What's a quadriffus? In what sport is there a catch, drive, extraction and recovery? Why is the marathon 26.2 miles?
These and other questions are addressed in "How to Watch the Olympics, The Essential Guide to the Rules, Statistics, Heroes and Zeroes of Every Sport." (Penguins Books, $15). No slapdash Olympic cash-in, this work distills the basics, tactics and traditions of each sport without sounding like the tax code.
While there's plenty of facts for the Olympic geek, "How To" also presents a witty and informed account of the politics, history and controversies of the Olympics. At the center of it are the athletes -- underdogs turned champions, honorable failures, dopers and cheaters.
Authors David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton made it their mission to penetrate the hype and spectacle of the games to celebrate the spirit that's kept the torch aflame for more than 100 years. They also champion the wallflower Olympic sports such as archery, shooting and canoeing.
"An awful lot of the people watching wouldn't have given most of the sports a moment's thought for four years," Acton says. "The commentators would assume far more background knowledge than most people have. Our thought was that we would be an amusing friend watching it on the sofa, bringing it to life for them."
In rowing, for example, each team usually starts the race at a sprint. While this might be foolhardy in a distance-running event, a rowing team can gain a significant tactical and psychological edge if they get out front first.
Because they're facing backward, they'll be able to keep an eye on their competitors and respond to any attack. But the effort required to explode to the front of the pack is so intensely agonizing that multiple gold medalist Steve Redgrave once said that if anyone saw him near a rowing boat again they should shoot him.
NBC has expanded its digital and social-media coverage of the games. For the first time, all 3,500 hours of the Olympics will stream live on NBCOlympics.com.
The site also features rewinds of all event coverage, a steady stream of athlete profiles, event highlights and a tour of London. Those who want to stream the games live can download the NBC Olympics Live Extra App to their Android, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Goldblatt and Acton delve into the curious history and ceremonial protocol behind the opening ceremony. The reader might learn that Denmark is mad for handball, a sport where body checking is legal.
And those palm trees in Los Angeles? About 30,000 of them were planted for the 1932 games.
The authors explain the origins of each sport, describe the particular skills needed and discuss and diagram the tactics and strategy under a section titled, "The Finer Points."
Goldblatt says he discovered a new respect for archers when he tried it himself.
"I went to the National Training Center For Archery in the U.K. I had a go myself," he says. "Just pulling it back and keeping enough tension and poise, and having the strength to do it is incredibly hard."
And synchronized swimming, the punchline for so many late-night talk-show hosts?
"I really got into synchronized swimming which, like a lot of people, I'd always dismissed as aquatic ice dance with extra lipstick. I think, looking up close, it's unbelievably demanding and disciplined. ... We spent a lot of time on YouTube watching this stuff. Certainly, at an Olympic level, its unbelievable what these women do. And, they're not allowed to grimace. You've got to keep a smile going or you're docked points."
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