Elite. The competition, the arena and the traditions—they all signify the best of the best. More than 16,000 athletes and team officials will soon flock to London, preparing to compete in one of the 26 summer games. Each athlete is eager to become one of the 26,512 Olympic medalists, joining the finest athletes from Athens in 1896, to Vancouver in 2010.
The tradition of the Games is beloved and celebrated across the world, and it all starts with the passing of a single torch.
PASSING THE TORCH
Getting the Torch to the games, and thus beginning the two and a half weeks of extraordinary athleticism, will take 8,000 people. The route is designed to ensure that the flame will come within 10 miles of 95 percent of the people in the United Kingdom during the 70-day journey to the Games.
All of the 8,000 torchbearers were nominated by people in their communities—for their strength, their courage and their inspiration. Tens of thousands of people were nominated for the selection process, and those who made it, from children to the elderly, will all have their moments to shine.
The three-sided gold Torch, designed by Londoners, stands at 31.5 inches and features 8,000 perforated circles to represent the bearers. It's triangle-shaped at the top as a nod to the many threes throughout the Olympics: the values—respect, excellence and friendship; the motto—faster, higher, stronger; the vision of the XXX games—sport, education and culture; and a celebration of London's third time hosting.
CHOOSING THE BATTLE GROUND
It took four rounds of voting by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for London to beat out Paris as the host city of the coveted games. Eight cities submitted applications against London: Paris; Leipzig, Germany; New York City; Istanbul; Havana; Moscow; Madrid, and Rio de Janeiro. The United States made the final five, but London took 54 of the possible 104 votes, with Paris trailing only by 4. Rio de Janeiro was named host city for the 2016 summer Games.
The host-city election is eerily reminiscent to running for class president. The final cities have the opportunity to appeal to the IOC during a one-hour pitch. Through speeches, video and celebrity endorsements they plead their cases and sell their land.
If an IOC member happens to hail from a country on the ballot, he or she is not allowed to vote until that country is eliminated, if it's voted off. Like any election, there have been cries of bribery and fraud, but with bidding cities putting more than $40 million in—just during the voting stage—their investments only pay off if selected, and they don't want to lose.
When selecting the arena, IOC looks at technical and logistical requirements—such as space, accommodations, transportation, access and safety. On the flashier side, they look for promotional plans—parades, ceremonies and incorporation of things like the Olympic Village.
The winning city stands to collect millions in revenue from tourism and advertisements, fierce media attention and, of course, a spot in Olympic history, whether their athletes win or lose, so the initial costs means little in the grand scheme of things.
BUILT BY THE GODS
These athletic gods set the stage for our entertainment every few years. They work tirelessly year-round, and the world takes notice on the grandest stage they'll ever have the opportunity to perform on. Here is just a sampling of the American athletes to watch this summer.
RYAN LOCHTE: This six-time Olympic medalist set the record for the 4x200-meter-freestyle relay with teammates at the 2009 World Championships. He also happened to pop into the Bellevue Club in 2008 to visit with the Bellevue Club Swim Team.
HOPE SOLO: She's the goalkeeper for the U.S. Women's team and a Washington native. Hope and her team took Gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
CARMELITA JETER: This California girl is the second-fastest woman ever in the 100-meter-track-and-field event.
ALEX MORGAN: She's the forward for the Seattle Sounders women's team, and helped the United States clinch a victory over France during the 2011 World Cup by scoring a goal in the 82nd minute.
KEVIN DURANT: This basketball superstar plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but entered the NBA with the Seattle SuperSonics, where he won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
MICHAEL PHELPS: No list of great Olympians is complete without him. He won eight Gold medals in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics; two more than the 2004 games. Knowing Phelps, his sights are set on double digits for London.
PICK YOUR BATTLE…GETTING THE STAGE SET
Bidding Phase: 9 years
Foundation Planning: 7 years
Operational Planning: 5.5 years
Operational Readiness Planning: 3.5 years
Games Time: 2.5 weeks
THE VILLAGE…WHERE THE OLYMPIANS REST THEIR WEARY HEADS
16 thousand beds
21 thousand pillows
170 thousand coat hangers
60 thousand meals served daily
5 thousand loaves of bread
75 thousand liters of milk
232 tons of potatoes
330 tons of fruits and vegetables
BUILT FOR THE GAMES…MAKING COLISEUM HISTORY
Aquatics Centre (permanent)
Basketball Arena (temporary)
BMX Track (plans for reconfiguration)
Copper Box (permanent)
Eton Manor—tennis (permanent)
Greenwich Park—equestrian (temporary)
Hadleigh Farm—BMX (temporary)
Horse Guards Parade—volleyball (temporary)
Hyde Park—triathlon (temporary)
Lee Valley White Water Centre (permanent)
Olympic Stadium (permanent)
Riverbank Arena (temporary)
The Royal Artillery Barracks (temporary)
Water Polo Arena (temporary)
COUNTDOWN. STARTS. NOW.
The world will be watching. An estimated 1 billion people—15 percent of the world's population—tuned in during the Beijing opening ceremonies.
As decided by the IOC, host cities must include certain elements during the opening ceremonies. The President of the IOC and the Chair of the Organizing Committee will receive Her Majesty the Queen, and teams will enter in alphabetical order for the parade of athletes.
Speeches will follow, as will the Olympic Anthem and the raising of the Olympic flag. An oath made by an athlete, judge and coach from the Host Nation will lead to the lighting of the Torch and cauldron. This flame will burn throughout the entirety of the games, while the nations battle for Gold.
Let the Games begin.
The IOC caps the number of eligible summer sports at 28, and the only sports that have never been absent from the games are athletics, swimming, fencing and gymnastics.
First summer Games. Sports included: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.
Archery, Basque pelota, cricket, croquet, equestrian, golf, polo, rowing, rugby union, sailing, soccer, tug of war and water polo added.
Aquatics (diving), boxing, fencing, lacrosse and roque added.
Figure skating, hockey, jeu de paume and water motorsports added.
Modern pentathlon added.
Games canceled because of World War I.
Ice hockey added.
Basque pelota, canoeing, jeu de paume and volleyball named demonstration sports.
Women's athletic and gymnastics debut, tennis disappears and lacrosse named demonstration sport.
American football named demonstration sport.
Basketball and handball added. Art, baseball and gliding named demonstration sports.
Games canceled because of World War II.
Games canceled because of World War II.
First-ever women's canoeing event contested.
Handball and Finnish baseball named demonstration sports.
Baseball and Australian football named demonstration sports.
First games telecasted in North America, Canada and Mexico.
Judo and volleyball added.
Tennis named demonstration sport.
Archery reintroduced, and badminton and water skiing named demonstration sports.
Women's field hockey debuts.
Tennis and baseball reintroduced as demonstration sports.
Synchronized swimming and table tennis added.
Badminton and baseball added, and roller hockey and taekwondo named demonstration sports.
Canoe/kayak and triathlon added.
Baseball, basketball and taekwondo added.
BMX discipline and open water swimming more than 10 kilometers added.
Women's boxing included for the first time.
Golf and rugby union to return to the Games.