Opening ceremonies (1), an amputee athlete (5) and Michael Phelps (6) are just a few of the reasons for kids to watch the Summer Olympics. (Photo illustration by Susana Sanchez-Youngs)

The Summer Olympics start Friday. They are the world’s biggest sports event, with more than 10,000 athletes competing in 26 medal sports over 17 days. NBC and its networks are planning just about around-the-clock coverage of the competition from London, England. But you can’t watch all that TV, even if you wanted to and your parents let you. After all, it’s summer and you may have to go to camp or take a family vacation or play some of the cool sports you see in the Summer Games. So KidsPost’s Fred Bowen offers this guide to the Olympic events you won’t want to miss.

●Opening Ceremonies

July 27, 7:30 p.m. to midnight, NBC4.

I know it’s not a sport, but the parade of athletes in the Opening Ceremonies is always great. About 200 countries send athletes to the Summer Games, so grab a globe or a map of the world and brush up on your geography. Be sure to pay attention to the team uniforms, the flags, the person who carries the flag and how many athletes are on each team. Some countries, such as the United States and Germany, send hundreds of athletes, while other countries send only a few.

Michael Phelps swims to victory in the men's 100-meter butterfly final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska. The winner of eight Olympic gold medals will be looking for more gold in London. (Mark Humphrey/ASSOCIATED PRESS)


July 28 – August 4. Races will be shown on NBC4 between 8 p.m. and midnight most nights.

Four local swimmers will be going for the gold: Katie Ledecky of Bethesda, Katie Ziegler of Great Falls, Matt McLean of Sterling and, of course, Baltimore’s Michael Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Their races are a chance to really root for the hometown team. Ledecky, 15, attends Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. She started swimming as a 6-year-old with the Palisade Porpoises in the Montgomery County swim leagues.

●Women’s soccer

August 9, gold medal match, 2:30 to 5 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.

Remember how exciting the women’s World Cup was last summer? Well, all the top teams — the United States, Japan and Brazil — will be back, battling for Olympic glory. Matches will be played throughout the Olympics, but this is the day not to miss because these final matches will decide which teams bring home gold.

Oscar Pistorius will become the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics, after earning a spot in South Africa’s 4x400-meter relay team in the Summer Games in London. (OLIVIER MORIN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES)

●Women’s marathon

August 5, 6 to 9 a.m. on NBC4.

Speaking of hometown heroes, I’m going to watch the women’s marathon because Shalane Flanagan, the United States’ top marathoner, is from my home town of Marblehead, Massachusetts. She even went to Marblehead High School — so did I!

●Field hockey

August 10, women’s gold medal match, 6 to 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Network; August 11, men’s gold medal match, 3 to 5 p.m. on MSNBC.

Other fun competitions will be the men’s and women’s field hockey tournaments. If you have never seen world-class field hockey, make sure to watch a few of the medal games. The action is fast and furious.

●All-around gymnastics

Men: August 1, 8 p.m. to midnight; women: August 2, 8 p.m. to midnight, both on NBC4.

There will be plenty of gymnastics competitions during the Olympics. If you can’t see them all, tune in for the all-around competitions. That way, you see all the very best athletes doing all the disciplines . . . in one exciting night!

●100-meter dash

Women: August 4, 8 p.m. to midnight; men: August 5, 8 p.m. to midnight.

The men’s 100-meter dash is the most thrilling 10 seconds in the Olympics. Jamaica’s Usain “Lightning” Bolt is the favorite to win the gold. He may beat his world record time of 9.58 seconds. Don’t forget the women’s 100-meter race. It should be very close and competitive. But keep your eyes wide open. If you blink during the race, you might miss it.

●Men’s 400 meters

August 4-6, 8 p.m. to midnight on NBC4

●4-by-400-meter relay (a team race) August 8 and 9,

8 p.m. to midnight on NBC4.

The biggest story in the 2012 Olympics may be Oscar Pistorius, the “Blade Runner.” He’s the sprinter who runs on specially designed artificial legs. Pistorius’s legs were amputated when he was just 11 months old because of a birth defect. But that didn’t keep him from participating in sports. Pistorius played rugby, tennis and even water polo while growing up in South Africa. He may not win a medal, but he will make history, becoming the first double amputee to run in the Olympics.

●Badminton, table tennis
and handball

Badminton gold medal matches, August 5 and 6, 12:35 to 1:35 a.m. on NBC4 — maybe you can DVR this! Table tennis medal matches, August 3, 12:35 to 1:35 a.m. on NBC4. If that’s way past your bedtime (!), there will be team table tennis August 3, 3 to 3:45 p.m. on MSNBC; the men’s team final in table tennis will be shown August 9, 12:05 to 1:05 a.m. on NBC4. Women's handball gold medal match, August 11, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network; men’s gold medal match, August 12, 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

Why am I keeping an eye these sports? They are the only official summer Olympic sports in which the United States has never won a medal. Chances are, that won’t change in 2012. Athletes from China and South Korea dominate in badminton and table tennis. The U.S. teams did not qualify in handball.

Of course, winning a medal isn’t the only important part of the Olympics. Just competing in the Games is the thrill of a lifetime. Did you know that no athlete won a medal at the 1900 Olympics held in Paris, France? The winners were given valuable works of art at those Olympic Games.

Something to read: The “Go-for-the-Gold Gymnasts” series

Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 17 sports books for kids ages 8 to 12. His latest book, “Go for the Goal!,” will be published in August.