Farm animals. Rooftop weapons. A fuss over French fries. Along with the remarkable stories of athletic determination and drive, the run-up to the 2012 Olympics has turned up some additional fun and fascinating facts, many of which may surprise you. Here, eight things you may not know about London 2012.
It starts with livestock
The athletes best watch where they step. Danny Boyle, the director who won an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire,” is producing a three-hour, $42 million opening ceremony in which he will transform the Olympic Stadium into an English country meadow, featuring live horses, cows, goats, chickens, ducks, geese and sheep. Also tilling farmers. And 900 schoolchildren. And Paul McCartney. And artificial clouds. And who knows what else.
Year of the woman
For the first time, Team USA will send more female athletes (269) than male (261) to the Olympics. Officials credit Title IX, the 1972 law that expanded athletic opportunities for women and girls. But that’s not the only development that has organizers touting the 2012 Olympics as a landmark for women. This will be first Olympics in which women will compete in all the same events as men – women’s boxing was added this year -- and every participating country will send at least one female athlete. That includes Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia, which have never sent women to the Olympics before.
No trash-talking on Twitter
This will be the most social Olympics ever, but there is a whole bunch of rules about what athletes can say on Twitter, Facebook, etc. during the Games. Those who follow athletes for their off-the-cuff musings and funny photos will be disappointed to learn that athletes cannot comment on or post pictures of competitors, be profane or vulgar, or post any video or audio at all. All postings must be “in a first-person, diary-type format,” the rules dictate. In short, no fun. How the International Olympic Committee will enforce the rules remains to be seen.
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There will be missiles.
The British defense ministry is understandably worried about a terrorist attack, and is sparing no expense – at last estimate, the security budget was nearing $1 billion -- to prevent one. That includes a helicopter carrier on the Thames, scramble-ready Royal Air Force jets, thousands of soldiers, police officers and private guards, and, yes, missiles. On the rooftops of people’s homes. The residents of the Fred Wigg Tower public housing complex in east London didn’t like that plan, and asked a judge to block it. The judge refused.
Docs to dopers: Don’t try it
Anti-doping officials have gone on the offensive, warning potential cheaters not to bother trying to sneak anything past them. They’ve partnered with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline on a $30 million state-of-the-art laboratory staffed by 150 scientists who will collect and analyze more than 6,000 samples of blood and urine around the clock during the Olympics and Paralympics. The aim is to test at least half of the 10,000 athletes, including all who win medals. But the larger goal is to deter doping by making athletes believe that they will get caught.
Thou shalt have no other fries before mine
Britons were understandably upset to learn that McDonald’s contract with the London Olympics banned all other food vendors from selling French fries, which meant no fish and chips. After an uproar from local food purveyors who wanted to sell Britain’s quintessential dish, organizers sought special dispensation from McDonald’s. The fast-food giant ultimately agreed, but only if the battered potatoes and cod would not be sold separately. McDonald’s sponsorship of the Olympics -- a huge source of revenue -- has also drawn criticism from lawmakers and physicians, who say it’s hypocritical and unhealthy to peddle fast food at a global celebration of physical fitness. Even International Olympic Committee Jacque Rogge admitted that it was problematic, but the money was too good to pass up.
Even the buildings will be recycled
The cities of Olympics past are littered with costly, empty sporting venues -- totems to waste, if you will. London’s solution was to build its eight venues so that they could easily be broken down, shipped away, or converted for other uses. So far, there are plans to repurpose six of the structures, including the basketball arena and aquatics center. But legal snafus have scuttled attempts to find a buyer for the $760 million Olympic Stadium. One top Olympics official has already lost his job because of it. There are now four competing bidders, including the West Ham soccer team and a company that wants to stage Formula One races.
You can watch everything
Go crazy. For the first time, every minute of every Olympic event will be streamed live online. Basketball, badminton, trampoline, taekwondo, soccer, shooting, water polo and wrestling…you name it. All of it will be available on nbcolympics.com and NBC’s Live Extra app, provided you have a subscription to a cable or satellite service. On regular TV, NBC will broadcast centerpiece events, including swimming, track and field, gymnastics, diving and beach volleyball. NBC’s cable channels – NBC Sports, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo and Telemundo – will provide supplemental coverage. For more information, click here.