Everything you need to know about tonight's Olympic primetime coverage—without knowing what actually happened.
China’s Chen Yibeng comes into the event as the overwhelming favorite. In addition to winning rings gold in Beijing—with what’s maybe one of the best rings routines ever—the 27-year-old is the four-time defending world champ. Anything less than gold would be a massive disappointment. Brazilian Arthur Zanetti, silver medalist in the 2011 World Championships, and Aleksandr Balandin of Russia are expected to challenge for medals. If you’re going to watch only one event tonight, make it this. The ending measures up with any of the great swims from the past week.
WOMEN’S UNEVEN BARS
It’s been billed as Gabby Douglas’ chance for a third gold—and sure, it is—but the all-around champion is by no means the favorite. The two other all-around medalists, Russians Victoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina, are both expected to challenge for gold. Elizabeth Tweddle of Great Britain is a medal contender as well. The winner here deserves every bit of it. Her dismount and stuck landing are just dumb.
While it’s maybe hard to differentiate between a good and an average ring or pommel horse routine, a good vault is just a good vault. It seems like each competitor is one botched hand placement or partial rotation away from certain death. South Korean Hak Seon Yang comes in as the favorite, with a routine that’s 0.2 points more difficult than any other competitor. So, basically, it all comes down to whether or not he can execute the most ridiculous vault routine you’ve ever seen. That in itself should be enough of a reason to tune in.
WOMEN’S POLE VAULT
Since it’s not straight-up head-to-head, and since there’s almost no variation between what competitors do, pole vaulting might not be the most generally exciting sport to watch on television. Russian Yelena Isinbayeva is the two-time defending gold medalist and comes in as the favorite. American Jennifer Suhr was the silver medalist in Beijing and will expect to be in the medals. Like I said, it’s a bunch of people launching themselves over a horizontal pole with a giant vertical pole. If that’s your thing, by all means, tune in. You might be disappointed, though, with how the winner gets decided.
WOMEN’S SHOT PUT
The same people-unclearly-doing-things-well caveat applies here as, at its core, shot put is just a bunch of really strong people throwing weighted balls into a field. It’s all definitely impressive if you think about it, but not necessarily the most exciting thing to watch. Australia’s Valerie Adams and Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus are the two favorites. One of them puts the shot further than the other—and possibly also wins gold.
MEN’S 400M HURDLES
Okay, people running fast and jumping over things they can possibly trip on. American Angelo Taylor won gold in 2000 and 2008, while Felix Taylor of the Dominican Republic took gold in 2004. They’re both in the race, and Taylor recorded the fastest time in qualifying. David Greene of Great Britain is also a medal favorite, so there’s that extra possible home-country excitement/more likely crushing existential dread, too. If you like the Olympics, you’ll enjoy this race.
WOMEN’S 3,000M STEEPLECHASE
I don’t know how or why people get into steeplechasing, but there are at least 15 woman on Earth who do it consistently. It’s two miles of running, which, by itself, seems questionable. But add in giant hurdles and the occasional water obstacles, and, well, human beings are bizarre. Anyway, NBC will not show you this from start to finish, and the finish here isn’t all that great, either. In short: a Russian may or may not win this race.
An American has won gold in this race in the last seven Olympics. In 2008, the U.S. swept the medals in this race. Neither of those things will happen in London because there are zero Americans in this final. LaShawn Merritt, one of the favorites and the defending gold medalist, pulled up with an injury in a preliminary race and therefore didn’t qualify. If you use the Olympics as a means to reaffirm American exceptionalism, then, obviously, do not watch this race. Otherwise, yes, watch. The winner has a fun story. Plus, it’s the 400, always one of the most enjoyable races of the Olympics.