The A to Z of the London 2012 Olympics

There will be architecture and judo, whiff-whaff and Zara, with much more inbetween...

A is for ARCHITECTURE The £9.3 billion panoply of arenas in a depressed East London precinct represents one of the biggest public building projects in British history. The bouquets have gone to the velodrome and aquatics centre; the brickbats, to the Olympic stadium itself – condemned as lacking the ambition and flair of the Bird's Nest in Beijing.

B is for BRITISH A malleable concept, if not a downright "plastic" one. One in 10 members of Team GB was born abroad, including many dual nationals who have only pinned the Union Flag to their masts since London was chosen as host city. Others have meanwhile qualified through residency. Having met citizenship requirements, however, these argue that they legitimately reflect the diversity of modern Britain.

C is for CHEATS The regulators vow that no Games will ever have been more scrupulously screened for drugs, with 6,250 tests planned. But the fact remains that many convicted offenders are back, having "served their time" – and some of these reformed characters have been posting eye-popping performances in warm-up competition…

D is for Luol DENG the Chicago Bulls basketball player who recently became the first Briton ever to make the NBA All-Stars. The Bulls, who are paying Deng $27m [£17.2m] over the next two seasons, tried to talk Deng out of the Olympics – but he remains determined to represent his adopted nation, in gratitude for the asylum granted his family after they fled Sudan.

E is for ETON Dorney, the man-made lake owned by Eton College with a minimum depth of 3.5 metres and a racing stretch of 2,200 metres. For generations, Etonians practised and competed on the Thames, but the river had become too congested by the 1990s and a reported £17m was spent on the artificial facility. (We'll tell them all English schools are like this.)

F is for FEMALE London 2012 is the closest Games yet to parity in the gender ratio – and the inclusion of two Saudi women means that, for the first time, every competing nation will have female representation. There is virtually no tradition of Saudi women openly participating in sport, and the chosen pair will be expected to wear loose-fitting garments and a head-scarf.

G is for Adam GEMILI the teenage British sprint sensation who has just smashed the World Junior Championship record in Barcelona, clocking 10.05 seconds for the 100 metres. The former Chelsea trainee was playing right-back on loan at non-league Thurrock as recently as November. Now he hopes to become the fourth Briton to break 10 seconds after Linford Christie (9.87), Dwain Chambers (9.97) and Jason Gardener (9.98).

H is for Hugh HUDSON, whose 1981 classic, Chariots of Fire, has been re-released in the hope of inflating patriotic sentiment. It is not known whether the example of Lord Lindsay – as played by Nigel Havers – will prompt Dai Green, the world champion hurdler who captains Team GB, to ask his butler to place a flute of champagne on each obstacle.

I is for IRAQ which sends a small, plucky team (including a 15-year-old swimmer) in the remote hope of adding another medal to a solitary weightlifting bronze, won 52 years ago. Faced with obvious challenges in infrastructure and security, five men and three women seek inspiration from the 2007 Asian Cup success of their soccer team – which proved a rare spur to national unity.

J is for JUDO Watch out for Teddy Riner, at 23 already the most decorated fighter in its history. He shouldn't be hard to spot. At 6ft 8in and 128kg, "Teddy Bear" combines overwhelming physical presence with a demonstrative, cheerful demeanour – and recently became a new darling of French sport by winning his fifth world title before his home crowd in Paris.

K is for Andrew KAM The Malaysian gold mining magnate has offered an ingot worth two million ringgit (around £400,000) to any member of the badminton team who can bring back their nation's first Olympic gold. Unfortunately Lee Chong Wei, the most eligible beneficiary as silver medallist at Beijing, has been suffering from an ankle injury.

L is for LASER guns, to be used for the first time in a modern pentathlon. Nor is the controversial replacement of pellets the only innovation. Now, once they have completed the fencing, swimming and riding sessions – all this on the same day – athletes will finish with a combined event: shooting at five targets and then running 1,000 metres, three times over.

M is for MISSILES Surface-to-air defence systems are being installed on six tower blocks in and around the capital, as a precaution against terrorist attack from the air. Residents of one tower have failed in High Court proceedings against the Ministry of Defence, which will also deploy Typhoon fighter jets and helicopter gunships. The overall security budget is approaching £1 billion.

N is for NEYMAR Brazil is one of the few genuine football powers to be taking the Olympics seriously – especially because, as host nation, its young stars will not experience the pressures of qualification for the 2014 World Cup. Still only 20, Neymar has become the hottest property in Brazilian soccer. Others to check out include Gaston Ramirez of Uruguay, whose attacking flair at Bologna has reportedly caught the attention of Liverpool.

O is for OXYGEN tents, in a dozen of which British endurance athletes such as Mo Farah are likely to sleep right through to the eve of performance – even though the tents are too big and noisy to be accommodated in the Olympic village. Its oxygen environment sustains the benefits of altitude training, which stimulates production of red blood cells.

P is for Keri-Anne PAYNE, the open water swimmer (left) who became the first British athlete to qualify for the Games when she won the world championships in Shanghai last year. She is duly favourite for the 10km race in the Serpentine, Hyde Park – which she expects to contain fewer aesthetic challenges than "dead dogs in China and jellyfish in Melbourne".

Q is for QUALIFYING rules, which reliably cause such anomalies. Bryan Clay, who won silver in 2004 and gold in 2008, failed to make the US decathlon team after missing a hurdle in qualifying. Last month Genevieve LaCaze ran a brilliant 3,000m qualifying time – two days after the cut-off point set by Australia's national selectors. With no other representative in the event, officials ultimately responded to a public outcry and supplemented LaCaze to their team.

R is for RAIN, of course. After an abysmal summer so far, thousands of ponchos are on order, and contingency plans have been made for the rescheduling of vulnerable events. Expensive trackside seats at the main stadium remain wholly exposed, however, and as many as three years ago Boris Johnson had heard no "very convincing explanation" of what would happen if it rained heavily at the opening ceremony.

S is for SPONSORS, whose exclusive rights are causing some astonishment. Payment at Olympic venues can only be by cash or Visa, and only the latter will be effective at ATMs. Caterers at the Olympic Park have been prohibited from selling chips, other than to accompany fish, in deference to McDonalds. No news has yet been received of a prohibition on athletes ingesting anything beyond Big Macs and Coca-Cola during the Games.

T is for TAEKWONDO which provided the first evidence of how minority sports would suddenly command hysterical national attention when the Team GB selectors controversially omitted the world No 1, in the Under-80kg class, in favour of the No 49. WTF, by the way, stands for the World Taekwondo Federation…

U is for USAIN Bolt. Michael Johnson reckons the fastest man in history retains the potential to run 100 metres in 9.4 seconds. But the heat is on after a troubled preparation. Yohan Blake beat Bolt in the Jamaican trials over both 100m and 200m. And the form of Tyson Gay means that the 100m final could yet provide value-for-money even to those who have forked out £725 for the hottest ticket in town.

V is for VOLUNTEERS Up to 70,000 "Games Makers" will be giving their time to assist at the Games – from over 240,000 applicants. These include 1,000 deployed at Heathrow, aged between 18 and 80, with 20 languages between them. The day after the closing ceremony, 13 August, is anticipated to be the busiest in the airport's history. To think they could have been raking the beach volleyball pitch at Horse Guards Parade instead.

W is for WHIFF-WHAFF, which is notoriously "coming home". So pronounced Boris Johnson, in reproving his hosts at Beijing against the common misconception that table tennis began in China. "The French looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to have dinner," said the Mayor. "We looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to play whiff-whaff…"

X is for Liu XIANG, who won China's first sprint gold in the 110 metre hurdles at Athens. The very handsome local hero suffered heartbreak in his home Olympics, however, aggravating an injury when his first heat was stopped by a false start. A television presenter wept as he gave the news. Liu Xiang needed 13 months' recuperation, and was scandalously denied gold at the world championships when his arm was grabbed by Dayron Robles. Now he aims to erase the same rival's 12.87 seconds from the record books.

Y is for YELENA Isinbayeva. If the Russian takes gold in the pole vault, she will reach a new high as the first woman to win three straight track and field titles. Now 30, her form over the past couple of years has been fitful – but she may not need to be at her absolute peak in London. Her world own record stands at 5.06m, and the year's top outdoor score so far is only 4.77m.

Z is for ZARA Phillips, who will emulate her mother, Princess Anne, and father, Mark Phillips, as an Olympian eventer. The former world champion has made the breakthrough on High Kingdom after injury to her previous mount, Toytown, cost her any chance of making Athens or Beijing. In her grandmother's Jubilee year, destiny calls as though by royal appointment.

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