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Robert F. Bukaty, Associated Press
The National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, is seen on May 25 in Beijing. The 91,000-seat stadium is called the Bird's Nest because of its bowl shape and steel lattice design.

What is the "Bird's Nest"? Who are those Hello Kitty-like dolls? And why do we keep hearing the name Michael Phelps?

While the Olympics may have been overshadowed by high gas prices and the presidential election, the countdown to the Games is almost over and China is ready, having built or renovated 37 venues to host events.

The Games, which run from Friday to Aug. 24, offer new sports, such as BMX racing, influential designs like the bubble wrap Water Cube and compelling stories — a trio of siblings are competing in Taekwondo.

If you haven't been following the Olympics, don't worry.

Here's a guide to catch you up.

Main venues

• Olympic Green: The primary site for the Olympic Games, covering 2,800 acres.

• National Stadium (Bird's Nest): The site of the opening and closing ceremonies, along with soccer and athletics (track and field) events. Called the "Bird's Nest" because of its bowl shape and steel lattice design, the 91,000-seat stadium is the centerpiece for the Games.

• National Aquatics Center (Water Cube): The bubble wrap-like swimming venue for the Games. The venue spans 7.8 acres, houses three pools underground and seats 17,000. Swimming, diving and synchronized swimming competitions will be held here.

• National Indoor Stadium: The site of artistic gymnastics, trampolining and handball events. Noted for its "unfurled traditional Chinese folding fan" design, the stadium holds 18,000 spectators. The stadium consists of a main building, warm-up gym and other outdoor facilities.

• Athletes Village: The apartment housing for 16,000 to 17,000 athletes and officials. The 163-acre village is about a 25-minute walk northwest of the Bird's Nest and Water Cube and contains a restaurant, library, clinic, swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, jogging tracks, shopping areas and coffee shops. There is also a fire station.

Other notable buildings

CCTV Tower: The new China Central Television headquarters building that will broadcast the Olympic Games. The design has been described as a 'Z' criss-cross, with two leaning towers connected at the top and the bottom to form a continuous loop.

Slogan

"One World One Dream" — a message of harmony. The slogan was chosen from more than 210,000 submissions and represents Chinese cultural evolution and China's wishes for greater global peace.

Emblem

A stylization of the character "Jing," (for Beijing), forming a dancing human being with open arms. China's color red represents good luck and happiness. The emblem is called "Chinese Seal, Dancing Beijing."

Olympic motto

"Citius, Altius, Fortius" in Latin. The translation is Swifter, Higher, Stronger. The three words were proposed as the Olympic motto in 1894, the date of the International Olympic Committee creation. The motto was officially introduced at the Paris Olympics in 1924.

Mascots

The Five Fuwas (Five Friendlies), resembling playful children, correspond with the colors of the Olympic rings and carry a message of friendship. Each of their headpieces represents the elements of nature — sea, forest, fire, earth and sky. Beibei is the fish, Jingjing is the panda, Yingying is the Tibetan antelope, Huanhuan is the Olympic flame and Nini is the swallow. When their names are put together — Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni — they say "Welcome to Beijing."

New events

• BMX racing (bicycle motocross): The X-factor in the Olympics: 32 men and 16 women start from a 26-foot-high ramp and encounter turns, elevation changes and straights. Men and women will compete in separate races, starting from the same ramp but have slightly different courses. One lap takes about 35 seconds. The U.S. has four athletes competing, three men and one women. The event is taking place at the new Laoshan Bicycle Moto Cross (BMX) Venue. The 1,000-meter time trial for the men and 500-meter time trial for the women in cycling were eliminated to make way for the BMX racing events.

• 10K marathon swim: A test of speed and endurance: 25 men and 25 women in separate races will swim four 2.5-kilometer loops at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park. There are no lanes and swimmers may encounter irritating waves. The course is rectangular; swimmers will round large turn buoys and will be handed something to drink from "feeding stations," docks where their coaches stand. The race will take between 1 hour 50 minutes to 2 hours.

• Women's steeplechase: The 3,000-meter women's steeplechase includes solid barriers (similar to hurdles but they don't fall over) and water obstacles. The race takes about 10 minutes.

• Table tennis: Gone are the men's doubles and women's doubles competitions. In are men's team and women's team competitions, with three players from a country on each team. A team match consists of two singles matches, one doubles and two singles again (if necessary). Table tennis will be held in the Peking University Gymnasium.

• Fencing: The women's team saber and women's team foil are in. Men's team foil and women's team epee will not be included in the Olympics.

Newcomers

• The Marshall Islands: A former U.S. territory and nuclear testing site comprising atolls scattered across the Pacific. Pop. 62,000.

• Montenegro: Athletes from this state competed as part of Serbia and Montenegro in 2004, after the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia renamed itself Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegro declared itself an independent nation on June 3, 2006. Pop. 685,000.

• Tuvalu: Consists of nine coral atolls halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Pop. 12,000. May not be sending a team to compete in Beijing.

U.S. names to know

• Steven Lopez, Diana Lopez and Mark Lopez: Siblings headed to Beijing to compete in Taekwondo. Steve is a two-time Olympic champion after winning in 2000 and 2004. Mark and Diana will be competing in their first Olympics. Diana was an alternate in 2004. The eldest brother, Jean, is the coach. The Lopezes, dubbed the "First Family of Taekwondo," are the first trio of siblings from America to compete in the same Olympics since Edward, Richard and William Tritschler did it in gymnastics in 1904.

• Shawn Johnson: The reigning world champion in women's gymnastics. The 16-year-old claimed the national championship in May and finished first in the all-around during the trials. Nastia Liukin, from Parker, Texas, came in second.

• Sheila Taormina: The first woman to compete in three Olympics in three different sports. Taormina qualified for the Modern Pentathlon in Beijing. She previously competed in swimming — she won the gold in Atlanta — and triathlon.

• Michael Phelps: The swimmer who won six gold medals in the 2004 Olympics and seven in the world championships last year. He has a shot to win eight in China to break Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record of seven golds.

• Tyson Gay: The sprinter ran the fastest 100 meters ever — 9.68 seconds. But the time doesn't count as a world record because it was run with the help of a wind blowing at 4.1 meters per second. Anything above 2.0 is not allowed.

• Dara Torres: The oldest American swimmer to qualify for the Olympic Games: She's 41 and a mom of a 2-year-old. Torres has won nine Olympic medals in her career and is returning from her second retirement.

• Katie Hoff: The 19-year-old swimmer earned a spot in five individual races and at least one relay in the Games. She won three gold medals at the 2007 world championships.