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How to enjoy the Olympics in English

If you want to get the full scoop on what's happening at the Olympics in everything from the pole vault to ping pong, you'll need to polish up your English.


While the Olympics are a world wide event with athletes speaking almost all the world's languages, it's worth learning some English related to the games. Not only will you be able to talk about the games with people from around the world, but many phrases from the Olympics have become well known English metaphors and figures of speech.

Go for gold!

Everyone knows the top three athletes or teams in each event win the gold, silver, and bronze medals. But did you know that the phrase "go for the gold" has now become a standard phrase meaning to try to do your best.

Pass the torch

The torch relay is another enduring symbol of the Olympic spirit, and it too has become a commonly used English metaphor. Just like the Olympic runners pass the torch to each other without ever letting it drop, "pass the torch" is often used when handing over responsibilities to someone new. If someone replaces you as a club secretary or branch manager, for example, people will often say "You've passed the torch to your replacement".

Who's the favorite?

When you're actually watching the games or talking about what happened, there are some specific sports phrases to keep in mind. The athlete who everyone expects to win an event is the "favorite", but if he or she is actually beaten by someone unexpected, that's called an "upset". (Note that in this case, the stress is on the first syllable, i.e. UP-set).

Fighting words

Many people think that sport is similar to war, and English uses many 'fighting' words to talk about sports! If both players or teams in a match are playing well, you can say their competition is "closely fought" - You could also say that they battled it out for victory. If one side loses badly, you can say they "were overwhelmed" by their opponents, but if the losers refused to give up, you can say they "went down fighting".

Track and field events

Some of the most popular events in the Olympics are the "track and field" events - the phrase is a combination of two terms covering many events. "Field" refers to events like shot-put (where athletes throw a heavy weight), discus, javelin, and jumping events that were originally held on a a grassy field. "Track" refers to running events. The short races like the 100 meters are often called "sprints".

If you want to enjoy conversation about the Olympics in English, check out Englishtown.com and its range of ways to learn English. Sign up for a free trial and take part in the daily online conversation classes. There is a new topic every day, and you'll be able to practice talking about the Olympics a number of times this month. Or you can sign up for daily English tips sent right to your e-mail inbox.

By Charles de Simone

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