Olympics

How far should we go to develop top athletes? Is it worth so much that a special “Olympic class” of people should be cultivated from a young age?

It seems that this has already happened in many competing nations. It reminds us of the strategy employed by District 2 in the The Hunger Games.

For those not familiar with this particular work of fiction, it tells the story of an entirely more violent set of games that involve a fight to the death by a bunch of teenagers (some even younger).

From each of 12 districts in the nation of Panem two kids are selected to do battle in a sci-fi version of a gladiatorial ring until only one remains and is proclaimed the winner by virtue of still being alive.

The “tributes”, as the teens are so-called, are mostly selected randomly. However, we are told that District 2 has “career tributes” who are entered into special academies at a young age. They then get to the ripe old age of 18 — at which point they are expected to volunteer themselves for the Hunger Games. Districts 1 and 4 have also been known to engage in this strategy, and all three districts that do this are wealthier than the other 9 districts.

This strategy, of having a specialist warrior class, makes tributes from these districts particularly successful at the games. (It also means that the rest of the kids in those districts don’t have to risk being selected by random draw.)

Our own distinctly real Olympic Games is gracefully free of such gratuitous violence. Instead, our Games represent to us sporting achievement in the context of universal ideals. Nations are brought together by them in celebration of values we share. Read more >>

Australia's James Magnussen on July 31 (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/GettyImages)

In the land Down Under, silver has become the new gold.

At home, Australia’s two-speed economy is based around finding valuable metals such as gold. Unfortunately for Australia’s Olympians, that search has hit a dud-seam in London.

For a country that has become accustomed to winning a paddling pool of Olympic swimming gold medals, the past week has prompted usually overconfident Australian sports fans (such as myself) to scratch their heads in disbelief at their athletes’ absence atop the podium.

Australia, with its relatively small population of 21m, has traditionally punched well above its weight in recent Olympic Games. The current medals table of one gold and eight silvers tells another tale.

To make matters even worse, the unthinkable has just occurred: New Zealand – our traditional rival to the east – has drawn clear of Australia in the medal count, thanks to two golds in the rowing. For those of us from “the West Island”, as some Kiwis describe that rather substantial land mass across the Tasman Strait, the shame is almost unbearable.

With the exception of a single gold in the women’s 100 metre freestyle relay, Australia’s swimmers – like the country’s mining-led economy – have been decidedly two-speed: slow, or a touch slower than the winner. Read more >>

Everyone likes an underdog. The British, however, love them. It’s much more acceptable to cheer an unlikely winner than a likely one. How fitting then that Britain should host the Olympics — a competition where the entry mechanics ensure that underdogs will turn up by design.

We’ve already been treated to a number of spirited and inspiring performances. These are delicately chosen adjectives, for the winning attributes were admittedly not strength, speed, or precision.

In this, the XXX Olympiad, the crowds kept cheering all the way up to the 8 minute and 39 second mark in the men’s single sculls second repechage. For a full minute and 20 seconds of that, everyone’s hearts and minds were the sole property of a rower from Niger … until he also managed to cross the finishing line, that is.

On the same day, swimmer Jennet Saryyeva of Turkmenistan enjoyed a full minute and 18 seconds alone in the limelight at the end of her 400m freestyle heat.

Both are clearly impressive athletes, and both are clearly not up to Olympic standard. They will have known that when they signed up. Given this, how and why did they enter? Read more >>

Helen Warrell

Photo via @BTLondonLive on twitter

Even before Boris Johnson got stuck in the middle of a zip wire, suspended high above a crowd of Olympic revellers in East London, it was clear that this was not a stunt that any other politician would have attempted.

Wearing a giant red and blue harness over his suit, a hard hat strapped securely under the chin, and waving a Union Jack in each hand, the London mayor’s aerial progress towards spectators was anything but dignified.

The harebrained scheme had been intended to provide a spectacular mayoral entrance to one of the many “live” Olympic events being held around the UK capital, this one sponsored by BT and held in Victoria Park. However, when Boris came to a halt after gradually losing momentum, he was left prone above the assembled masses, unable to do anything except wave his flags in a lacklustre way and call on onlookers to throw up a rope.

The mayor was helped down around five minutes later when officials arrived with a ladder, and his spokesman waved off the incident in typically light-hearted fashion. “Clearly the judges are likely to mark him down for artistic interpretation”, he quipped, adding that Boris wouldn’t be bagging any gold medals but remained “unbowed” by the experience. Read more >>

Newcastle's Tyne Bridge ahead of the Olympic torch relay (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

While London’s tourist sector has been feeling the downside of the Olympics, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s hotels and retailers have been enjoying a great boost to business from Olympic football at St James’ Park.

Newcastle has the benefit of hosting football at a city centre stadium, making it relatively easy for businesses to capitalise on the injection of visitors. The timing of the Olympic football matches is also fortunate, since weekend hotel bookings in July and August in Newcastle and neighbouring Gateshead normally dip.

This football-mad city has Olympic matches spread through weekdays and over two weekends, drawing huge crowds. Wednesday’s Brazil v. New Zealand match sold well over 30,000 tickets in advance and Saturday’s men’s quarter final is already a 50,000 seat sellout. Read more >>

Esther Bintliff

A referee urges Indonesian and South Korean teams to play fairly in their women's doubles match on July 31. (ADEK BERRY/AFP/GettyImages)

Is it ever worth trying to lose a game so that you can get a better position in the draw for the next round?

Clearly these women badminton players (two pairs from South Korea and one pair each from China and Indonesia) thought so at some brief, misguided moment on Tuesday; they now face a disciplinary hearing. We’ll be bringing you updates on this story as we get them throughout the day.

In the meantime, here are a few highlights from today’s schedule:

Rowing – The Team GB women’s pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning are hot favourites for a gold this morning, reports Ben Fenton. The UK men’s eight team are also tipped to win a medal, although they have to contend with a dominating German crew.

Swimming – After Michael Phelps’ record-breaking performance last night, attention will be back on the pool for the Men’s 100m freestyle final at 20.17.  Read more >>

Esther Bintliff

France's Yannick Agnel (C) competes in the men's 200m freestyle semi-final swimming event on July 29, 2012 (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/GettyImages)

After the pageant and pandemonium of Friday’s opening ceremony, we’re now firmly into the Olympics events schedule, with a jam-packed day ahead.

Highlights include:

Swimming – Tonight we’ve got the finals of the Men’s 200m Freestyle, the Women’s 100m Backstroke, the Men’s 100m Backstroke and the Women’s 100m Breaststroke. Michael Phelps will be looking to improve on his sole silver medal from the first two days of competition, Rebecca Adlington will return to the pool for the women’s 800m freestyle, and Gemma Spofforth will be hoping to impress with her 100m backstroke. In the Men’s 200m freestyle final, China’s Sun Yang is the main threat to Ryan Lochte of the US. Heats begin at 10am.

Diving – Great Britain’s Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield compete in the Men’s synchronised 10m platform final at 15.00

Gymnastics – Men’s team final at 16.30 Read more >>

Esther Bintliff

A torch from the 1948 London Olympics (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

The great day has arrived: 12 hours to go until the opening ceremony begins! To help you cope with the wait, here’s our roundup of some of the best Olympics coverage – and the highlights of the schedule today.

1) Simon Kuper says the Olympic legacy for London “won’t be economic stimulus, or a mass post-games take-up of synchronised swimming, but something less tangible: a feeling of togetherness, a new London identity”.

2) The opening ceremony is a “peculiar manifestation of geopolitical machismo” writes Matthew Engel, comparing the event’s inevitable rituals to those of the Catholic church. “Thankfully, the doves are now released after the flame is lit, not before, following the incineration of several birds at the 1988 games in Seoul,” he adds. Read more >>

At a final dress rehearsal on Wednesday night for London’s opening ceremony – the vision of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting director Danny Boyle – some 50,000 ticket holders, which included myself in the nose-bleed seats, were presented with a uniquely British affair.

Without wishing to divulge the plot more than has already been revealed publicly, the spectacle traces the Britain’s history through a pastiche of dance, song, film, literature and audience interaction. Read more >>

Esther Bintliff

FT staff have been sending in pictures from around London today. Here are a few of our favourites…

Mark Wembridge took this beautiful panorama photo of the Olympic stadium last night:

This was snapped by Madison Marriage, as an Olympics torchbearer passed by on Great Guildford Street at about 10am on Thursday: Read more >>