female Representative

Name: Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani
Sport: Judo
Country: Saudi Arabia

Name: Sarah Attar
Sport: 800-meter run
Country: Saudi Arabia

Name: Bahiya Mansour Al Hamad
Sport: Shooting
Country: Qatar

Name: Nada Mohamed Wafa
Sport: Swimming
Country: Qatar 

Name: Aya Majdi
Sport: Table Tennis
Country: Qatar

Name: Noor al-Malki
Sport: Track & Field
Country: Qatar 

Name: Maziah Mahusin
Sport: 400 metres hurdles
Country: Brunei

For the first time ever, there are more female atheltes than male competiting at the Oympics. Every country is sending a female representative, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei sending a female for teh first time. Many of these competitors haven't qualified for the event in the traditional manner, but have been accepted by a wildcard invitation from the International Olympic Committee.

Several of the competitors were raised outside of the nation they are competitng for, but are proud to represent their country. Sarah Attar, raised in California, said “A big inspiration for participating in the 2012 Olympics for me is being one of the first women for Saudi Arabia to be going...It’s such a huge honor and I hope that it can really make some good strides for women over there to get more involved in the sport".

Despite these advances, Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives, Minky Warden, criticized Saudi Arabia for doing "the bare minimum" to placate the International Olympics Committee and avoid international contempt. Nonetheless - it's a step.

Name: Khadija Mohammed
Sport: Weightlifting (75-kilograms)
Country: United Arab Emirates

In addition to these first time representatives, Khadija Mohammed will make history as the first female weightlifter from the Persian Gulf, as well as the first woman from the UAE to qualify outright for Olympics. 

Blind Competitor

Name: Im Dong-Hyun
Sport: Archery
Country: South Korea
Age: 25
Experience: Individual gold at the 2007 world championships; 2004 & 2008 Olympics

Im has myopia, meaning his vision is 20/100 in his right eye and 20/200 vision in his left eye. He is legally blind, yet has competed successfully in archery. Im does not wear corrective glasses or contact lenses, explaining that the targets appear "...as if different types of paint have been dropped in water." Instead, he feels each shot with his body using muscle memory.
"Archery requires very sensitive muscles," he said. "I used to play football at school, and I enjoyed really physical sports, but I now try to avoid any sports that might build up different muscles. That might have a negative impact on my archery."

Women in A Man's World

Name: Alise Post
Sport: BMX
Country: USA
Age: 21
Experience: Missed out on Beijing Games in 2008 due to the 19 year-old age requirement

Turned pro in 2006 at just 15 years old, Post was the youngest female to win the American Bicycle Association national title. She remains one of the best female BMX riders in the world and has been referred to as "The Beast." After a serious knee injury, it was unsure if she would make the Games, but she won the World Cup in May, allowing her to compete.

Biggest Personality

Name: Phillips Idowu
Sport: Triple jump
Country: England
Age: 33
Experience: 2000 & 2008 Games, 2010 Gold at the European championships

Idowu is known as a showman. Crimson-dyed hair, facial piercings, and a rebellious attitude automatically make him an athlete to watch. In the 2011 European championships, he pulled out of the competition via Twitter - an unpopular move. This rift between Idowu and coach Charles van Commenee continues into London as the athlete and coach haven't spoken for over a year.

To set the tone for this Games, Idowu dyed his hair gold. Idowu's 2010 gold at the European Championship was 17.81 meters - just off the world record of 18.29 meters by Brit Jonathan Edwards at the 1995 world championships.

Physically Disabled Superman

Name: Oscar Pistorius
Sport: Running
Country: South Africa
Age: 25
Experience: 2008 Summer Paralympics Gold medal in the 100 meter; 2004 Summer Paralympics Bronze medal

A double amputee with carbon-fiber blades, Pistorius is making history by becoming the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics. Called the "Blade Runner", he will compete in the 400m and the 4 x 400 m relay races, as well as the Paralympics.

Bad Boys

Name: Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk
Sport: Swimming
Country: Australia
Age: 24 (both)
Experience: D'Arcy - 2007 World Aquatics Championships; 2010 Commonwealth Games (where he finished second behind Michael Phelps); kicked off 2008 Olympic team for "violent altercation" with teammate Simon Cowley. Monk - 2006 Commonwealth Games; 2007 World Aquatics Championships; 2008 Beijing Olympics

D'Arcy and Monk have been labeled the "bad boys" after posting pictures of themselves posing with semi-automatic weapons from their personal Facebook profiles. A disciplinary panel informed the swimmers that they will be sent home from London immediately after the swimming program ends and banned from social media sites for a month starting on July 16. This means the world may be watching them for all the wrong reasons.

1st Time Event

Name: Katie Taylor
Sport: Women's Boxing
Country: Ireland
Age: 26
Experience: 3-time world champion

Women's boxing makes its Olympic debut in London. This Irish fighter is considered a favorite in the lightweight (60kg) division. Taylor will wear traditional boxing shorts - not a skirt - as allowed under a new amendment to amateur boxing rules.


Name: Usain Bolt
Sport: Track and Field
Country: Jamaica
Age: 25
Experience: Gold Medalist at the 2008 Olympics in 200 meter, 40 meter, and 4x100 meter relay

It's impossible to say there is a sure thing in the Olympics, but Bolt is in strong form for the 2012 Olympics. Bolt stunned the world with his performance at the Beijing Olympics breaking both the 100m and the 200m world records. Plenty of competitors will be trying for the gold, but Bolt is looking beatable this year.

Name: Michael Phelps
Sport: Swimming
Country: USA
Age: 27
Experience: Record 8 gold medals in 2008 Olympics

After winning an unbelievable 8 golf medals in Beijing, this is Phelps last big event before retirement. With a career total of 16 medals, Phelps needs just three more of any colour to become the most decorated Olympian in any sport.

Name: Yelena Isinbayeva
Sport: Pole Vault
Country: Russia
Age: 30
Experience: Gold Medalist in 2004 & 2008; 5-time World Champion

Isnbayeva is considered to be one of the greatest pole vaulter of all-time. She is a heavy favorite in London.

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