With the announcement of the women’s gymnastics team on Sunday, the last of the United States Olympic trials is now complete. Rio 2016 is just around the corner. Indeed, while the opening ceremony will take place on Aug. 5, the first action of the Games will begin two days earlier, now just three weeks away.
Perhaps then attention will begin to focus on the athletes rather than what has been the most turbulent buildup to an Olympic Games in memory. From a political crisis that threatens the impeachment of President Dilma Roussef to a financial crisis, a doping scandal and the Zika virus, Brazil has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons over recent months.
Even by the standards of pre-Olympic stories, which without fail center on the fear that the Games will be a disaster, Rio de Janeiro is having it rough. This time the fears have also cost the participation of leading athletes. Thus far, though, those that have withdrawn are almost entirely from the world of men’s golf. Earlier this week Jordan Spieth joined the rest of the world’s top four ranked players – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy – in pulling out, citing health concerns.
The withdrawals put the future of golf in the Olympics under threat, having only returned to the Games after a gap of 112 years. Golf is one of two new sports that will be contested in 2016, with ruby also returning for the first time since 1924.
A total sports will feature at the Olympics, with 41 separate disciplines. In all, more than 10,000 athletes will be vying for 301 gold medals. Four years ago in London, the United States claimed 46 golds to top the medal table ahead of China, reversing the top two from Beijing in 2008. With China and Great Britain enjoying significant boosts to their medal counts when competing at home, Brazil will be hoping to follow suit and improve on a return of just 17 medals last time out.
Soccer, as the sport Brazil is most famous for, will unquestionably provide one of its best hopes for gold. And it is soccer that will begin the 2016 Olympics. Two days before the opening ceremony, Sweden will take on South Africa at the Estádio Olímpico, or Engenhão, in the women’s soccer tournament. Five more matches follow that game before eight games in the men’s event the following day.
The first medals, however, will be awarded the day after the opening ceremony at the famed Maracanã stadium. Here are some of the highlights to look for over the first weekend of the Olympics.
Wednesday, Aug. 3 (all times EDT)
12 p.m.: Women’s soccer begins the games with Sweden vs. South Africa
6 p.m.: The U.S. women’s national team begin its quest for a third successive gold medal, taking on New Zealand.
Thursday, Aug. 4
3 p.m.: Brazil’s men’s soccer team, featuring Neymar, will start its latest attempt to win a first ever gold medal in the event, taking on South Africa.
Friday, Aug. 5
6.15 p.m.: The Opening ceremony takes place. NBC will screen it on an hour delay.
Saturday, Aug. 6
8.30 a.m.: Medals will be on the line in the men’s cycling road race
9 p.m.: The first swimming medals will be handed out, with finals in the men’s and women’s individual medley, men’s 400 meter freestyle and women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.
Sunday, Aug. 7
11.30 a.m.: Women’s road race
9 p.m.: The second night at the Aquatics Stadium will see the finals of the women’s 100m butterfly, men’s 100m breaststroke, women’s 400m freestyle and men’s 4x100m freestyle relay.