The toughest Olympians
Joshua Jefferis of Australia practises on the rings during a training session for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photo: Reuters
Over the next fortnight about 10,000 athletes from +200 countries will compete in 36 sports in London's Olympic Games.
But are all events created equal in terms of their physical demands? Is a beach volleyball player made of the same stern stuff as a sprinter?
To win a place on the highest podium and claim gold in any event will undoubtedly demand either a lot of speed, strength or agility, but I think that some events definitely demand more from athletes than others.
Here is my pick of what I think are the Top 5 toughest Olympic events.
Two lifts make up the weightlifting events: the clean and jerk, and the snatch. The snatch is beyond tough. It is highly technical and requires speed and flexibility in the shoulders and hips, paired with world class strength and power from head to toe.
The snatch is performed with a barbell where the lifter starts with an initial drive that comes from the glutes, hamstrings and quads. The lifter extends their body when the barbell reaches their hips. An extension with enough speed and power allows the lifter to drop underneath the barbell essentially catch the barbell. This leaves the lifter in an overhead squat position to stand up and finish the lift with the barbell overhead.
In the gym? The movement is similar to a deadlift into an overhead squat. To master these, you first need to learn these two moves, then progress to a snatch with light weights.
Who to watch in 2012: Behdad Salimi of Iran, who holds the Snatch World Record of 214kgs. And in women's, at 5'1” 53kgs Zulfiya Chinshanlo from Kazakhstan snatched 95kgs on her way to gold.
This event requires an amount of aerobic fitness that leaves many sports in its wake. Whether you're rowing with two oars (sculling) or single-oar, solo or as part of a team, the required speed, power, strength, and teamwork make it one of the toughest sports in every Olympic Games.
Who to watch in 2012: Male or female, Australia v England is always a tight race.
In the gym? Squats will build the leg strength, and many pulling exercises are a requirement to build back strength. And don't forget the HIIT (high intensity interval training) on the rower.
3. Water Polo
This is a team game that requires cardiovascular fitness, strength, and finesse. Similar to a game of soccer in the water, shoulder, lat and leg strength is key, and athletes possess a gentle touch to pass and catch the ball, then throw and score with power and precision.
In the gym? Much of water polo's action is under the water – kicking, grabbing, holding, and punching 'til it hurts is part of the game. You can't fully prepare in the gym. Mix up your exercises and become an all-around athlete. Hit the weights with intensity, as you need leg and shoulder strength to tread water, and get into the pool and swim with short bursts of intensity.
Who to watch in 2012: Women's Water Polo, USA v Australia will be a battle.
4. The Rings
These are suspended 2.75 metres above the ground, and gymnasts are judged based on strength holds, swings into handstands, and aerial dismounts. All that is required is bodyweight, yet the upper body strength it requires to be successful on the rings is astounding. The Maltese Cross is one of the most difficult upper body moves you will see an athlete perform in all of the Olympics.
In the gym? Pull-ups with isometric holds, along with back, trap, shoulder, forearm, bi/tricep and core strength are all key. Your upper body better be at world-class strength level before you even attempt to grab the rings.
Who to watch in 2012: Chen Yibing from China was the gold medallist in 2008.
The 400m butterfly swim and pole vault are incredible feats, as is the variety in the triathlon and decathlon. But this list can't exclude the Men's and Women's 100m run.
It's not just a 100m run – it's a psychological battle that combines technical form at the start, speed, power, and strength. The most popular event in the Olympics lasts under 10 seconds, and standing on the podium and being crowned the fastest in the world makes every winner a part of sporting highlight reels for generations to come. Usain Bolt's world record time of 9.58 seconds was an average of +37km/hr – that is flying fast.
In the gym – If you want to get faster, you have to do the sprint work. HIIT training… hill running, stair running, and practicing quick starts is where all the work lies.
Who to watch: Usain Bolt will create a buzz, but smarter money is backing Jamaican teammate Johan Blake, the reigning world champion who won both the 100m and 200m in the Jamaican trials. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce on the women's side is the Jamaican favourite.
And don't forget about another tough athlete – Leisel Jones. She stood up to a pen used as a sword and finished 5th in the world.
Good luck to all the tough athletes in London 2012.
What do you think is the toughest sport in the Olympics?