Engaging Ideas

for Education

Olympics-Biography Exploration

Why does NBC’s Olympic page show these athletes are the most popular? (click on picture to enlarge it)



The purpose of this exercise is to help students explore athletes from other countries and use the athletes as a basis to better appreciating the life circumstances in those countries as well as help connect them to critical questions related to global issues.  Students will also pick up skills in navigating the web.

First using the NBC image, ask students why these athletes are pictured?  Note the countries they come from…which should be something the students notice. One athlete isn’t from the United States–why do they think he made the list?  Note the clothing advertisement of Ryan Lochte reinforces the same message (and he’s one of the most popular).   You can also notice sports that are listed and how that compares with all the sports at the Olympics and why other sports aren’t listed.  You can also see if the list has changed http://www.nbcolympics.com/athletes/index.html.  Presumably popular here is based on clicks.

You might then explore what it means to be popular?  How does that work at school?  How does it feel when you’re not popular?

Now segway into the activity.

How do you think an athlete who has worked hard, but hasn’t gotten that recognition would feel if you tied to learn about him or her and even rooted them on?

The Olympic page for the 2012 games has information on all the athletes which can be searched by the athlete’s surname, by country, or by sport.




However, the information there is sketchy, and only modestly better for athletes from North America or Western Europe.  However, it’s a good starting place to find athletes.

You’ll need computers to do this–and it could be a homework assignment.  But ideally it would be done in a group setting with each student having individual responsibilities or you could have students work in pairs sharing a computer.  

Generally you want students to search using google or another search engine the name of a selected athlete.  To find their athlete, you could have students assigned different countries and then let them select their athelete or have them select a sport first or a country first.

If a student group selects a sport (and keep in mind that all of track and field is under the sport category “athletics” so that’s a pretty wide category) and then select athletes from different countries–have all students find countries that are not in North America or Western Europe–or perhaps take one country per continent–but the goal would still be try and find less known countries.

Alternatively you could have students select a country first and then pick the athlete of their choice within the country.

When searching on line, students may wish to also add the country name and/or sport to the  athlete’s name in their search to improve the results.

Students can then see if they can find a site or sites which give them more information about the athlete’s life.  Below are a couple illustrations of what you might find.


Magomed Abdulhamidov is a boxer from Ajerbaijan. The web site below includes an interesting interview with him.


Dana Abdul Razak is a sprinter from Iraq.  That’s not the only name you may find her under.  She was especially interesting because she was the only 2008 Iraqi Olympian who trained in Iraq.

The link to this web site didn’t come up high on the search, but was within the Wikepedia entry which came out high, but the Time article has more interesting information, so it can help students in their strategy of using a web search: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1819129_1819134_1826062,00.html

A second link that did come in the search is in Arabic and English http://www.kaldaya.net/2008/DailyNews/08/Aug20_08_E1_Olympics_Dana.html

The biographies could be elements of their life story that are available as well as details on their training and their country and should include a photo.  Students can also look up when they’ll be competing in the games-and see how they did. http://www.london2012.com/schedule-and-results/

If you choose a sports focus–you could have students in a group pick the same sport (keep in mind that “athletics” as a category includes all of track and field) but from different countries.  They could compare how their different athletes stories.  They could compare that with the background of an athlete from the United States (or Canada or Western Europe).

If you start with a country instead–by pulling together different aspects of their biographies, students may gain added information about the country and its culture.

Students should be encouraged to write either formally or in a reflection about their learning from this activity.  Alternatively, they could create a poster that helps locate their countries, shows the athletes and illustrates key findings.


Web site links that could assist with country reserach:

Portion of a country’s population living on less than $1.25 a day (based on purchasing power parity–meaning what $1.25 buys in the United States): http://data.un.org/Data.aspx?d=SOWC&f=inID%3A1%20,

CIA World Factbook gives good background information on different countries of the world: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/


A couple other resources for biographies of lesser known athletes:

African Biographies: http://www.africansuccess.org/visuFiche.php?id=116&lang=en

Focus on Athletes  (not from Western Europe or North America): http://www.iaaf.org/news/athletes/


Share your implementation and how it worked!


Contributed by Dave Wells, Ph.D.

Arizona State University





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