- From the Tour de France winner to a mother-son duo, here's a look at the best international athletes to watch at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
From the world’s fastest man in his final Olympics to Brazilian stars on their home turf, the best athletes from around the world will be in Rio de Janeiro over the next three weeks ready to make history at the 2016 Summer Games. We’ve already introduced you to the athletes of Team USA, so here’s a look at the international stars to watch from Aug. 5 to 21:
Usain Bolt (Jamaica)—Track and field
As track and field’s dark age continues with rampant doping from Russia and allegations of corruption at the highest level of the sport’s governing body, the 6' 5" Jamaican superstar heads to his last Olympics, looking to put on a show that will put those troubles aside for at least a few seconds. Bolt could become the first man in history to win back-to-back-to-back gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4x100-meter relay, despite a hamstring injury in early July that forced him to pull out of the Jamaican track and field Olympic trials. He showed last summer that even early-season struggles are not enough to slow the world’s fastest man as he won three golds at the 2015 world championships.
His biggest rival will come in the form of America’s Justin Gatlin, who won gold in 2004 before serving a four-year doping ban from ’06 to ’10.
Kohei Uchimura (Japan)—Gymnastics
Uchimura can add another exclamation point to his legacy as the men’s gymnastics G.O.A.T by adding another Olympic gold medal to his collection. His gold medal from London looks nice next to his six-time world all-around gold medals. Last summer’s world championship title was even more impressive given that he battled a shoulder injury and also gave the Japanese men their first gold medal as a team since 1978. Japan has not won the all-around team title since 2004.
If Uchimura repeats, he would be the first all-around title to become the first man to do so since Japan’s Sawao Kato in 1972.
Chris Froome (Great Britain)—Cycling
The back-to-back Olympic champion is not finished this summer. Froome dominated the 2016 Tour De France and will attempt to improve upon his bronze medal in the time trial at the 2012 Olympics. Compatriot Bradley Wiggins was able to pull off the double in 2012, winning the Tour and time trial gold. A 241.5-kilometer course with 10 climbs and cobbled sections could favor Froome in the road race; single-day racing will be the tough part for him. After the Olympics, Froome will tackle the Vuelta a Espana.
Mitch Larkin (Australia)—Swimming
The Aussie is coming off a fantastic 2015 campaign in which he took gold in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke at last year’s world championships and earned FINA swimmer of the year honors. His biggest opponent will be Ryan Murphy of the United States, which has won the last five Olympic medals in the 100-meter backstroke.
Om Yun-chol (North Korea)—Weightlifting
Om has been one of the most dominant in his 56-kilogram (120 pound) weight class. He took gold at the Summer Games in London as he lifted 293.0 kilograms (646 pounds)—that’s right, three times his body weight. In the years since London, he has claimed gold in his respective weight class at the 2013, ’14 and ’15 World Championships. If he wins gold again, he may credit North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un for his success as he has in the past.
After falling short in the semifinal at the 2014 World Cup, Brazil wants to deliver a global championship victory in front of their home crowd. Neymar heads the team looking to end the country’s drought for gold at the Olympics. Brazil took silver to Mexico in a thrilling 2–1 final in London. This one is redemption for 2012 and ’14.
Caster Semenya (South Africa)—Track and field
Semenya rose to prominence and notoriety when she won gold in the women’s 800 meters at the 2009 world championships at just 18 years old. The victory only raised questions about her sex, and the IAAF, track and field’s governing body, subjected her to gender testing. Results revealed that she has hypoandrogenism, which produces high levels of natural testosterone within her body. The Court of Arbitration for Sport required Semenya to undergo hormonal therapy to bring her testosterone levels to “normal” and as a result, her performances dropped. After winning silver at the 2012 Olympics behind a doped up Russian, Semenya was barely a factor at the ’13 and ’15 world championships.
However, last summer, the CAS reversed their decision; Semenya no longer needs to adjust her testosterone levels, and as a result, she’s back with blazing speed. Semenya boasts a new personal best of 1:55.33 in the 800 meters and is the easy favorite for gold. She could also win the 400 meters, which she is also expected to contest. She could break the 800 meter world record of 1:53.28, but how will she outrun the controversy that will no doubt follow her victory?
Talita and Larissa (Brazil)—Beach Volleyball
Beach volleyball may come down to a USA vs. Brazil final, which will be a must-watch. The Brazilian duo features Talita, a three-time Olympian, and Larissa, the all-time leader in FIVB gold medals. After winning bronze at the 2012 Olympics, Larissa briefly retired from the sport only to return and pair up with Talita; the pair won the 2015 world title and is currently riding a 61-match winning streak. They stand in the way of Kerri Walsh-Jennings’s fourth gold medal.
Lydia Ko (New Zealand)—Golf
Ko, the No. 1 female golfer in the world, is the favorite to win the first Olympic golf competition since 1904. She won her first professional tournament at the Bing Lee/Samsung Women's NSW Open in January 2012, when she was just 14 years old. She did not just stop there, also winning the Canadian Women’s Open to become the youngest LPGA Tour champion. She turned professional in 2014 and quickly soared to the top of the rankings. Olympic gold is just another box to check on her already successful career.
Cate and Bronte Campbell (Australia)—Swimming
After last summer’s success at the world championships, where Bronte took gold and Cate took bronze in the 100-meter freestyle, they look to make history by becoming the first becoming the first siblings pair to share the Olympic podium in an individual swimming race. Cate’s 2016 season includes the 100-meter freestyle world record, which she set at the Australian Grand Prix meet with a time of 52.06.
Nino Salukvadze (Georgia)—Shooting
Salukvadze and her son Tsotne Machavariani will be the first mother and son combo to compete at the Olympics. Rio will be her eighth Olympic team, a mark only one other woman in history has accomplished. Salukvadze made her debut at the 1988 Summer Games as a member of the Soviet Union and won a gold medal in the 25–meter sporting pistol competition and a silver medal in the 10-meter air pistol competition. She was also member of the Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona before representing Georgia at the ’96, 2000, ’04 and ’08 and ’12 Olympics. She added a bronze medal in the 10-meter air pistol competition at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Her son will be making his Olympic debut.
Sarah Menezes (Brazil)—Judo
Menezes will attempt to defend her gold medal in the 48-kilogram weight class when she made history as the first gold medalist for a Brazilian woman in an individual sport. Since London, she has continued to win at Grand Slam competitions, the Pan American Games and Miliatry World Games. She heads to RIo ranked fourth in the world for her weight-class.