Who to Watch in Beijing

A BMX cyclist from Britain, a tae kwon do champ from Mali, fencing brothers from France and other Olympic stars.


Between the start of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing—or, if you're feeling particularly pretentious, the Games of the XXIX Olympiad—and the closing ceremonies on Aug. 24, more than 5,000 hours of live competition will be broadcast in this country by NBC and its affiliated platforms (cable and online). That is more than the amount of live American TV coverage of every previous Olympics combined.

If American broadcasting tendencies stay true to form, a whopping 30 to 45 minutes of that time will be devoted to athletes from outside the United States. In case you come across any of those events, at work or in the wee hours—since it is unlikely they'll be broadcast in prime time—it helps to know what and who you're watching.

That's no easy task, because some 10,000 athletes in 38 sports representing more than 200 countries will be competing. But here's a little tipsheet on Olympian athletes of African descent to get you going. It may even help you impress friends who are at a loss naming an Olympian other than Michael Phelps or LeBron James.

Don't feel bad at all if you had no clue how far our people's influence has spread—much of it surprised me, and I do this for a living.

Jamaica, track and field



Shame on you if you don't know that Bolt—who is 21 years old, 6-foot-4 and actually not nicknamed Lightning—is the World's Fastest Man (that is, the world-record holder in the 100-meter dash). OK, don't feel ashamed. Track and field is still recovering from numerous self-inflicted wounds because of high-profile doping scandals (thanks, Marion Jones); that is largely the reason Bolt's record run of 9.72 seconds, on May 31 in New York, wasn't aired live here despite its happening in a major Olympic-year meet. Worth noting: The 100 might not even be his best event (he's considered a prodigy in the 200), and his first sporting love was cricket.