Cheering on the Olympic underdogs
Peter Sagan of Slovakia cycles during the individual time trial of the 19th stage of the 99th Tour de France. (Bogdan Cristel/Reuters)
While the sporting powerhouses of the US, Russia, China and Australia battle it out for a record tally of gold medals and Team GB hopes its home advantage will pay dividends, other Olympic teams are coming to London simply for the pride of participating.
The 10,490 athletes expected to take part this year come from 206 nations, making it the biggest ever multi-sport event held in the UK (as a comparison, 4,099 athletes from 59 countries competed in the 1948 London Games)part of the joy of the Olympics is seeing the underdogs triumph and the thrill of witnessing champions crowned from all the world's nations, big and small.
No matter where the competitors hail from – whether it be Afghanistan (six competitors) or Zimbabwe (seven competitors) – London’s multicultural population is sure to be home to a few fellow countrymen, who will undoubtedly be cheering them on in the city’s community centres, bars and cafes. Here are a few places where you can root for the potential champions in the company of their country folk.
Mongolian athletes have had some moments on the podium, but many have been overshadowed by the sporting giants of China and Russia just over the border. Since sending their first team to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Mongolian athletes have won 19 medals, including two golds at the 2008 Games in Beijing: men's boxing and judo.
London is home to more than 5,000 people of Mongolian descent, and the Prince of Wales pub near Paddington Station acts as a hub for the city’s Mongolian population. Throughout the year, come in to the pub after 5 pm and a Mongolian chef will be cooking a range of Mongolian meals, including buuz (steamed dumplings) and noodles cooked with beef and greens (.
Who to watch: Mongolia's gold-winning boxer Enkhbatyn Badar-Uugan is out of action with a back injury, but there are athletes taking part in archery, judo and wrestling, a traditional Mongolian strength. Cheer on Tamir Andrei on 31 July in the 100m freestyle – he’ll need all the encouragement he can get as Mongolia has never won a swimming medal. Also make sure to watch Naidangiin Tüvshinbayar on 2 August as he defends his Beijing Games gold medal in judo.
Czech Republic and Slovakia
Czechoslovakia was a Cold War Olympic powerhouse, winning 143 medals over 40 years of summer Olympic Games. Since the Soviet-era state was split into constituent parts in 1993, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been successful in canoeing. The Slovakians in particular excel at slalom, a canoeing event that involves river rapids. Today, an estimated 30,000 Czechs and 54,000 Slovakians live in the UK.
A few Tube stops north of St John's Wood, where the archery competitions will take place at Lord's cricket ground, is Czech and Slovak House in West Hampstead, a slice of Brno and Cesky Krumlov on a pleasant north London street. Czechoslovakian veterans bought the house in 1946 after serving in World War II. The decor seems to have changed little since then, but the restaurant serves rib-sticking MittelEuropean food such as goulash, schnitzel and roast goose to soak up the likes of Gambrinus and Budvar lager. The house's rough-and-ready drinking rooms should also be an entertaining spot to watch these two nations' athletes do their best.
Who to watch: Barbora Špotáková (Czech Republic) won gold in the javelin in 2008, and is expected to do the same this year on 9 August. Slovakian cyclist Peter Sagan may be one to watch in the London sprint race on 28 July after this year’s Tour de France, in which he won two stages and topped the race's points classification.
Just two athletes are making the trip to London to represent Somalia, which is still struggling to return to normality after decades of conflict. But at least 70,000 people of Somalian descent are thought to live in and around London.
In west London -- a long way from the stadiums of Stratford – is the Food Palace, a Somali cafe and meeting place in Acton. Nearby is The Village restaurant in Hammersmith, another hub for Somali locals. The vast majority of Somalis are Muslim and therefore do not drink alcohol, so a restaurant is your best bet for watching the athletes alongside other Somalis.