It hardly seems five minutes since London was basking in the glory of world attention whilst we hosted the 30th Olympiad. But somewhat astoundingly, London 2012 was a full four years ago now. The 31st Olympiad – Rio 2016 – is about to kick off. So what are the big stories in the run-up to the games? Will Team GB ‘medal’ as much as we did in London? How will the medal table look without the Russian Federation in Athletics – with appeals pending in rowing and weightlifting should they not manage to overturn their bans? Will the USA conquer all as usual – or can the Chinese overhaul them to take the top spot? And will Usain Bolt be able to hold on to his 100m Gold for an unprecedented 3rd successive games. Here’s our preview of Rio 2016 – and some of the big stories…
The Opening Ceremony
Rio is world famous for the Carnival. So bet your bottom dollar that’ll feature heavily in the opening ceremony. Set for the evening of Friday 5th August Rio’s opening extravaganza begins at 23oohrs UTC (that’s Midnight UK time) – so if you want to watch it live plan for a late one.
Don’t expect it to live up to the clever cultural comment that Danny Boyle pulled off for London 2012. That’s because creative director Fernando Meirelles is putting it together on 10% of the budget of 2012. As he points out – spending a fortune on a frivolous ceremony in a country where much of the population don’t have access to sanitation or decent education – wouldn’t be right. Expect this ceremony to be original, rather than opulent.
The Greatest number of Sports
No other large sporting event comes close to the Olympics in bringing together so many sports into one overall competition. The Summer Olympics brings together 33 codified sports into one huge sporting celebration – that’s over 400 events crammed into just two weeks. The worlds best from Athletics, Cycling, Tennis, Rowing, Equestrian, Swimming, Diving, Shooting, Archery – to name but a few – will be heading to Rio to battle it out for medal honours. There will be over 200 nations represented. Given that the world only has 195 sovereign states it means that we see some of etc smaller dependancies and overseas territories represented – to the delight of the Olympic audience – as it often means stories of triumph for supreme effort over inherent ability and sporting giant slaying of the most dramatic order.
With so many sports there are lots of Blue-Riband events – those are the most prestigious event in each sport category. The biggest event of the games is the Men’s 100m sprint. At sub – 10 second it’s probably the shortest too. Usain Bolt comes in as one of the favourites, and having been the first man in Olympic history to achieve the double-triple (winning the 100, 100 & 4 x 100 relay across two Olympics) will be aiming for the triple-triple in 2016.
In swimming it’s the 100m Freestyle that’s the blue-riband. Australian Cameron McEvoy is the in-form man coming in to Rio 2016. Can he overhaul world champion, China’s Nig Zetao? It’s likely though that in 2016 most of the poolside eyes and TV coverage will be reserved for Olympic legend Michael Phelps – with 18 golds is the most decorated Olympian of all time – competing in his 5th games, can he break the magic 20 barrier.
In rowing it’s the ‘Mens Eights’. Raced over a 2 kilometre stretch, the first Olympic Race was held in 1900 – and was won by the USA. Despite much of the rowing challenges before us in 2012 – Team GB had to settle for bronze in the Men’s Eight.
Stadia and Facilities
Brazil has been busy modernising or building the various stadia and facilities for the games. Despite plenty of scare stories over the past 18 months that they wouldn’t be complete it all looks as as if the facilities will all be ready in good time for opening on August 5th. In another nod to a low budget Olympics, 2016 largely utilises stadia that already exist. Both the Maracanã and the Olympic Stadium (Engerhåo) existed already – the latter having been built for 2007’s Pan American Games.
Other venues include the Olympic Velodrome – which already existed but has been comprehensively rebuilt to accommodate more spectators and improve facilities to Olympic standard, the Maria Lenk Aquatics centre which will play host to swimming, diving and synchronised swimming, whilst the temporary construction of the Deodoro Park Equestrian centre will be home to horse-back sports of show jumping, dressage and cross-country (left).
Doping always seems to cast a huge shadow over the Olympics – there’s always a handful of individuals that flout the rules and get caught. But 2016 will be unprecedented, you’ll see no Russian Athletics team competing. And that’s a ban that last-minute appeals and deliberations could yet be extended to other Olympic sports that Russia is set to compete in. New analysis techniques have shown what’s been described as state sponsored doping by Russia – during London 2012 & Beijing 2008 – resulting in a ban on the entire national team indefinitely in athletics. Individual athletes who can prove they are clean are being allowed to compete under the International Olympic Committee flag.