10 Things You Can Learn in English from the 2012 Olympics

1. The Home Team & Home Advantage

Team Great Britain was the home team. The British athletes were competing in their own country. It is possible that the GB athletes had a home advantage over the athletes from other countries. In every competition, the audience cheered very loudly for the GB athletes. The team won 65 medals, 29 of them gold! This is the most medals Great Britain has ever won at any Olympics in the past 100 years.

This is very common in sports. It is believed that when a team plays in its own city, it has an advantage over the visiting team. Other variations of this phrase include: home field advantage, home court advantage, home ice advantage.


2. The Phenom (Creating a better noun from an existing noun!)

Missy Franklin is a 17-year-old American swimmer. This was her first Olympics. She won 4 gold medals and a bronze! The only person who won more medals than her at this Olympics was Michael Phelps (he won 6). This is a phenomenal achievement! It was amazing & unexpected. It is unusual for a teenager to win 5 medals in her first Olympics. A noun already exists to describe her: She is a phenomenon. However, it sounds better to shorten the word to just phenom.


3. “Mom slang”: Why you should be careful when using slang!

Ryan Lochte is an American swimmer. He won 5 medals at this Olympics, for a total of 11 Olympic medals in two Olympics. He is really good-looking, very charming, and he has become very popular! His mother was interviewed on the American TV show “Today,” and the interviewer asked her if her son was dating anyone. She answered,

“He goes out on one-night stands, … He’s not able to give fully to a relationship because he’s always on the go.”

This is a very odd & embarrassing thing for a mother to say! A one-night stand is when you have sex with someone once (usually someone you don’t know), and then never speak to that person again or continue a relationship with him/her. It was clear to everyone, however, that she didn’t understand what ‘one-night stand’ actually meant! She meant to say that he only goes on one or two dates with a girl because he doesn’t really have time for a serious relationship.

Let this be a lesson to you: It can be VERY embarrassing to misuse slang!


4. Alliteration & Other Nicknames

Alliteration happens when all the words in a phrase or sentence begin with the same letter. In English, alliteration is often used for nicknames when someone has achieved something great. Here are some nicknames that were created during this Olympics:

The Fab Five! The Fierce Five! [The American women’s artistic gymnastic team that the gold medal in the team event.]

Gabby the Great! [Gabby Douglas, the American gymnast who won the gold medal in the all-round competition.]

Matheson’s miracle! [Canadian soccer player Diana Matheson scored the winning goal in the bronze medal game against France; this an event nickname. ]

Other nicknames:

In English, we also like to find new and funny ways to use words in nicknames. Here are some examples:

The Lightning Bolt
Usain Bolt is a fast runner. What an amazing coincidence that his last name ‘Bolt’ is a synonym for ‘fast’! The verb ‘to bolt’ means to move quickly & suddenly from a place/to a place. A lightning bolt or a bolt of lightning is the line of light that appears very quickly in the sky during a storm. The pose that Usain Bolt does after he wins a race is called the ‘lightning bolt’

The Blade Runner
Blade Runner is a popular Hollywood movie from the 1980s. In the London Olympics, Oscar Pistorius became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. His legs were amputated below the knees when he was a baby, and he uses prosthetic legs [= artificial legs] to walk and run. The prosthetic legs he wears to run are specially-designed blades. Because of these blades, he has been nicknamed ‘The Blade Runner,’ (even though neither he nor his legs have anything in common with the movie).


5. Superlatives

In 3 Olympics, American swimmer Michael Phelps has won 22 medals, including 18 gold medals! He has won more Olympic medals than any other athlete who has competed in any sport in 100 years of Olympics. He is the most decorated Olympian ever. (In this context, ‘decorated’ means he has won or been given medals.)

In 2 Olympics, Jamaican sprinter [= a fast runner over a short distance] Usain Bolt has won 6 gold medals: 2 in the 100 metre race, 2 in the 200 metre race, and 2 in the 4×100 metre relay race. He holds the world record in all three events (no one has run faster than him in the races).

How can we describe both these athletes? We can use superlative adjectives! Here are some ways they have been described in the media:

Michael Phelps
He’s no. 1 in the pool.
The most successful Olympian ever.
The greatest swimmer in Olympic history.
The most decorated Olympian ever.
The greatest Olympian of all-time.

Usain Bolt
The fastest man alive.
A legend.
The world’s fastest man.
An icon.
The best sprinter that has ever lived.
The greatest athlete ever.

Here’s how Usain Bolt described himself:

“I’ve shown the world that I am the greatest athlete.” (source)
“I came here with one goal and that was to become a legend. You’re looking at him right now!” (source)


6. To pour/throw cold water (on something)

It didn’t take long for someone to pour cold water on all these superlatives.

Sebastian Coe, the organizer of the London Olympics, said that in his opinion Michael Phelps “is probably not” the greatest Olympian ever. He named some other athletes who he thought were greater than Phelps. (source)

Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee said that Bolt is an “icon,”but he is not a legend yet. He needs to win medals in more than two Olympics. (source)

To pour or throw cold water on something is to say something that stops everyone else from enjoying it or being enthusiastic about it.


7. Euphemisms for losing

Athletes from Canada won 18 medals at the Olympics. Many of those medals were won by athletes who were not well known in the country before the Olympics. Many well-known athletes performed very badly and did not win medals. The commentators on TV thought of many euphemism to say instead of ‘He/She lost.’

A euphemism a nice and pleasant word to say instead of something that is unpleasant or offensive.

Here are some things to say instead of ‘He/She lost’:

It was a personal best [time/effort].
This was a learning experience.
She set a Canadian record!
It’s only her first Olympics.
She tried her best.
He made the country proud.
He should be proud of his accomplishments/achievements.


8. How to put the ‘bad’ in badminton

Badminton is considered a very quiet, conservative sport. Usually there are problems in sports like boxing or soccer, not badminton! In the first week of the Olympics, however, there was a big scandal in the badminton competition. Eight athletes were disqualified and sent home because they were purposely trying to lose their badminton match.

Within in the word ‘badminton,’ you can see the word ‘bad.’ This is a funny coincidence, because the 8 badminton players were behaving badly. We have a great expression for this in English: The 8 athletes put the ‘bad’ in ‘badminton.’


9. The synchronized swimming judges couldn’t find the envelope where the results had been mailed in!

Synchronized swimming is a judged sport. A group of judges watch each routine and give it a score. There are two events in synchronized swimming: the duets competition [2 athletes] and the teams competition. In each competition there is a qualification round & a final round. That’s a total of 4 performances. In all 4 performances the rankings never changed: Russia was 1st in the qualification events, the duets competition and the teams competition. China was second, Spain was third, Canada was fourth, and Japan was 5th. Nothing changed.

The scores did not seem to match the performances. If was as if the judges weren’t even watching and had decided who the winner was before the competition. After the Spanish team performed its final routine, the judges took a long time to announce the scores. A sports reporter on Twitter said that it was because “the judging panel couldn’t find the envelope in which the results had been mailed.” (source)

To mail/phone it in means to not try very hard to do something. The judges didn’t need to show up for work. They could have just stayed at home and mailed in or phoned in the scores, and the results would have been the same.


10. The Paralympics – a portmanteau!

The Olympic Games are the largest sporting event in the world. The second largest sporting event in the world is the Paralympic Games! The Games begin on August 29 in London. The word ‘paralympic’ is a portmanteau, a word made by combining two existing words: Paraplegic + Olympic. A paraplegic is someone who is paralyzed and cannot feel their legs or lower body, usually because of a spinal cord injury. The first international competition for impaired athletes was held in 1948. It was a sports competition for wheelchair athletes. The athletes were injured servicemen and women, people who had injuries to their spinal cord during WWII.

Paralympic also comes from the Greek word παρά / pará which is a preposition for ‘beside’/’alongside,’ since the Paralympic games are now held in the same city just weeks after the Summer Olympic Games. This is a better definition of Paralympic since athletes with impairments other than spinal cord injuries now participate.




What was the big story in your country?

Were there any problems with athletes from your country?

Were there any great performances by athlete from your country?


5 Comments on 10 Things You Can Learn in English from the 2012 Olympics

  1. Lucy
    August 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi Teacher!

    This is the first time that Mexico wins a gold medal in football. We are very proud of the team! Unfortunately Mexico won just 7 medals at this olympics :(


    • Melanie
      August 16, 2012 at 8:58 pm (3 years ago)

      Hi, Lucy!

      Congratulations to Mexico! I can’t believe the team beat Brazil! Mexico also did very well in diving. That was very impressive.

      Mexico & Canada won the same number of gold medals: 1!

      = )

  2. Jefferson
    August 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm (3 years ago)

    Congratulations to Mexico. The Brazilian National Team needs this spirit and keep feet on the ground, Mexico was the better all match so it won. Maybe in Rio 2016 the Brazilian football finally wins the gold medal


    • Melanie
      August 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm (3 years ago)

      That would be amazing, Jefferson!

      In 2010, the Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver, Canada. It was VERY exciting when the Canadian men’s hockey team beat the Americans & won the gold medal! Hockey is to Canada what football/soccer is to Brazil – the national sport!

      = )

      • Jefferson
        August 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm (3 years ago)

        Yes, that would be amazing

        Football is like a religion for us :D and I hope Brazil vs. Argentina in the final at Maracanã



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