Let the Games begin! The IoS spotter's guide to London 2012

It's been seven years in the making. We've had some tricky times. Now, at last, Britain's on its marks for the greatest show on Earth

The weather forecast

The Sheep's Soothsaying

As the saying goes, "When sheep start to huddle, there'll soon be a puddle." Happily, Chris at Kentish Town Farm says his sheep are leaping around.

Verdict Walking on sunshine

The Solar Signals

Piers Corbyn, founder of WeatherAction, bases forecasts on solar activity. He predicts heavy rain and thunder for the Opening Ceremony.

Verdict Batten down the hatches

The Government's Guess

The Met Office uses a supercomputer to forecast the weather. So far the prediction is fine and dry. However, they warn there is always a possibility of rain moving southwards. Of course.

Verdict Bring a sunhat and a brolly.

Clairvoyant Conjectures

Maureen Ryan, fortune teller and clairvoyant, senses spots of rain headed Stratford's way. She foresees that it will be warm, yet cloudy.

Verdict Typical English summer's day.

The Folklore

"St Swithin's Day, if thou be fair, for 40 days will rain nae mair." The weather on St Swithin's, 15 July, was rain-free.

Verdict Swithin says … dry!

The Plants' Predictions

A rule of thumb used by horticulturalists goes: "Ash before oak, summer's a soak. Oak before ash, summer's but a splash." No prizes for guessing which tree came into leaf first this year.

Verdict Prepare for a soaking.

Amy Dicketts

The flame bearer

It is turning into the biggest grudge match of the Olympic Games. Which giant of British sport deserves to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony?

The contenders both have overflowing trophy cabinets: Sir Steve Redgrave, five times rowing gold medallist, and Daley Thompson CBE, possibly the greatest decathlete of all time. Both are favourites for the honour, but the chosen one will not be revealed until the ceremony itself.

Sir Steve landed the first blow when asked if he thought double gold medallist Thompson could be the greatest ever British Olympian.

He answered: "My personal view is that he [Thompson] doesn't make the top five of great British Olympians. I'd put Seb [Coe] above him, and Kelly Holmes, certainly Ben Ainslie, and, all modesty aside, myself and Matt Pinsent."

Thompson, not himself famous for reticence, soon retaliated. The man who went unbeaten in the decathlon for nine years in the Eighties, is a close friend of Sebastian Coe and said to be the favoured choice of the London 2012 chief, retorted: "In my opinion Sebastian Coe is the second greatest Olympian, after myself," adding: "Steve Redgrave is not in the same class as Seb Coe. He is a rower, but I think track and field is the toughest sport in the Olympics, which means the rewards are greater."

The verse

Roger McGough used tweets and Facebook posts as inspiration for his new poem, commissioned by Freeview:

Hopes and Dreams For The Big Day

(A poem by Roger McGough)

Nervous, but quietly confident

The poem is up at first light.

The big day, after years of dreaming

Has finally arrived. The end is in sight.

It runs, it jumps, it rides, it drives

It rows, it shoots, it collides, it dives

It kicks, it flicks, it cycles, it swerves

It lifts, it throws, it aims, it serves.

It scans, it puzzles, it echoes, it chimes

It struts, it performs, it sings, it rhymes

One more line and the verse is complete

The dreaming is over, now it's time to compete.

The sex games

"I'm running a friggin' brothel in the Olympic Village! I've never witnessed so much debauchery in my entire life"

American target shooter Josh Lakatos recalls a moment of revelation after hosting a house party at the Sydney Games

"There's a lot of sex going on. Testosterone's up and everybody's attracted to everybody"

Breaux Greer, eight-time US javelin champion, looks back on the 2000 and 2008 Olympics

"This time, when I'm done leaving my legacy on the track, I'll make sure London remembers me"

US sprint star LaShawn Merritt jokes about his plans for London 2012

"Once events were over, our entire diet was caviar, vodka and Russian champagne. It was crazy"

Greg Louganis; Four-time diving gold medallist, on the US team's fraternisation with their Russian rivals at the 1976 Montreal Games

"There's a lot of sex going on... I'd say it's 70 per cent to 75 per cent of Olympians"

Hope Solo, goalkeeper for the US women's football team, recalls the Beijing Games

"We did know each other a little before. But she is three years older, so that was a thing. All through the Olympics, in the village, we were getting on well, and then, all of a sudden, we had this kiss on the last day"

Roger Federer on how romance blossomed with Mirka Vavrinec, now his wife, at the 2000 Sydney Games

"It's a two-week private party for thousands of hard bodies. It's really a question of 'which flavour you like?'"

Nelson Diebel, US double-gold swimmer on his experiences at Barcelona 1992

"I got laid more often in those two-and-a-half weeks than in the rest of my life up to that point"

Matthew Syed, British table-tennis champ, on the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona

The Mascots

Waldi; 1972 Munich

The dachshund was the first official Olympic mascot. He was supposed to include all the Olympic colours but black and red were omitted as Nazi Party colours.

Amik; 1976 Montreal

It was perhaps fitting that a beaver would be the mascot as it is said to represent "hard work".

Misha; 1980 Moscow

The illustrator Victor Chizhikov was persuaded to rename his bear creation from the less-than-catchy Mikhail Potapych Toptygin.

Sam; 1984 Los Angeles

Disney produced Sam the Eagle but reactions such as "aloof" and "stern" prompted a rethink and a more cuddly design was adopted.

Hodori & Honsuni; 1988 Seoul

Seoul had two mascots, male and female tigers Hodori and Honsuni. Hodori proved far more popular than his feminine counterpart.

Cobi; 1992 Barcelona

Intended to be a dog, Cobi initially failed to win public hearts. By the end of the Games they had warmed to him and, over time, he became a national hero.

Izzy; 1996 Atlanta

Perhaps the least successful mascot because people were unsure what it was supposed to be. He/she/it grew a nose, gained weight and developed starry eyes.

Olly, Syd and Millie; 2000 Sydney

Three mascots were designed: a kookaburra, a platypus, and an echidna. They were ousted by unofficial mascot Fatso, a wombat.

Athena & Phevos; 2004 Athens

Two strange, club-footed children based on an ancient terracotta doll dating back to the 7th century BC.

Fuwa; 2008 Bejing

Five cute cartoon children, embodying characteristics of China's four most popular animals – the fish, panda, Tibetan antelope, and swallow – plus the Olympic flame

Wenlock & Manderville; 2012 London

Like Marmite, people either like them or hate them. Ewan MacGregor dubbed them "one-eyed jokes".

Menzies Campbell: The world's fastest white man (1967) on the 100 metres

All eyes will be on Usain Bolt in the 100m but if he wins he will join a long line of astonishing Olympic sprinters.

The peerless Jesse Owens, at the Berlin Olympics of 1936, single-handedly punctured the myth of Aryan supremacy and sent Hitler from the stadium in a fury. To win gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m, and the long jump was an immense achievement. Owens died in poverty-stricken obscurity in 1980.

Equally remarkable were the feats of Fanny Blankers-Koen who in the post-war austerity games of 1948 in London won the 100m, 200m and 80m hurdles and added a further gold medal in the 4x100m relay. She was told that: she should stay at home in Holland to look after her children; she was too old at 30; and should not expose her lower limbs! In 1999, the International Amateur Athletics Federation voted her Athlete of the Century.

Bob Hayes was not as elegant as Owens nor as versatile as Blankers-Koen but he took gold for the USA in the 100m in Tokyo in 1964. He was one of the ugliest sprinters I ever saw; built like the Dallas Cowboys gridiron hero he later became. But he showed his raw power in bringing his team home in the 4x100m. Well down the field when he began the final leg, he won running away from the field! I know how good he was because I was in the race, in the British team that set a UK record but only finished eighth from eight!

My countryman Allan Wells would never claim athletic elegance but with determination and commitment he went from an average long jumper to gold in the 100m and silver in the 200m at Moscow 1980. He was hailed as "Scotland's Greatest Ever Athlete", and this from the country that produced the legendary Eric Liddell, hero of Chariots of Fire. Enough said!

Back to Bolt. He ought to retain his Olympic 100m and 200m titles but in Jamaica's team trials he came second in both events. My heart's with him but my sprinter's instinct tells me something is not quite right. I'll only stick my neck out so far. Both 100m and 200m will be won by a Jamaican!

Sir Menzies Campbell is a former leader of the Liberal Democrats

The great rivals

Carl Lewis vs Ben Johnson

When American 100m sprinter Carl Lewis got fed up of losing to his Canadian rival he suggested there were "gold medallists that were on drugs". Shortly afterwards Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 gold medal after a positive drug test.

USA vs Russia Basketball

Forget Cold War politics. It was on the basketball court at Munich in 1972 that the US suffered its biggest defeat when it lost to Russia by one point.

Jurgen Hingsen vs Daley Thompson

British decathlete Daley Thompson seemed invincible between 1979 and 1987, at least to Jürgen Hingsen of Germany. He beat Thompson's world record three times between 1982 and 1984, but never defeated the Briton in a major competition.

Mary Decker vs Zola Budd

The 1984 3,000m was mired in controversy after Zola Budd appeared to collide with the American Mary Decker, sending her hurtling to the ground. Scores were settled in 1992 after a rematch that Decker won comfortably.

Steve Ovett vs Seb Coe

At the 1980 Olympics Coe won gold in the 1,500m – which Ovett had hitherto dominated. Then Ovett did the same to Coe when he swiped gold in the 800m. In 1981 the pair broke the mile world record three times between them in just 10 days.

Usain Bolt vs Yohan Blake

Usain Bolt was, until recently, the fastest man on the planet. Now, thanks to his training partner Yohan Blake, he's not even the fastest in his country.

Kunal Dutta and Emily Dugan

The grooming

Hair

Gold Duncan Goodhew: Moscow 1980

The ultimate in streamlining: the swimmer made a bare pate look cooler than Popeye and Telly Savalas combined.

Silver Olga Korbut: Munich 1972

The Russian gymnast proved cutesiness and competitiveness need not be mutually exclusive with her beribbonned bunches.

Bronze Phillips Idowu: Beijing 2008

The triple-jumper's flaming red crop was truly to dye for, so it's sad to see his coiffure is altogether less courageous these days.

The Accessories

Gold Mark Spitz, Munich 1972

The US swimmer remains the ultimate medallion man thanks to the image showcasing his seven medals.

Silver Georgina Geikie, London 2012

Eyewear doesn't get more avant-garde than the monocle/patch hybrid sported by shooters such as the 27-year-old Devonian.

Bronze Michael Johnson, Atlanta 1996

His gold Nike spikes perfectly complemented his historic double gold,.

The Outfits

Gold Cathy Freeman, Sydney 2000

The Aussie 400m runner brought some serious sci-fi style to her home Games with her spacewoman all-in-one.

Silver Michael Phelps, Beijing 2008

The swimmer's Speedo bodysuit was oh so sleekly controversial, later being outlawed for providing an unfair competitive advantage.

Bronze Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, London 2012

Sportswear doesn't come more serviceable than the triathlon tri-suit, as sported by the event's fraternal hot favourites.

Hugh Montgomery

The food: Then and now

1948

Rationing was in force during the "Austerity Games" in London, with visiting teams bringing some of their own food. The French team turned up with supplies of Mouton-Rothschild claret. The daily allowance for athletes was a pound of bread and potatoes, eight ounces of chocolate and sugar confectionery, six ounces of meat, two of sugar, two of fats, one of cheese, one of preserves, half an ounce of bacon, a third of an ounce of tea, a 10th of an ounce of dried egg, two pints of milk and tinned goods. The GB squad received food parcels in the run-up to the Games; 200m runner John Fairgrieve was sent corned beef and pork from New Zealand.

2012

Olympic Village diners will consume 25,000 loaves of bread, 75,000 litres of milk and more than 330 tonnes of fruit and vegetables. Many competitors are on sport-specific diets. At the GB holding camp in Loughborough, gymnasts and lightweight boxers could currently be taking in only 800 calories a day as they control their weight; basketball players and rowers are eating between 4,000 and 6,000 calories to maintain muscle. The English Institute of Sport is providing a nutrition service to 23 sports across the Olympics and Paralympics. Some sports, including cycling, have their own nutritionists.

Kate Youde

The superstitions

Tom Daley may be 18 now, but the diver will still share a bed with his Lucky Monkey stuffed toy during the Games. Monkey has been with him at competitions since Tom was nine.

Swimmer Rebecca Adlington is at odds with numbers: "I'll only set my alarm on two, four or six. I can't set it on five or seven."

Triple jumper Phillips Idowu refuses to compete without his headband and wristband.

Windsurfer Nick Dempsey will be glad his Team GB kit is red, white and blue. He refuses to wear green when he competes.

Paralympian sprinter Hannah Cockcroft's fingers are always covered by gloves, but before she puts them on she has to co-ordinate her nail polish to the colours in her kit.

US swimmer Michael Phelps is on course to be the most decorated Olympian, but even after 16 medals he still has to flap his arms and hands three times before he jumps into the water.

British BMX hopeful Shanaze Reade has to dress from left to right and from the bottom up.

Serena Williams Has her quirks too. They include wearing just one pair of socks for each Grand Slam.

Emily Dugan

The losers

Eric "the Eel" Moussambani

The wild card from Equatorial New Guinea arrived in Sydney in 2000 having learned to swim just eight months earlier. He registered the slowest time ever recorded for the 100m freestyle.

Dieudonne Lamothe

The Haitian marathon runner came in last in Los Angeles in 1984. It was only two years later, after the fall of the dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier, that Lamothe revealed how Haitian officials had threatened to have him killed if he failed to complete the race.

Dorando Pietri

The Italian marathon runner was within touching distance of the finishing line at the 1908 London Olympics when he staggered and collapsed. He was carried over the line by officials before being disqualified.

Abdul Baser Wasiqi

The Afghanistan-born runner took so long to complete the 1996 marathon in Atlanta that crowds left before he reached the stadium. Preparations for the competition's closing ceremony had to be delayed as a result.

Jane Saville

The Australian was just 150 metres from victory in the 20 kilometre walk at the 2000 Sydney Olympics when, with the tape in sight and her home crowd roaring her on, an official moved in and disqualified her for a stepping violation.

The French cricket team

Cricket's only inclusion in the Games was in Paris in 1900 where the French, having won a finals place were bowled out for 26 in their second innings.

Kunal Dutta

The stats, the facts, and the quotes...

20,000 Is the maximum fine, in pounds, for anyone caught streaking or using nudity or partial nudity to promote a product.

"We've got an advanced case of Olympo-funk. We agonise about the traffic, when our transport systems are performing well and the world's athletes are arriving on time. We worry about security, when we always planned to have a strong military role in making our Games as safe as possible. We need to cut out the whining and get behind our team and the Games."

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

Andre Ward a light-heavyweight boxer who competed in 2004 in Athens, had a training regime which included pushing his trainer's Cadillac across a car park. Also, to eliminate pre-contest distractions, Ward asked his family to move out of their house in California and relocate to Washington State.

300,000 nails used to fix the Olympic track.

"Our Isles of Wonder celebrates the exuberant creativity of the British genius in an opening ceremony that we hope will be as unpredictable and inventive as the British people."

Danny Boyle, Olympic Opening Ceremony director

Matthew Emmons was bitterly disappointed when he misfired his rifle at the 2004 Olympics. But his misfortune at the Games had a happy ending. After his event, Katarina Kurkova, a shooter from the Czech Republic, stopped by to cheer him up. The two Olympians then started going out together and they married in 2007.

2,000 newts moved from the Olympic Park to the Waterworks Nature Reserve.

"We're looking at something above and beyond the solace and comfort that the British people seek in gentle moaning. The Olympics is actively antagonising people. It is as if someone else is throwing a party in our house, with a huge entry fee, and we're all locked in the basement."

Dan Hancox, freelance writer, on Twitter

A team of native Americans from the Mohawk tribe, including Snake Eater, Rain in Face, Almighty Voice and Man Afraid Soap, earned a bronze medal for Canada in the lacrosse tournament at the 1904 Olympics. There were only three teams in the competition as one side, the Brooklyn Crescents, failed to show up. The sport was included once more, at the London Games of 1908, before it was discontinued.

4 human skeletons removed from the Olympic site (and one goat's remains).

"I like England and I am from there. But when it involves organisation it is going to be a right balls up. Things will catch fire and people will be tripping over things, then it'll start raining and the Queen will do a fart."

Russell Brand speaking on television in the USA

Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux lost his chance at a silver medal when a plea for help broke his focus in 1988. Instead of continuing the race, he chose to rescue two sailors, one of whom was clinging to a capsized boat. Lemieux did not walk away empty-handed: the IOC awarded him the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship.

8,000 tons of waste are predicted from these Games, some 40 per cent of which will be food or food-related.

"Boldly going where no Olympic mascot has gone before, the London Olympic pair [Wenlock and Mandeville] have set a new standard for 'what-even-is-that'-ness, looking like the unfortunate love-children of Tinky Winky and Leela from Futurama. I'm reliably informed that they are dripping with patriotic sentiment, designed around the principles of tradition, innovation, and offending anyone with working corneas".

James Conlon, Copywriter

Lee Kyung-Keun who competed on host country South Korea's judo team in 1988, engaged in some unusual pre-Games activities

As part of his training, Lee was forced to visit a cemetery at midnight. After a fearful hour alone in the graveyard, Lee would return to his dormitory room and watch recordings of his opponents. The bizarre training tactic must have worked: Lee Kyung-Keun left the Games a gold medal winner.

600,000 pieces of luggage will pass though London's Heathrow airport.

Cosmo Duff Gordon helped Britain's fencing team to third place at the Olympics in Athens in 1906. Six years later, fleeing from the sinking Titanic, Mr Gordon and company boarded a lifeboat hurriedly and rowed away leaving behind passengers screaming for help from the ship and from the icy waters around them. The story shamed him until his death in 1931.

"Only winning silver in three successive Olympics is my story – I don't deny it, I don't try and hide from it. It's been an emotional build-up because clearly the fairy-tale ending is gold at last in front of the home crowd.... If you could write the story, that's how you'd write it, and I think a lot of people... would be very relieved that 'she's finally done it!'"

Katherine Grainger, GB rowing team

541 life jackets are needed for the Games for watersports including canoeing, marathon swimming, rowing, sailing and the triathlon.

"If cynicism were an Olympic sport, then the British would always get the gold medal."

Tony Parsons, Author/Broadcaster

The Roman emperor Nero entered himself in the AD67 Olympics and decided he would improve upon the list of events, revising it to include only those disciplines in which he could win, including music and poetry. The flakey Caesar retained the traditional chariot race, allowing himself 10 horses instead of the usual four. Despite crashing his chariot, the intrepid Nero still had himself declared the winner (shades of Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator).

4,000 trees as well as 74,000 plants and 60,000 bulbs were dug in during what amounts to the UK's largest ever planting project.

"I do think about that time when I missed out and how I felt, and it just makes me appreciate this moment even more... I'm happy to go [to the Games] in a really great time of my life... I'm just trying to make the most of it... and do the best I can. It's been such a huge build-up for all of us and I'm feeling ready to get on with it now. I just want to put the icing on the cake in London."

Jessica Ennis, Olympic Heptathlete

Portugal's Francisco Lazaro, a marathon runner, was the first person to die at a modern Olympic Games, in 1912. After covering swathes of his body in wax to prevent sunburn, Lazaro collapsed from heat exhaustion and died the next morning.

30 bridges have been built across rivers, roads and railways for travel between London's Olympic venues.

"My family have made me promise not to talk about the Olympics and the Paralympics until it is finished, but it is amazing. A city in Games time is so different from any other time; I have been to six in total because I worked during Beijing. It is just an amazing atmosphere. Lots of kids will want to do sport after the Games and some will stay, while some won't, but the biggest thing is that we will show the world how good we are at organising things. But also we are going to show the world what a great place London is."

Tanni Grey Thompson

Before her race in 2000, Fateema Hameed Karashi, a 12-year-old from Bahrain, nervous about swimming in front of men for the first time, shivered and trembled so violently that the starting block below her wobbled, causing her to be disqualified.

3 The number of times London has hosted the Olympics. Previous London Games were in 1908 and 1948.

"I don't think [the person who lights the Olympic flame] will be anyone we have ever heard of. It could be someone symbolic, it could be someone from the east of London who was born on the day we won the right to host the games. London has this track record of doing things slightly differently. We bid in an unexpected way, we have put ourselves forward in an unexpected way, so I don't think the ceremony will break from that."

Matthew Pinsent, Olympic gold medallist

Ethiopian Abebe Bikila won the 1964 marathon in Tokyo running barefoot. Bikila, a last-minute entrant, replaced an injured teammate in the race. To the chagrin of organisers, caught off guard by his win, the band did not know the Ethiopian national anthem and so Bikila was awarded his medal to the tune of the Japanese anthem.

70,000 Games Makers will serve eight million volunteer hours after training for one million hours.

"Preparation in spite of some difficulties has been very sound.... This is the country that invented modern sport... they love sport and it is a good promotion of sport overseas."

Jacques Rogge, IOC President

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