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Ten 2012 Olympians to Keep Your Eyes On

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Thousands of athletes from all over the world are in London for the 2012 Olympics. Many of them are already stars, having trained their entire lives for this chance at gold. For some, getting there has been a struggle against poverty, politics, prejudice, and other disadvantages. Here are a few that you'll want to know before you see them compete.

1. South Sudan: Guor Marial

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Twenty-eight-year-old Guor Marial was born in what is now South Sudan, the world's youngest nation. He became a refugee of the Sudanese conflict in 1993 when he was only nine years old, as he fled across border after border seeking asylum from the violence. Marial was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2001, and is a permanent resident here. An All-American cross-country runner and an accomplished marathoner, Marial rejected an offer from the Sudan Olympic Committee to run under its flag at the London Olympics.

"Never," he said of his refusal to run for Sudan. "For me to even consider that is a betrayal. My family lost 28 members in the war with Sudan. Millions of my people were killed by Sudan forces. I can only forgive, but I cannot honor and glorify a country that killed my people."

However, South Sudan, the nation that Marial considers his own, does not yet have an official Olympic Committee. The International Olympic Committee has granted Marial the right to participate as an Independent Olympic Athlete, a category reserved for those in such situations.

2. Peru: Gladys Tejeda


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Four years ago, Gladys Tejeda had never heard of the Olympics. In London, she will be running the marathon for Peru. Tejeda comes from a poor farming family, in which the many children began working at around eight years old. The 26-year-old has been an outstanding runner since she was a child, though, and once the idea of an Olympic run was raised by her brother while the family watched the Beijing games on their very first TV set, Tejeda was there. Living at 13,000 feet above sea level helped her become a marathoner, as her endurance level is extremely high. Tejeda qualified for the Olympics on her very first marathon, and the London competition will be only her third.

3. Malaysia: Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi


Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi will compete in the London Olympics as the first female shooting sports competitor from Malaysia. She is also eight months pregnant. Therefore, she joins a small and exclusive club of athletes who go for the gold while expecting. However, other competitors were in the early stages of pregnancy. Taibi is a bit concerned that the baby may kick at the exact moment she must aim with world-class accuracy. Malaysian officials were more worried about her ability to travel to London, but with her doctor’s blessing, she was cleared for the long flight.

4. South Africa: Oscar Pistorius


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South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius will compete in the individual 400 meters and the 4×400-meter relay at the London Olympics. He runs on specially-designed carbon-fiber prosthetics called Cheetahs, which sparked an ongoing controversy about the place of prosthetic enhancements in competitive sports. In 2008, Pistorius won a court battle to compete for an Olympic spot. However, he then failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. This year, Pistorius will be the first amputee to compete in track at the Olympics.

5. South Africa: Caster Semenya


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Caster Semenya is a 21-year-old track and field star from South Africa. In 2009, Semenya became known around the world, not for winning the world championship in the 800 meter event, but for suspicions that she is not fully female. The International Association of Athletics Federations ordered gender-verification testing, which humiliated the then 18-year-old, who had never questioned her own sex. She was banned from racing for 11 months, during which she underwent a barrage of tests. Semenya was finally cleared to compete as female, and will not only run, but will carry the flag for the South African team.

6. Iran: Behdad Salimi


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Weightlifter Behdad Salimi is the world's strongest man, designated so after he lifted 472 pounds at the world weight-lifting championships in Paris in 2011. Salimi began his athletic career as a gymnast, but found his niche when a friend suggested he try weightlifting instead. Of the 54 Olympic athletes from Iran, Salimi is the country's best hope for a gold medal.

7. Japan: Hiroshi Hoketsu


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Hiroshi Hoketsu is representing Japan in Olympic dressage competition for the third time: he competed in Beijing in 2008 and in Tokyo in 1964. Yes, 1964. Hoketsu was born in 1941 and is 71 years old. He has spent the past five years grooming his horse Whisper for the event. Whisper is only 15. Surprisingly, Hoketsu is not the oldest Olympian ever. In 1920, Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn won his sixth medal at age 72.

8. Saudi Arabia: Sarah Attar

Saudi Arabia has never sent women to the Olympics before, but pressure from the IOC led them to place two women on the 2012 team. One is Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who will compete in judo despite never competing in a national event (Saudi Arabia has none for women). The other female competitor is track runner Sarah Attar, who grew up in the United States and is a current student at Pepperdine University. Attar holds dual U.S./Saudi citizenship, and will run the 800 meter event. When Attar was invited to represent Saudi Arabia, her parents requested all photos of her be removed from Pepperdine's website, and she changed her usual American dress to long sleeves and head coverings. She says she hopes her participation in the Olympics will open doors for women athletes in that country.

9. Afghanistan: Tahmina Kohistani

Sprinter Tahmina Kohistani is one of only two track runners who will compete for Afghanistan in the London Olympics -and the only female. She faces some long odds because of the lack of support from her country -- which loves sports but only in those events they expect to win -- and because of the air pollution in Kabul. However, Kohistani has the freedom to run, which would not have been tolerated under the Taliban, and the support of her family, which many Afghan female athletes do not have. Like other Muslim athletes, she runs fully covered, including practicing in a baseball cap in place of a hijab -although she will wear a headscarf at the games. Kohistani is a national champion in her events, the 100 and 200 meters, but her times would place her in high school competition in most countries. Kohistani is proud just to participate in the Olympics. See her in a video interview.

10. United States: Kayla Harrison

Judoka Kayla Harrison started her Olympic journey farther behind than most U.S. athletes. As a teenager, she was sexually abused by her judo coach for three years. Harrison finally stood up and testified against her attacker in court, and he was convicted. But the small-town publicity of the trial forced her to move to Boston and start over. Harrison's new trainer got her into therapy so she could put the past behind her and look forward to victory. Five years later, she has graduated from high school, earned her EMT certification, is engaged to a firefighter, won a world championship, and is favored to win a gold medal in London.

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
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It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
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Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
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With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


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Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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Miss Cellania
10 Famous Birthdays in May
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Some of our favorite historical figures were born in May. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the notable people we'll be celebrating.

1. SIGMUND FREUD: MAY 6, 1856


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Sigmund Freud is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. The Vienna psychiatrist developed a theory of the unconscious mind, where the id, ego, and superego struggle to balance each other out in the human psyche. Freud attributed his patients' neuroses to childhood trauma, often cloaked in a sexual conflict. His work was at first deemed perverted, but his ideas started to spread after a series of lectures in the U.S. in 1909. After Freud's death in 1939, Freudian theory was hailed as genius in mainstream culture. But beginning in the 1960s, Freud's theories started to fall out of favor in academia and are largely discredited today. However, his attempts to map the psyche gave us the language we still use to discuss personality and mental health.

2. FRED ASTAIRE: MAY 10, 1899


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Fred Astaire began dancing when he was just four years old. Soon he and his sister Adele were in a performing arts school and started dancing professionally. First came vaudeville, then Broadway, and when Adele married, Fred headed to Hollywood. Producers were at first reluctant to cast Astaire as a leading man because of his looks, but his dancing soon won them over. Astaire appeared in dozens of films between 1933 and 1981, 10 of them with with dance partner Ginger Rogers. Although his later films did not revolve around dance numbers, Astaire was seen dancing in an episode of Battlestar Galactica as late as 1979, when he was 80 years old.

3. MARTHA GRAHAM: MAY 11, 1894


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Martha Graham wanted to dance from an early age, but her parents disapproved, so she didn't study dance until college. Her wildly emotional dancing led her to performances in New York, and in 1926 she established the Martha Graham Dance Company. Through the company, Graham promoted modern dance as a spiritual and emotional outlet. Over time, she came to be seen as a genius of the genre. Graham danced until she was in her '70s, and continued to choreograph dances until her death at age 91.

4. KATHARINE HEPBURN: MAY 12, 1907


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Katharine Hepburn caught the acting bug in college and headed to the stages of New York upon graduation. She was spotted in a Broadway production and was offered the lead in RKO's 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. That kicked off a movie career of more than 60 years, in which she was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Hepburn was a certified box office draw, but off screen she refused to behave like a Hollywood star. She spoke her mind, wore pants, and even appeared in public without makeup occasionally. Hepburn was also known for her devotion to the love of her life, actor Spencer Tracy, who was separated from his wife but refused to divorce her. The last of nine films they made together was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, just before Tracy died. Hepburn continued making movies through 1994, when she was 87 years old.

5. PIERRE CURIE: MAY 15, 1859


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French physicist Pierre Curie is often overlooked in favor of Marie Curie, his brilliant student and later wife. Together they discovered radium and polonium, and did extensive research into radioactivity. Pierre, Marie, and Henri Becquerel jointly won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research. Curie might have gone onto many further discoveries, but he was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn cart ran over him in Paris. If he had lived longer, Curie might have also succumbed to illness caused by radiation, as did his wife, daughter, and son-in-law—all Nobel Prize winners.

6. MARY CASSATT: MAY 22, 1844


Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Renowned American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to become an artist, but her parents objected and her Philadelphia art school didn't take women students seriously. So she went to Paris and studied privately under teachers from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as the school did not admit women. Gradually, Cassatt's works sold and her reputation grew. She drew the attention of Impressionist Edgar Degas, and worked with him for years. By 1886, she left the Impressionist movement behind, and afterward refused to be defined by any art genre. Cassatt's body of work often featured women and children in their everyday lives. Her most memorable painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, broke with tradition by portraying a child in a naturalistic, casual pose instead of a formal portrait.

7. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: MAY 22, 1859


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Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his many short stories and novels featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle worked full time as a medical doctor until an illness convinced him he had to choose between writing and medicine. Years later, Conan Doyle volunteered with the British army to fight in the Second Boer War, but because of his age (40), he was only allowed to serve as a medical doctor. Upon his return from South Africa, he entered politics in Scotland, but he lost his only race. In 1907, Conan Doyle became involved in a real criminal case in which he helped George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian heritage, beat an animal cruelty conviction by employing the observational technique that Sherlock Holmes used. The fallout from that case led to the establishment of the appeals system in Britain. Conan Doyle also wrote a science fiction novel The Lost World, published in 1912. It was so successful that he wrote four sequels.

8. MARGARET FULLER: MAY 23, 1810


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Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret Fuller was a precocious child who learned several languages but was not welcome at college because of her sex. She became friends with both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who admired her philosophical thinking. Fuller became a literary critic for the New-York Tribune and a well-known intellectual.

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as an essay in Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," in which Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African Americans.

Fuller went on to become a foreign correspondent and the first American female war correspondent, covering the Italian revolution. She also fell in love with an Italian man and had a child with him. On their return trip to the U.S. in 1850 aboard a merchant ship, a hurricane struck the ship near Fire Island, killing all three. Only Fuller's 20-month-old son was found.

9. SALLY RIDE: MAY 26, 1951

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In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player when she was a teenager. Billie Jean King urged her to turn pro, but Ride went to Stanford University instead. She earned both a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in physics in 1973, and a PhD in physics in 1978. Ride then immediately applied for NASA's astronaut program. She flew two shuttle missions, in 1983 and '84, and was scheduled for a third, but that mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted her life to encouraging students to study science—especially girls. She founded the organization Sally Ride Science for just that purpose, and wrote five children's books encouraging interest in science. Ride died of cancer at age 61 in 2012.

10. "WILD BILL" HICKOK: MAY 27, 1837


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James Butler Hickok was a farmer, soldier, stagecoach driver, spy, lawman, scout, sharpshooter, gambler, and Wild West showman. Many of those occupations came after "Wild Bill" Hickok gained publicity for killing three men in an 1861 shootout. The newspapers followed his exploits from that time on, often embellishing the details until Hickok was more of a legend than the adventurer he was. His various occupations took him to different parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him in 1876. The hand Hickok was holding at the time—a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights—became known as the "dead man's hand."

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