Let the games begin! The XXXI Olympiad, more commonly known as Rio 2016, kicks off Friday with the opening ceremonies. Get ready for 16 days of Bob Costas, getting way too into sports you’ve never heard of (trampoline viewing party, anyone?) and the NBC Olympic theme playing on constant loop in your head. Kidding aside, the Olympics are a ton of fun, but with 306 events, 28 sports and 24 hours in your day it’s impossible to keep up with everything. I compiled a shortlist of seven things to watch during Rio 2016.
Final Lap for Phelps?
Michael Phelps’ fifth Olympics may be his last. The most decorated Olympian of all time, who has won 22 medals including 18 gold, has had his fair share of issues out of the pool. In 2014, a DUI arrest resulted in a six-month suspension from USA Swimming competitions. Phelps has come back strong, winning the 100-meter and 200-meter butterflies and 200-meter individual medley at the Olympic Trials to become the first American male swimmer to qualify for a fifth summer games.
First noticed in Brazil last year, the Zika virus, which can cause stillbirths and spontaneous abortion in infected pregnant woman, has cast a cloud over Rio 2016. Researchers from the Yale School of Public Health estimate that the disease will infect 80 or fewer of the nearly 500,000 people who will visit Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics, and only 3-37 people will bring the virus back to their home countries. Still, it hasn’t stopped athletes from expressing concern and some of the world’s top golfers including Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, from withdrawing from the Games.
Breaking Down Fences
The Olympics have always been about more than gold, silver and bronze. They break down—and sometimes exploit—cultural barriers. Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer from New Jersey, will do just that when she becomes the first American woman to wear a hijab to compete for the United States Olympic Team. It’s not something she takes lightly. Muhammad has used her platform to speak out against anti-Muslim sentiments, telling reporters in April: “It’s unfortunate that we’re in this moment, especially during the presidential election, where people feel so comfortable voicing their dislike or the discontent for people of a particular background, a particular race or a particular religion.”
In the unpredictable world of sports, the US women’s basketball team is the closest thing to a lock there is. The squad will land in Rio boasting seven gold medals, a 58-3 record in Olympic competition and a 41-game Olympic winning streak dating back to the 1992 Barcelona bronze medal game. Watch out for Syosset native Sue Bird, who is likely making her final Olympic appearance.
The Dream Team
Those going through NBA withdrawal after a captivating Finals can get their hoops fixes this month. Carmelo Anthony, who helped spearhead the 2008 Beijing Redeem Team, will look to become the first man in Olympic history to win three basketball gold medals.
Reversing the World Cup Curse?
A year after winning the Women’s World Cup for the first time since 1999, the US women’s soccer team will vie for their fifth Olympic gold medal in six Games. I’ll give the bad news first: None of the previous five reigning World Cup champions have gone on to win gold at the Olympics. Good news: Rockville Centre’s Crystal Dunn, who is tied for third in goals with three during 2016 international competition, will help lead to charge.
Kenyan distance runner Eliud Kipchoge enters Rio having won six of his last seven marathons, including a first-place finish in 2:03:04 at the London Marathon in April that was eight seconds shy of the world record. Kipchoge has claimed bronze and silver medals in the 5,000 meters, but a gold medal in the 26.2-mile trek may put him on Mount Rushmore of marathoners.