With roots born out of ancient Greece's strong connection between fire and the gods, the modern Olympic flame goes back to 1928. Eight years later, the first relay originated from Olympia to the site of the Opening Ceremonies. Take a look at the current torch, follow the day-by-day path of the relay and trace the tradition of Olympic fire from its early beginnings through July 27 - the night a London cauldron will finally be lit and the Games of the 30th Olympiad will officially get underway.
In the late 19th century, Baron Pierre de Coubertin had a bold idea: revive the long-gone Olympics of ancient Greece. In 1896, his dream came true, and the first modern Games were born. Modest beginnings - nine sports, 245 men, 14 nations - ultimately led to the 26-sport, 10,000-competitor, 200-country event that will be on display in London this summer. From the cities to the legends to the medals, take a tour of what has turned the Summer Games into the global spectacle they are today.
All told, there will be 30 venues used at the London Games, from Portland's sailing waters at the southern tip of the UK to Scotland's national soccer stadium up in Glasgow. The heart of the action, however, is in the host city, where the new Olympic Park is home to eight fresh competition venues, and another 13 are set inside London's borders. Find out where each venue is, what it's hosting and get some background on how the infrastructure to host an event of such daunting scope was built up.
One of the oldest sports in the world, archery has been involved in its fair share of legends, from Robin Hood to William Tell. But the modern event has its own brand of sharpshooter, launching arrows from over 75 yards away trying to hit a bulls-eye just 12 centimeters wide. Explore the equipment of the archer, see how the Olympic tournament format resembles a March Madness bracket and learn how a small nation in southeast Asia - 1/33rd the size of China - has taken control of the sport.
The largest single sport at the Games, athletics encompasses all track and field disciplines and is comprised of roughly 2,000 athletes. Its roots go back long before the first modern Olympiad of 1896, and can be traced to the ancient Games of Greece, which began in the 8th century BC. Explore the history of the sport, the numerous events that make it up and those who have left their indelible mark on the Summer Games with gold medals and record-setting performances.
With its roots in the old pastime of "battledore and shuttlecock," badminton's origins go back to a simple game of leisure. At the Olympics, however, the pace of the sport is anything but casual. Differentiating it from other racket disciplines, badminton replaces a ball with a shuttle - which can go faster than any other object in any other sport. Explore that and other details from an event that has made quite the competitive transition from backyard barbeque to Summer Games stage.
Marked by American dominance in its early going, Olympic basketball is in the midst of a new era of parity as the sport has overtaken the globe. From its Berlin debut in 1936 to the United States' return to the top in Beijing - with a controversial gold-medal finale and dominating Dream Team in between - trace the history of hoops at the Summer Games with a look at the differences between the international and NBA game, and a slideshow of U.S. roster hopefuls.
Sand, spikes and serves. Bumps, bods and bikinis. Since being added as a medal sport in 1996, beach volleyball has quickly become one of the Olympics' most popular events with a laid-back fun-in-the-sun atmosphere making it a crowd favorite. Though not near a beach, London will make do by importing 3,000 tons of sand to the Horse Guards Parade, where a bouncing spike or service ace just might skip by David Cameron's residence at 10 Downing Street or into historic Trafalgar Square.
Among the few modern events that date back to the ancient Games, boxing has developed into a more safety-conscious sport at the Olympic level, primarily based on judges' scoring. That's quite a leap from the barbarism of the 7th century B.C. in Athens, where boxers didn't wear gloves and could lose only by knockout or admitting defeat. Learn about how electronic scoring works, the various ways to win a bout and prepare yourself for something unseen in Summer Games history: the female boxer.
There was such little interest in competitive canoeing and kayaking in 1924 that the IOC declined to include it on the Olympic program. Almost 90 years later, 28 nations will compete at the London Games. Bolstered by the permanent addition of whitewater slalom, the sport has certainly distanced itself from the days of being jilted. Get introduced to the 16 events that make up canoe/kayak, learn the differences between the boats and explore the sites where all the action will take place.
In 1896, cycling made its debut at Athens' Neo Phaliron Velodrome in the first modern Games. It hasn't missed an Olympiad since. Having expanded to four very different events - road, track, mountain and BMX - the sport seems to have something for everybody. Whether it be the grueling 250 km marathon ending at The Mall, the pure speed sprints of the Velodrome or the navigation of the rugged hills of the BMX Track, the appeal of modern cycling is as diverse as its disciplines.
From its humble beginnings with the "plunge for distance" in 1904, Olympic diving has come a long way over the last 108 years. Today, it's competed by some of the world's greatest athletes, whose complex midair twists are matched in impressiveness only by the gentle grace of their landing. Learn about the differences between the platform and springboard events, how the respective disciplines are judged and the various types of dives that can often leave spectators breathless.
A niche event that highlights the long-running relationship between horse and rider, equestrian boasts a history no less storied than its counterparts. Steeped in tradition and rooted in military training and hunting, the sport celebrates its 100th year at the Summer Games in 2012. Learn about the distinctive dress, individual competitions that make up the overall program and the evolution of a sport that has been an Olympic staple through a century of ever-changing sports at the Games.
With roots that run as far back as the great civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, modern fencing has a rich and romantic history revitalized in 15th-century France and Italy. It's also been an Olympic sport as long as the modern Games have been around. From the legends that have brandished their weapons on the piste to a description of the three types of swords that clash above it, take a look at what makes one of the Olympics' oldest sports one of its most fascinating.
The origins of field hockey date as far back as the 4th century B.C., but it's unlikely those players foresaw the fast-paced, physical game it would ultimately turn into 2,400 years later, played by both men and women. Become acquainted with the layout of the pitch, the basics of the sport and the equipment used by its players while walking through the history of a game that has recently transitioned to bigger and quicker athletes - and an even quicker field.
The world's most popular sport, "the beautiful game" has a long history at the Olympics, going back to the turn of the 20th century. More recently, the tournament has been forced to differentiate itself so as not to compete with FIFA's own quadrennial showcase, the World Cup. Learn about the differences between the two, get a primer on the game itself, and check out the various venues for the only event that will take place in six different high-profile stadiums spread throughout the UK.
Gymnastics has come a long way from its origin of military training to the energetic display of grace, power and athleticism that now comprises one of the Summer Games' marquee competitions. Replete with drama throughout its history, the sport's varied events have forged many of the signature moments and images of the modern Games. Tour its beginnings, explore its equipment and evolution, and take a seat in the chair of a judge for a lesson in objectively gauging difficulty and execution.
The fast-paced sport of handball debuted at the 1936 Berlin Games and returned after a 36-year hiatus to become a program staple of the past four decades. In London, the tournament will feature an Olympics-high dozen men's and women's teams for the second straight Games. Learn how they will pass and dribble a ball a little smaller, but heavier, than a volleyball and explore the basics of six outfielders and one goalie doing battle in a thrilling 60-minute contest of skill, will and determination.
Known as "the gentle way" in its home of Japan, the country has been anything but docile in keeping a stranglehold on judo's cumulative medal count at the Summer Games. With a philosophy geared toward using an opponent's force against him, judoka go toe-to-toe using a combination of throws, submission techniques, holds and pins in hopes of scoring an ippon. Get introduced to the world of waza-aris, yukos and judogi as the tatami mat takes center stage at London's ExCel Center.
Invented by none other than modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin and with conceptual roots in the ancient Greek competition, modern pentathlon is one of the most unique sports at the Games. See what five distinct disciplines make up the long-time event, how they differ from the original breakdown of millennia ago, the big change made for London's event finale and how this all relates to a 19th-century French cavalry officer trapped behind enemy lines.
Originally a mode of transportation and tool for war, rowing has become one of the most grueling tests of mental and physical strength among all Olympic sports. With 14 events at the 2012 Games, the competition will be fierce among the 550 total qualifiers. Learn how these athletes made their way to London, the different types of boats they'll be rowing and take an interactive look at the 2,000-meter course of Eton Dorney, where the world's best will secure a spot on the medal stand.
Other events at the Summer Games may get more attention, but few have the longevity of sailing. Despite its inauspicious beginnings - it had to be canceled at the 1st Olympiad due to heavy storms and was not included on the 1904 St. Louis program due to limitations of the Mississippi River - sailing has been an Olympic staple. Originally classified as "yachting," the name has hardly been the only thing to change. Take a look at the current competition fleets and how they've evolved over the years.
As a sport, shooting goes back more than 500 years, and as such it's been a mainstay of the Summer Games program outside of just two Olympiads. In 2012, 390 men and women from around the world will converge on the historic Royal Artillery Barracks in southeast London to compete in the three disciplines of rifle, pistol and shotgun. Find out more about the event's history, the types of guns these marksmen will be firing and what they'll be aiming for - in addition to a gold medal.
One of the hallmarks of the Summer Games, swimming has been competed at every iteration of the modern Olympics. Of course, the modest two-event program of freestyle and breaststroke at the 1896 Games bears little resemblance to the 16 pool events - and one in open water - on London's docket this summer. Learn about the different strokes, scroll through the medal leaders and take a walk through history and watch the swimsuit evolve from an old Racerback to a high-tech Fastskin.
It began more than a century ago with a woman performing in a tank at the New York Hippodrome. Today, it is an exhibition of poise, precision and artistry. One of just two sports that are competed exclusively by women, synchronized swimming requires the athleticism to stay afloat while doing gymnastics in a pool and the perfect timing to hit a mark while it's all going on. Take a look at synchro's techniques and positions, and see how it has evolved from entertainment sideshow to Olympic glory.
Back in 1800's England, table tennis was a social game played on dining room tables. In 2012 London, it will be one of the most fast-paced and entertaining events at the Summer Games. Yet a sport that actually had to be slowed down - play was so quick that the size of the ball had to be increased so people could see it - has had little effect on China's long-standing dominance. Explore this and other unique dynamics of an exercise in reflexes that is always an Olympic crowd-pleaser.
If you're looking for one of the more action-packed sports on the Olympic program, the taekwondo mat is where to find it. Translated as "the way of foot and fist," the objective is straightforward: land as many punches and kicks to your opponent's torso and head as possible. Get a primer on the rules, explore the different methods of scoring and take a look at the equipment of the taekwondoka as they prepare to embark on a single-elimination tournament to Summer Games glory.
For all its history, tennis has only been a regular on the Olympic program since 1988, yet it will be in the spotlight at the London Games as much for its venue as its players. The venerable All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is set to host the Games less than a month after a new Wimbledon champion is crowned. Many of the game's biggest stars are set to compete, looking to follow Grand Slam glory with Olympic gold as mixed doubles make its debut.
Derived from the Greek words for "three contests", triathlon is arguably the truest test of endurance and stamina, made up of swimming, cycling and running. Though the sport initially took off in fitness-mad southern California in the early 1970s, it's only been part of the Summer Games program since 2000. Yet what it lacks in history, it makes up for in competitiveness. Examine the equipment and trace the race route as Olympians compete under the backdrop of London's historic Hyde Park.
Volleyball has always enjoyed a high profile since its entry into the Olympics at the 1964 Games. Since then, side-out scoring has evolved into rally-style point building, and the introduction of the libero to the back row has helped keep the game as fresh as it is fast-paced. At Earls Court, a sport that has hit full stride will be on display with no shortage of global contenders for gold. Take a look and see how a sport more than a century old has stayed current and maintained its popularity.
The longest-running team sport of the modern Olympics is also one of the toughest - water polo requires tremendous endurance and considerable strength. In London, there will be no shortage of subplots: Will the Hungarian men win gold yet again? Can British teams make an impact in the nation's first appearance since 1956? Will the United States break through after both the men and women won silver in Beijing? Dive into these topics and learn key terminology around the pool.
A combination of brute strength and refined technique, weightlifting has appeared in almost every Olympics since the first modern Games. Although a seemingly straightforward event, the two lifts - the snatch and clean-and-jerk - follow very precise and technical routines. Break down the steps of each event and see the various weight classes while taking a look at the barbell and weight discs which prove to be every bit as much of an opponent as a weightlifter's fellow competitors.
With origins dating back more than 5,000 years, wrestling was the signature sport at the first modern Games and has been a staple at almost every Olympics since. While the ultimate objective is to pin an opponent, competitors can also win by accumulating more points. See the moves associated with earning them, learn the differences between freestyle and Greco-Roman, and take an interactive look at the various weight classes in which gold-medal winners will emerge.