The London 2012 Olympics may not officially start until July 27th, but there is no shortage of international competition taking place to celebrate the Olympic spirit.
This weekend the sport of quidditch will be hosting an Olympic expo tournament, the IQA Summer Games, featuring teams representing five nations. The tournament will take place on July 8th and 9th in Oxford, England, less than an hour away from the Olympic stadium in London.
For those not familiar with quidditch, here is a basic introduction to the sport.
For those who are familiar with quidditch, the Olympic expo represents an exciting new growth of the sport. Athletes from Canada, France, Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA will meet in the first-ever matchup of comprehensive national teams in competitive quidditch.
Let's take a look at each of the teams which will be competing in Oxford this weekend.
The Australian team is made up mainly of players from Australian National University in Canberra and the Victorian Quidditch Association in Melbourne. Also represented is the defending Australian champion University of New South Wales, whose captain, Bethany Crane, will represent her country at the Olympic expo tournament as a Chaser.
It will be interesting to see how they fare with the full-contact rules that will be in effect in Oxford. Due to stricter liability laws in Australia, most teams there play with modified contact rules.
However, that hasn't always been the case, so at least some of the players on the Australian team are acquainted with the full-contact rules that they will encounter in England.
Australia is home to the fastest-growing quidditch population of any country outside of the U.S.
Look for them to come out ready to prove that they are a force to be reckoned with.
The host country for the tournament, the Brits are looking to introduce themselves to the rest of the quidditch world.
While relatively new to the world of competitive quidditch, they have already shown a lot of enthusiasm for the sport.
Part of the issue facing quidditch teams in the U.K. is the fact that many quidditch players there don't play by IQA official rules, so only a portion of the country's quidditch players play by the same rules they will face at the Summer Games.
However, the majority of the players on Team U.K. come from the first two IQA official teams in the country, Leicester and Keele, so they are used to the rules by which they will be playing at the tournament.
Home-field advantage should play into the hands of the Brits, who don't have to worry about traveling halfway around the world or acclimating to unfamiliar surroundings.
It will be interesting to see if they can capitalize on that advantage.
France is one of the newest nations to embrace quidditch. As a result, the French team is relatively inexperienced, and not much is known about them.
They have not been left to struggle entirely on their own, however, as some of the teams in France have been visited by players from American teams on vacation and study-abroad programs, providing them with valuable knowledge from veterans of the sport.
The French most likely don't have the experience or firepower to compete with some of the more established teams, like USA or Canada, but they could surprise some people and pull off some upsets in England.
Besides the United States, Canada is the next most established quidditch nation.
While Australia has surpassed Canada in number of teams, the Canadian teams are much more experienced and well established.
Despite their experience, the Canadians will face some unique challenges that the other teams won't have to deal with. They were the last nation to assemble a team and thus weren't able to bring all of their nation's top players.
However, they will still have some of the top talent in the sport playing for them in Oxford. Most notable is the easily recognizable Plunger Parvulescu, a mustachioed Seeker from McGill University in Montreal who has competed in multiple World Cups and has been quite successful in making winning snitch-grabs for his team.
If any team presents a serious challenge to the heavily favored Team USA, it is the Canadians.
It is difficult to describe how much of a favorite the U.S. is coming into this tournament. Almost 150 different players were nominated for the team, and only 21 made it onto the final roster.
There is a huge variety of quidditch players on the Team USA roster. Some of the most respected veterans of the sport, with multiple World Cups underneath their belts, will play for the U.S., teaming with some of the game's bright young stars as well as some of the most feared players in the game.
Just reading through the U.S. roster is enough to give one chills.
Since every single one of the players on the U.S. roster is extremely accomplished and noteworthy, it is best just to include the entire roster:
Brad Armentor (LSU), Sarah Holub (Texas), Zach D'Amico (Villanova),Vanessa Goh (UCLA), Missy Sponagle (UCLA), Lawrence Lazewski (Michigan State), Sean Pagoda (USF), Kedzie Teller (Boston University), Jessica Klein (New York Badassalisks), Michael Parada (Penn State), August Luehrs (USC)
Sarah Kneiling (LSU), Matt Ziff (Miami), Allison Gillette (Emerson), Mollie Lensing (Texas A&M)
Augustine Monroe (Texas), Jared Sipe (Minnesota), James Hicks (Maryland), Connor Drake (Kansas)
Billy Greco (Villanova), Tyler Macy (Ball State)
The Summer Games title is most likely Team USA's to lose, but there is a reason that games are played on the pitch and not on paper.
Anything could happen.
The Summer Games are a huge opportunity for quidditch players from around the world to face great competition and make friendships throughout the quidditch community.
Like the 2012 London Olympics that will open in a few weeks, the quidditch Summer Games bring together top athletes from around the world to test their skills against one another in an atmosphere of competition and mutual respect.
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