Double Tower Lift
With Russia, Japan and Canada all threatening to sink the U.S. synchronized swimming team, the defending Olympic champion has been experimenting with new choreography. The American squad's most dazzling innovation is the double tower lift, in which two swimmers, perched one on top of the other, are hoisted out of the water by an underwater support beam made up of six teammates—whose feet, of course, aren't allowed to touch the bottom of the pool.
Greco-Roman wrestling matches aren't always filled with fireworks. To add spark to matches that are scoreless after the first of two three-minute periods, a clinch will be used to start the second period. (If the match is not scoreless, the second period begins in traditional fashion, with the wrestlers standing a few feet apart.) The wrestlers will grasp each other in a bear hug, locking their hands, and stay in that position until one wrestler has scored a point by throwing the other or making him let go.
Millie, Syd and Ollie
At least they're based on real animals: (from left) Millie is an echidna, or spiny anteater, Syd a duck-billed platypus and Ollie a kookaburra. Designed by the Sydney artist Matthew Hatton and spun into millions of dollars' worth of merchandise, the Games' three mascots are considerably more appealing than Atlanta's insipid cartoon character, Izzy. Still, you can bet you'll be more than ready to say s'long, mate, to them by Oct. 1, when the Games end.
Male Cyclists are revving up for one of the Olympics' most incongruous new events, the Keirin race. In this high-octane hybrid, as many as seven riders jockey for position behind a pace motorcycle that accelerates up to 28 mph over 5� laps of the steeply banked 250-meter track. The motorcycle then pulls off the track with 625 meters to go, freeing the cyclists for a mad dash to the finish. The Keirin is a popular betting event in Japan, but the favorite in Sydney will be an American, Marty Nothstein (left, in blue).
They may be the most revolutionary athletic gear since fiberglass vaulting poles. Full-body, ultraslick swimsuits made by several companies, most notably Adidas and Speedo, have shaved a second or more off some swimmers' times, contributing to a spate of world records in the past year. The suits are made of synthetic materials—the Adidas models are Teflon-coated—and purportedly have less drag in the water than even the most smoothly shaved human skin. Speedo likens its suits to sharkskin. The outfits may not create waves, but they have certainly raised concerns: How many Third World swimmers can afford the suits, which cost between $130 and $250? Are records set by swimmers in these suits tainted? Just a couple of things to consider as you watch the human sharks streak up and down the pool.
Italian for free, the libero position was introduced in international volleyball in 1998 to help create longer, more exciting rallies. Distinguished from his or her teammates by a different colored jersey (that's the U.S.'s Greg Romano at right), the libero may come into the game for any other player any number of times (other substitutions are limited) and may play only in the back row. The libero doesn't serve, attack or block, but instead makes diving saves and point-guard-like setup passes, and invigorates the team by playing, as the Italians might put it, con brio.
In keeping with the Sydney Games' pledge to be environmentally responsible, some 400 buggies powered by solar-generated electricity will ferry athletes, officials and VIPs among the 32 venues. These Olymobiles, built by British manufacturer Frazer-Nash, come in a variety of designs and colors, including the Windsor, which looks like a Model T, and the VW Beetle-like Solar Baby (above).
Baseball has been a medal sport since 1992—and a metal sport too. The ping of aluminum won't be heard in Sydney, however; metal bats were banned from international competition in 1999 to suit the wood-wielding pro players who'll be in the Olympics for the first time this year. One likely result: fewer home runs than the '96 average of nearly four a game.
No-Lace Wrestling Shoes
It was one of the sport's most common ploys: winded athletes delaying a match by attending to a ostensibly untied shoelace. In these Olympics, wrestlers won't be able to pull that trick; they will have to wear shoes on which the laces are wrapped with tape. But, hey, what happens if a tired grappler feels the tape coming loose?
Judo in Blue
In past Olympics, judo competitors wore white uniforms, or judo-gi, with only a red sash around one of the players to allow onlookers to distinguish between the contestants. The collision of white often made it difficult for judges to keep score when the action was fast, but a few national governing bodies—most adamantly that of Japan, which claimed (among other arguments) that white was a symbol of purity vital to the sport—resisted efforts to allow other colors in the international arena. A majority of the federations, however, concluded last year that contrasting white and blue uniforms would make for easier scoring and more viewer-friendly TV. Tradition bowed out.