By SAM CHEN
It’s that time of quadrennial year again. As the summer of 2016 quickly approaches, students’ thoughts begin to wander toward relaxation and freedom. But the real highlight of this summer will be marked by an immense, unique celebration all the way in South America. In under two months, the fanfare will sound, the torches will be lit, and the games will begin. Welcome to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!
No matter which other countries you might be rooting for, the Olympics never fails to provide excitement for all. Talented American athletes will have breathtaking performances and set spectacular new records. With that, here are some notable competitions for the US squad, both at team and individual levels, to keep track of from the sofa starting on August 5.
Swimming: Michael Phelps makes his dramatic return to the Olympic pools after considering retirement back in 2012. Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history with 22 medals, attempts to prove that his turn in the spotlight is not over at Rio. Joining him are Cullen Jones, who is only the second African-American swimmer to get an Olympic gold, and Ryan Lochte, a celebrated 11-time Olympic champion. As Lochte has four world records of his own to show, the two veteran swimmers will both have speed and tremendous upside for Rio. Caeleb Dressel and Michael Andrew are worth putting on your radar, too. Both under 20, the two represent the next great generation of Team USA swimming, along with Reece Whitley. Already renowned Missy Franklin, who shattered the women’s 200m backstroke record in London, and newcomer Katie Ledecky take on the women’s heats in an effort to have America dominate the podium again. In total, the U.S. is sending its best 50 to the pools. Look forward to a splash of records this summer as a new generation of swimmers becomes remarkably faster.
Gymnastics: From all-around gymnasts to bars specialists, this international sport just does not get enough credit for the difficulty, skill, and teamwork needed to succeed. After a sensational performance by the Fierce Five in London four years ago, only two members of that women’s team remain. Regardless, this obstacle will not stop Gabby Douglas, known as “Flying Squirrel,”and Aly Raisman from leading the Americans to the top. Viewers should eagerly await the Olympic-debut of young, unstoppable Simone Biles as well as team-hopefuls MyKayla Skinner and Brenna Dowell. The male gymnast group will also be stacked with talented pieces. Sam Mikulak, who has greatly improved since the London Games, leads the Senior National Team in a search for first at Rio. Also on hand will be floor and vault specialist Jake Dalton and Steven Legendre.
Track and Field: In the Olympic sports category with the most events, an abundance of athletes will be showcased. If you like broken records, track and field is always the sport to watch besides swimming. Ashton Eaton is already considered a strong contender for the decathlon, which is an arduous combination of ten other events. Long-distance runner Galen Rupp aims to finally win the gold medal this summer in the marathon, while Justin Gatlin will be sprinting in the 100 m event and 4×100 relay race. On the women’s side, Brittney Reese is on the defense for yet another gold in the long jump. Her teammate, Allyson Felix, who holds more World medals than any other American, focuses on the 200m sprint this time around. But perhaps it is the iconic Usain Bolt who deserves the eyes of every viewer. While targeting a world record in the 200m race, he is also considering retirement at the end of the Games.
Basketball: A new generation of NBA superstars is leading the charge for the men at Rio. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last tournament with Team USA will likely feature some new additions to the 2012 “dream team” as postseason fatigue, injuries, and retirement take other superstars out of the mix. Meanwhile, the women’s national team has largely stayed intact since the 2012 Olympics with only three new stars coming into the spotlight this year at Rio. Geno Auriemma, a legend of winning, is at the helm of a full-speed ship once again. Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Maya Moore, and the rest of the talented team look to extend their streak of exceptional international play.
Beach Volleyball: The greatest women’s beach volleyball duo in history was broken up in Misty May-Treanor’s retirement. But half of it, Kerri Walsh Jennings, is still going strong. With her new teammate April Ross, the already-thriving partnership faces a challenge in helping Jennings win her fourth Olympic gold medal. Among their challengers will be Jennifer Kessy and new partner Emily Day. On the men’s side, Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson will be fighting to bring Team USA back to the medal stand after a no-show in men’s beach volleyball back in 2012 at London.
Soccer: For the third time in the past four Olympic cycles, the men’s traditional U-23 squad did not qualify for this summer’s Olympic tournament after losing in March to Colombia, so only the women’s team will travel to Rio. Goalkeeper Hope Solo returns in light of being the top goalkeeper in the Women’s World Cup last year. There is no question that she, along with teammates, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, will be ready to take on the rest of the world following the team’s tremendous victory over Japan in 2012. Coached by Jill Ellis, we can only hope that a hat trick in 16 minutes is not the last we see out of the USWNT. Other notable players on the roster include co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn and star defender Meghan Klingenberg.
The events mentioned are only a few out of a vast 306, and there are more than 40 sports to follow. For more information on any sports that were excluded, you can visit the official Team USA webpage. Over 10,000 athletes will be participating at Rio alone this year, with the U.S. sending about 500. There’s no doubt the tone has been set for an intense and dynamic first two weeks of August. So while you might be keeping an eye on those tireless days left of school,