The 2016 Summer Olympic Games are set to run from August 5-21 but the road to Rio is a rocky one. Fraught with severe political and economic problems that threaten completion of some venues and reaching mass transit goals, today’s picture is a far cry from that one in 2009 when Rio won the right to host the 2016 games. Then the country was flush with cash and it was predicted by The Economist magazine that Brazil would soon be the world’s fifth largest economy, moving ahead of Britain and France.
But in spite of political impeachment and corruption scandals, brutal economic disaster, rising crime rates, lack of decent sanitation and dangerously polluted water, and now the mosquito-borne Zika virus, the Olympic Games must … and will … go on. So for the 19 days of competition in 48 sport disciplines at 306 events being played in 37 different venues, 206 countries (at least for now) are participating for Rio medals – 136 medals for women, 161 medals for men and 9 mixed medals. There are two new sports added this year to replace baseball and softball which were dropped in 2005, golf and 7s rugby union.
Unlike Ben & Jerry’s Rocky Road containing chocolate chips (OK, chunks), Rio’s Rocky Road will feature “chips” of a different kind – new state-of-the-art technological innovations like virtual reality, video reviews, GPS and underwater digital lap counters that will transform the experience for athletes in volleyball, beach volleyball, swimming, canoe sprint and rowing, archery, shooting and weightlifting. And for fans, the opening and closing ceremonies plus one event per day will be broadcast in virtual reality.
Another new device is a wearable bracelet from VISA so fans can pay for goods and services without carrying a card. Technology will also help protect U.S. Olympic rowers who are being given new high-tech training suits containing anti-microbial features. This is to protect them from the water pollution in Rio where testing by the Associated Press has shown that the lagoon being used by Olympic rowing and canoeing events is still heavily contaminated.
And in an attempt to combat an outbreak of the Zika virus among athletes, Kinsa, a healthcare product provider is donating its trademark Smart Stick Thermometer to Team USA’s Olympic athletes and companions. The thermometer and its accompanying app provide an individual with his or her temperature readings as well as symptom tracking and next step recommendations based on the user’s age and health indicators.
In terms of athletes, not all the Olympic trials have been held at the time of this writing so there are bound to be changes in who will and won’t be competing. The whole controversy over banning all or some of the Russian athletes over an alleged 2014 doping scheme by Russia at the Sochi Games plus those athletes whose drug retests from the 2008 games in Beijing and the 2012 games in London isn’t solved yet. When you factor in all the countries involved and the various sports, we simply can’t cover them all. So the Compete team has picked some athletes and teams we know that the majority of our readers are interested in and included maybe a new face or two. We hope you enjoy it!
Men’s Soccer (Football)
Unfortunately, the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team’s playoff loss to Columbia back in March ended the USA Olympic bid for 2016.
The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) will be playing starting August 3 and it will be without retired Abby Wambach and pregnant Sydney Leroux. Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe have both been injured but Lloyd is ready to prove herself and Rapinoe, still rehabbing from a torn ACL, says her Olympic dream is still alive, tweeting, “This blonde ain’t gone!” And Hope Solo will be there in spite of her early plans to skip it due to fear of the Zika virus.
Although a new sport this year, Olympic golf has so far proved unpopular with fans and many of the world’s top golfers. World No. 12-ranked South African Branden Grace has withdrawn just days after World No. 4 Ireland’s Rory McIlroy withdrew due to Zika fears, the mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects in infants born to infected women. McIlroy’s automatic replacement for the U.S. team is Graeme McDowell but his wife is soon expecting their second child. McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champ said once again he won’t play or travel outside the U.S.
Also not competing are Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Vijay Singh, Char Schwartzel, maybe even No.1 Jason Day. International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Barry Maister has said that if Olympic golf can’t attract its best players, “then it simply wouldn’t be welcomed back into the competition.” Only time will tell on this one.
Team USA Basketball has announced its 12-man squad: Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan at guard; Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes at forward; DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, center. The team is a heavy favorite to win a third successive gold medal under coach Mike Krzyzewski who, after a decade in charge will cede his post to Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs following Rio. George, Green, Thompson, Cousins, Butler and Jordan are making their Olympic debuts.
Chicago Bulls star Pau Gasol has finally put his Zika fears aside to play for the Spanish National Team in his fourth Olympic Games. “My commitment to the national team is greater than my fears over what might happen. My feelings of passion and responsibility toward my national team, my sport and my teammates are huge,” he wrote in the Spanish newspaper, Marca. He’s still not decided whether or not he’ll freeze his sperm in advance as he first announced.
But a number of former NBA superstars have opted out due to injury and wear and tear. Coming off the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals win and his MVP win, LeBron James is taking some time to rest his body. Since the beginning of the 2010-11 season, he’s played approximately 2,500 more minutes than the next player on the list, the equivalent of about 70 more games than anyone else in the NBA. Also staying home will be Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard and Steph Curry as well as the ever-competitive but now retired Kobe Bryant
Team USA Basketball has announced its 12-woman squad featuring nine returning Olympic gold medalists. Led by three-time gold medalists and tri-captains Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, the team also boasts two-time Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles; and 2012 Olympic gold medalists Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. And last but most certainly not least, competing in their first Olympic Games are Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart.
Head coach is Geno Auriemma, the championship-winning head coach of the UConn Huskies along with assistant coaches Cheryl Reeve from the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and Dawn Staley of the University of South Carolina. Needless to say, with this much star power much is expected of the five-time defending Olympic gold-medal-winning team.
Tennis star and defending men’s champion Andy Murray is planning on going to Rio. His first child was born in February but he’s always been positive about going to Rio and has always kept up with the latest medical advice. Roger Federer is also going, saying “I’ll put mosquito spray on my body and take the precautions I have to.” He was runner-up to Murray in London and a doubles gold medalist in the 2008 games in Beijing. Rafael Nadal will also go and serve as Spain’s Olympic flag bearer.
Those not competing in Rio are Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem, John Isner, Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic, all ranked within the top 25 players in the world, with Thiem at No. 15th, Isner at No. 19th and Lopez at No. 23rd. Most of these players list scheduling conflicts as the cause for them skipping Rio but Isner also revealed that because players aren’t awarded points at the Olympics, it “was a pretty big factor” in his deciding to skip the games.
For fans of the Williams sisters, the good news is that Serena and Venus are gearing up for another go at Olympic gold in women’s doubles. They’ve started to play a few matches and according to Venus, “We’re back in action, which is great news for us. We’ll have a chance to really continue to get better. Our goal is to peak in Rio. But both of us on the court is a good combination any time.” Between them, they’ve won 13 Grand Slam doubles championships and three gold medals together. Who won’t be in Rio is Maria Sharapova due to a two-year doping ban for taking meldonium; instead, she’ll be working on a degree at Harvard Business School while continuing to appeal her ban.
While the Williams sisters acknowledge there are risks due to the Zika virus, they talk about taking preventive measures, noting that the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has sent “how to” instructions on taking precautions to all its players. Also going to the games are World No. 9 Madison Keys and two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova who says she’s not afraid of Zika, either.
It could be a changing of the guard in men’s swimming this year. Mention Olympic swimming and two names generally come to mind for the men – Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Three-time Olympian Lochte is now the oldest swimmer in the finals, turning 32 on August 3 and still suffering the effects of a groin injury. At the recent Olympic swim trials he lost his spot in the 400 IM (individual medley) to Chase Kalisz, training partner of Michael Phelps. And Phelps, owner of the world and American records in the event, didn’t even participate in the 400 IM and also dropped the 200-meter freestyle race.
At age 30, Phelps is the winner of 18 medals, the most medals in all of modern day Olympic history, and Rio makes his fifth Olympic Games. But he’s already looking to his future without swimming, seeing this as his second farewell tour. Add in the facts that he and his fiancée just had a baby boy and are planning a wedding right after Rio, and it appears there will be room for some new swimmers to finally have an opportunity to stake an Olympic claim.
Final trials are yet to be held at this point and it’s a good bet that Phelps, Lochte, Nathan Adrian and Matt Grevers will be part of the team. But some other familiar names you may see include Chase Kalisz, Tyler Clary, Conor Dwyer, Caeleb Dressel, Zane Grothe, Jordan Wilimovsky, Anthony Ervin, Josh Schneider and Connor Jaeger.
The “pool” of immediately recognizable women swimmers is bigger than the men’s team – Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer could all be part of one or more events for the U.S. women’s team, backed up by a group of seasoned veterans and some notable rookies.
Ledecky, who won gold in London for the 800 meter is considered the dominant force in women’s swimming today. Extremely focused and goal oriented, she’ll be doing all the freestyle events at this year’s Olympic trials – from 50 meter to 800 meter and she currently holds eight of the top 10 all-time performances in the women’s 400 LCM freestyle. Michael Phelps has said that “Her stoke is phenomenal, how she transitions, and now the walls are great, her kick is great. She does the work, and it shows.”
Another one to watch? Dana Vollmer, the 28-year-old self-described “Momma on a Mission,” is working to become the first American swimmer to earn a medal after having a child. This winner of four gold medals and three world records is best known for breaking the 100 meter butterfly world record and becoming the first woman to swim it in under 56 seconds. Just 13 months after having a baby, the girl who was diagnosed with a heart condition at age 14 is back in the pool and has already qualified for Rio.
Like the men, final trials for the women are yet to be held, but other names you might recognize as part of the final women’s team include Natalie Coughlin, Amanda Weir, Abbey Weitzeil, Jessica Hardy, Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith, Melanie Margalis, Kelsi Worrell, Katie Meili, Lilly King, Shannon Vreeland, Elizabeth Beisel and Maya DiRado.
Sam Mikulak, Jake Dalton, Alex Naddour, Chris Brooks and John Orozco are the five men representing Team USA in gymnastics; ranging in age from 23-29, three of them are already Olympians. Last month Mikulak, who was on the 2012 London team, became the first man to win four straight all-around national titles in 16 years and he can help the team in five areas – floor, parallel bars, pommel horse, still rings and vault, and in team competition he may also be able to help on high bar. The oldest guy is Brooks who, at age 29 tweeted, “Old guy’s still got it!” when he found out he made the team. He’s a plus on both high bar and parallel bars and is also one the best vaulters on the team.
Another veteran of the London Games is Jake Dalton and he’s being depended on for his expertise in the floor exercise and the vault where he’s the strongest; he’s also good on the still rings. Although he has no prior Olympic experience, Alex Naddour is strong on the pommel horse which is the weakest event for the U.S. men. The team will also count on him during the floor exercise and still rings and maybe even on vault.
This team’s selection was undoubtedly the most emotionally-charged moment of the Olympic trials so far. As the last man chosen, John Orozco broke down in tears, a release from his experiences over the past 16 months. On Valentine’s Day last year his mother, who was also his best friend, died unexpectedly. And then that June he tore his Achilles tendon for the second time in his athletic career and it felt like his life was falling apart. But during these Olympic trials, his high bar routine clinched a place on the team. He’s another veteran from the London Games with the high bar as his strongest event. Other areas where he can help are parallel bars and potentially the pommel horse. This is a team with a lot of heart.
Perhaps one of the best competitions you’ll see during these games is the U.S. women’s gymnastics. This team is deep in talent overall and in an even higher stratosphere is Simone Biles, the 19-year-old who has now won her fourth national all-round competition as well as the last three world titles, often by large margins. Like Orozco, she’s also had to overcome adversity. Born to a mother addicted to drugs and alcohol, she was part of the foster care system until she was adopted by her maternal grandfather and his wife. She is absolutely in a class by herself! Don’t miss this opportunity to watch a performance unlike any other.
While the five-woman team hasn’t been selected yet, Biles is a for certain and it’s almost a lock for Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, part of the Fierce Five medal winners from the London Games to be part of the team. Other possible members are Madison Kocian and new kid on the block Laurie Hernandez, making her first appearance in the senior’s division competition and showing in no uncertain terms that she’s equal to the task of keeping up with her older, seasoned teammates.
Making the final team selection will be Martha Karolyi in her current role as the U.S. National Team Coordinator for the women’s program. Under her watchful eye, the program has had unprecedented success. That’s not surprising since she’s the other half of the legendary Romanian coaching team with her husband Bela Karolyi. Together they’ve coached some of the greatest gymnasts in Olympic history – Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, Kim Zmeskai and Kerri Strug. This current group of gymnasts will be the last to have her guidance, though since she’s retiring following the Rio Games, joining her husband who officially retired in 1996 but who often acts as a commentator and announcer with NBC or at USA gymnastics meets.
To be an Olympian requires dedication and sacrifice few athletes are willing to make. And once their years of competition are over, many Olympians continue to consciously live the ideals of the Olympic movement for the rest of their lives, leaving a legacy that goes far beyond sports. Here are just a few Olympians we all felt warranted a mention. Who are your favorite Olympians? Please feel free to share them with us at [email protected]
• Muhammad Ali, Boxing
• Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, Decathalon
• Greg Louganis, Diving
• Pat Summitt, Basketball.
By Connie Wardman and the Compete Team
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