With 306 medal events on the Rio 2016 Olympic calendar, it´s impossible to follow all the action coming in droves from Brazil over the next fortnight. Daily, there will be multiple alternatives that cater to every profile of sports fan, but a few selected competitions stand above the rest, either from the magnitude of the sides in battle, the significance of the potential victors on the broader heritage left from this specific edition, or the traditional media coverage expected. With these criteria in mind, I tried to mine some of the most relevant events that are on the program, and adjusted to collect Brazil’s best chances of producing riveting displays for the hollering native audiences on site.
I’m obviously spitballing on the athletes or teams that will reach the decisive encounters on these events, and undoubtedly my own predilections guided a few of the choices, but I believe the list below is sensible enough to pass the sniffing test.
Team competitions are in vast majority in this article as they are easier to pinpoint (for example, if you don’t follow fencing on a regular basis, it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff on a program containing dozen of events,) but keep in mind that on the final two parts of this preview I’ll dive into the must-watch events of the Olympics’ two blue-ribbon sports, Swimming and Athletics.
So, in chronological order (all hours in BST, four more than in Rio):
Cycling Men’s road race, 1.30 pm, August 6
The major event of day 1 of the Olympics will see the world’s best road cyclists compete on a 256.4km course that passes through Rio de Janeiro’s landmarks. With two circuits that include cobble sections and a total of 10 climbs, counting a 8.5km ascension that is run three times, there’s an excellent chance the historically chaotic race is decided by a highly selective group of riders equipped to power in the hilly parkour. The 20km flat run-in to the finish may prove too much for Chris Froome, who dreams of becoming the first man to complete a Tour de France-Olympic Gold medal double, but other Grand Tour contenders have a major opportunity, including Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who always seems to be the bridesmaid when wearing his national colours, or Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali.
The reigning World Champion, Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, will be absent to focus on the mountain bike competition, but one-day specialists like Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet and Phillipe Gilbert or France’s Julian Alaphilippe can pose major threats if they’re not eliminated uphill. With the traditional powerhouses Spain, France, Italy and Belgium (plus Great Britain) possessing a pair of team leaders, the dark horses come from the loaded rosters of Colombia and Netherlands, where every man can legitimately envision succeeding Kazakhstan’s Alexander Vinokourov, the winner in London 2012.
Gymnastics Women’s team final, 8 pm, August 9
In one of the tent-pole events of every Olympics, the USA’s girls want to repeat as Olympic Champions, something they’ve never been able to do. After dominating the team competition in the 2014 and 2015 World Championships, the Americans are the clear frontrunners possessing a unit highlighted by Simone Biles, the brightest gymnast of the last few seasons, and the returning pair of Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, two multiple medallists in London.
The USA, which took five of the last seven world titles, edged Russia four years ago and the successors of the Soviet Union, an historic powerhouse, are once again a strong contender, while Romania, bronze medallists in 2012 and podium-bound in every Olympics since 1976, did not qualify this time. A prominent position is thus opened for China and Great Britain, respectively second and third at the 2015 Worlds.
Tennis Men’s Singles Final, 4 pm, August 14
For a competition that prematurely lost half of the top ten players in the ATP rankings largely due to concerns about the Zika virus, a tournament-saving Final pitting Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray would be a welcome sight for tennis officials looking to save face. With Roger Federer out injured, the Serbian’s quest for a career-crowning Olympic gold medal is the storyline the game needs, and nothing looks better than a potential five-set thriller against the defending Champion.
Anything else, except for an unforeseen run by a homeland boy, would put the event squarely on the backburner in the middle of the Olympic festivities, and cast doubt over the sport’s future inclusion in light of the masses of players evidently disregarding the competition.
Beach Volleyball Women’s Final, 4 am, August 17
With the majestic backdrop of Copacabana Beach, this midnight fest may turn into an absolute classic if the Brazilian pair that has dominated international competition makes the final. Larissa Franca, maybe the best beach volleyball player of all-time, has won everything except for the Olympic title, and halted retirement in 2014 to join forces with Talita Antunes in route to Rio. The pair amassed 61-straight victories topping in the 2015 World Tour Finals title, and reaches the Olympics as the prohibitive favourites, determined to give Brazil the first gold medal in this event since 1996.
Larissa was a bronze medallist in London behind two American pairs, with Kerri Walsh Jennings collecting his third consecutive title alongside Misty May-Treanor by defeating April Ross and Jen Kessy. With May-Treanor’s abandon, Jennings partnered with Ross and they appear poised to become the main challengers to Franca and Antunes. The Brazilians hold a 5-1 head-to-head record and will count on the rowdy home crowd, but don’t discount the experience of Jennings, going into her fifth Olympic Games.
Football Women’s Final, 9:30 pm, August 19
In five previous Olympic tournaments, never the reigning World Champions were able to add the Olympic title the following season. The USA will try to do just that and since they’ve won the last three editions and four of five, the odds seem to be in their favour.
With a roster slightly retooled and revitalized from the squad that triumphed in the 2015 World Cup, the Americans’ more dangerous opponents are the hosts, silver medallist in 2008, Germany, the three-time bronze medallists and twice World Champions, and France, an enormously talented ensemble that has mind-bogglingly failed to reach the podium in successive international competitions. Japan, the finalists in 2012, are shockingly absent after being surpassed by Australia and China on Asia’s qualifying tournament.
Football Men’s Final, 9:30 pm, August 20
The future of men’s soccer in the Olympics (at least in the current stripped-down configuration) may well depend on a long run from the hosts, with Brazil desperate to complete their mantle adding an elusive gold medal that escaped four years ago at Wembley. With a side once again led by Neymar but significantly less potent than in 2012, the hosts will be on a mission to exorcise the demons of the humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat on home soil during the 2014 World Cup.
Incidentally, Germany may cross their path in the SF should both teams win their respective groups, and a possible rematch with Mexico or a derby with Argentina might coalesce in the final. Either way, its gold or bust for Brazil and the home boys missing the Final would significantly decrease the relevancy of the match to be contested at the iconic Maracanã Stadium.
Volleyball Men’s Final, 17:15 pm, August 21
One of the hottest tickets in the Olympics is the Volleyball men’s event, where the hosts have a great chance to reclaim the title after the gold medals of 1992 and 2004, and the silver medals of 1984, 2008 and 2012.
A powerhouse boasting several World Cup, World League and World Championship triumphs since the turn of the century, Brazil will nonetheless face stiff competition from the likes of Russia, the reigning Olympic Champions, the USA, winners in 2008 and the current World Cup Champions, Poland, the World Championship holders, and Italy, bronze medallists in London 2012.
Men’s basketball Final, 19:45 pm, August 21
The last event to complete at the Olympic Games should once again affirm USA’s basketball domination, with the complement of NBA stars massively favourite to collect a sixth title in seven editions since the “Dream Team” shook the 1992 Games held in Barcelona. Despite missing a plethora of the World’s finest players, the Americans – unbeaten internationally since 2006 – should cruise through the competition much like they did in the last two Olympics, where they defeated Spain in the final. With the eternal Paul Gasol still leading the way, the Iberian side may once again reach the decisive game despite some important absences (NBA All-Stars Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka).
However, other teams are vying to outdo the European Champions, from their continental counterparts France, Serbia, Croatia and Lithuania to South America’s Argentina, Champions in 2004, and Brazil, which obtained their last medal in 1964.