While the world typically tunes in to follow marquee events like athletics and swimming, there’s actually a wide array of incredibly thrilling lesser-known sports contested across the 42 Olympic disciplines showcased in Rio this month.
Here are five sports to fall in love with over the course of the Olympics.
On the face of it, bouncing up and down on a trampoline hardly sounds like an Olympic sport. But a few minutes of watching Trampoline Gymnastics reveals the incredible level of skill and athleticism these competitors actually possess.
Bouncing on a trampoline to heights of eight metres, athletes perform acrobatic movements such as twists and somersaults in mid-air, and are awarded points for difficulty, execution and flight time. The discipline made its debut in Sydney 2000 and has gained a strong following ever since.
Current champions: Rosannagh MacLennan (CAN), Dong Dong (CHN)
The latest cycling discipline to be added to the Olympic schedule, BMX has been gaining popularity ever since it debuted in Beijing 2008. Intense racing, big jumps and plenty of crashes – BMX is one of the most thrilling spectacles of the Summer Games.
The competition is in the ‘supercross’ format: each heat has eight riders, with the first four to cross the finish line going through to the next round, eventually to the final.
Current champions: Mariana Pajon (COL), Maris Strombergs (LAT)
Perhaps no discipline is more closely linked to the city of Rio de Janeiro than beach volleyball, which will be staged in an arena set up on the iconic Copacabana beach – the spiritual home of the sport.
Considering Brazil is the most decorated nation in Olympic beach volleyball history, winning 11 of the 30 total medals since the sport was added to the Summer Games in 1996, we can count on the home crowd to throw a beach party like we’ve never seen before.
Current champions: Misty May- Treanor/Kerri Walsh Jennings (USA), Julius Brink/Jonas Reckermann
Part of the Olympic roster since Munich 1972, canoe slalom is a mix of high speed thrills, whitewater rapids and obstacles, which recreate the tradition of canoeing on a man-made course that tests the competitors’ strength and skill to their limits.
In either canoes or kayaks, athletes must complete a 250m white-water course, passing through gates and avoiding obstacles, in the shortest time possible.
Current champions: Tony Estanguet (FRA) (C-1), Tim Baillie/ Etienne Stott (GBR) (C-2), Daniele Molmenti (ITA) (K-1), Emilie Fer (FRA) (K-1)
The equestrian events are the only ones where men and women compete against each other and on equal terms at the Olympics. Between the grace of the horses and the precision of the riders, show jumping is one of the most beautiful sports to watch at the Games.
Current champions: Steve Guerdat (SUI) (individual), Great Britain (team)
The Olympic Games are set to feature some stellar events and rivalries.
Here’s five events that could define Rio 2016.
SWIMMING – Men’s 200m butterfly
Heats: Monday, August 8, 20:34 (UAE time)
It was one of the moments of London 2012 – the all-conquering Michael Phelps beaten in one of his favourite events, by an unheralded South African at his first Olympics. But it was perhaps Chad le Clos’s father’s subsequent emotional TV interview, all tears and elation, that made the moment even more memorable.
It signalled something of a changing of the guard when it came to butterfly events. Phelps had dominated since Athens and was to be retiring after London. That was short-lived, however, and some believe it was that loss that lured him back into the pool.
Le Clos has continued his form from London, claiming the 200m butterfly world title in 2013 but then lost out in 2015 to another potential protagonist – Hungarian Laszlo Cseh, who happens to have swum the fastest time over the distance this year.
SWIMMING – Men’s 200m individual medley swimming
Heats: Wednesday, August 10, 21:09
Semi-finals: Thursday, August 11, 06:29
Final: Friday, August 12, 06:01
There’s another potentially enthralling showdown in the pool and once again it involves 22-time medallist Phelps. The American has ruled the 200m IM for the past 12 years and will be gunning for an unprecedented fourth gold in the event.
It won’t be easy though. Not only has he not quite reached the speeds he was at prior to his short-lived retirement, but standing in his way are long-time rival and team-mate Ryan Lochte – and new kid on the block Kosuke Hagino.
The 21-year-old Japanese claimed bronze in the 400m IM in London when he was still a teenager and bagged silver behind Lochte at the 2013 Worlds. He missed out on adding to that tally at the 2015 World Championships, because of a broken elbow, but has the quickest time this year and is 10 years younger than his American rivals.
ATHLETICS – Men’s 100m
Preliminaries: Saturday, August 13, 16:30
Round 1: Saturday, August 13, 19:00
Semi-finals: Monday, August 15, 04:00
Final: Monday, August 15, 5:25
It’s the same narrative that had fans across the globe tuning in to the World Championships in Beijing a year ago: good v evil, Usain Bolt v Justin Gatlin, two-time Olympic champion v two-time drug cheat. Yes, Gatlin has the fastest two times in the world this year – a 9.80 and a 9.83 – but is not known to perform well under pressure.
Bolt is fourth fastest in 2016 – 9.88 – and, despite having to pull out of the Jamaican Trials with a hamstring injury, is ready to race as he targets a ‘triple-triple’. But there are a few other protagonists who could throw a spanner in the rivalry.
USA’s Trayvon Bromell has run a 9.84 and France’s Jimmy Vicaut a 9.86 while 2011 world champion Yohan Blake is said to be finding some form again.
ATHLETICS – Women’s 800m
Round 1: Wednesday August 17, 17:55
Semi-finals: Friday August 19, 4:15
Final: Sunday August 21, 4:15
She can do absolutely nothing to avoid it, but Caster Semenya’s inevitable victory, and possible world record, in the women’s 800m is likely to become another one of the controversies of the Rio Games.
The 25-year-old South African first sprung to fame, or perhaps infamy, when she won the world title in 2009. She was then subjected to a mortifying string of abysmally-managed gender tests and eventual appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to determine whether or not she was allowed to compete with her naturally-occurring elevated levels of testosterone.
In short, they ruled there was a limit to the level of testosterone allowed, but the ruling was then overturned in 2015. While she struggled initially to regain her phenomenal form, this year Semenya has run the fastest time in the 800m since 2008 and is knocking on the door of the 33-year-old world record over the distance.
It’s a tough one, but for now she is allowed to compete, and despite Briton Paul Radcliffe’s deeply unhelpful comments that “it’s no longer sport”, compete she will.
As athletics writer Wesley Botton so articulately told The Guardian: “You want to support Caster but there’s always this niggling thought. Is it fair for her to run? I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision, that I’m not the IAAF or CAS, because I don’t know where you draw the line. There are doctors and scientists, lawyers and administrators, and as long as they have said that, for the time being, she can run, I try to treat her just as an athlete.”
It remains to be seen if the rest of the world will do the same in Rio.
RUGBY – Sevens
Final: Friday, August 12, 02:00
World Rugby fought long and hard to get the thrilling, shortened form of their sport into the Games and their chance to flaunt their speed, power and skill is here. As World Series champions, Fiji go into the men’s competition as favourites and the pressure will be immense for them to win their nation’s first ever Olympic medal.
Commonwealth Games gold medallists South Africa, 12-time World Series champions New Zealand plus Australia and Argentina are all contenders with Kenya and United States outsiders. The women’s competition is slightly more predictable with Australia, New Zealand, Canada and England the powerhouses of the sport and France dark horses.
With over 11,000 athletes competing in 42 sporting disciplines, the next two weeks will undoubtedly feature some incredible moments that will go down in Olympic history.
Here are 16 candidates likely to create such moments in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this month.
Usain Bolt (JAM)
Date of birth: August 21, 1986
The world’s fastest man is looking to finish his Olympics career with a bang, as he hopes to become the first man to pull-off the triple-triple – winning 100m, 200m, and 4x100m gold for a third straight Games. A hamstring problem in the build-up forced him to miss the Jamaican Trials last month but his showing at the London Anniversary Games implies he’s fit and ready to go.
Genzebe Dibaba (ETH)
Date of birth: February 8, 1991
Following in the footsteps of her older sisters, Ejegayehu (10,000m silver medallist in Athens 2004), and Tirunesh (three-time Olympic gold medallist), Genzebe has been tipped to even surpass her siblings’ success. Broke the 22-year-old world record in the 1,500m in Monaco last year and is hot favourite for gold in that event.
Chris Froome (GBR)
Date of birth: May 20, 1985
After becoming the first man to defend the Tour de France title since 1995, Froome is gunning for more glory as he targets a double-gold in the Time Trial and the Road Race. The Kenyan-born Brit already has an Olympics bronze medal from the Time Trial in London four years ago and looks to do even better in the Games in Brazil.
Date of birth: February 5, 1992
The Barcelona forward will captain Brazil in their quest to capture an elusive Olympic gold medal in men’s football. One of three players over the age of 23 in Brazil’s squad, Neymar is tasked with bringing his nation a first football Olympic gold, with the added pressure of it being on home soil. Rio will be a true test of character for the talismanic striker.
Mallory Pugh (USA)
Date of birth: April 29, 1998
The only non-professional on Jill Ellis’ Team USA roster, Pugh is tipped to steal the spotlight in Rio. The 18-year-old is the second youngest player to suit up for a US Olympic football team and is considered the future face of US soccer. The teenager scored on her senior national team debut back in January and has scored two more since, along with a teamhigh seven assists.
Kevin Durant (USA)
Date of birth: September 29, 1988
Following a much-discussed, highprofile switch from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors, the 27-year-old Durant will be targeting his second Olympic gold medal with basketball’s Team USA. With team-mates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green also on the roster, we’ll be getting a sneak preview of what’s to come next season with the Warriors.
Saori Yoshida (JPN)
Date of birth: October 5, 1982
Japan’s unbeaten warrior, daughter of Eikatsu Yoshida, an Olympic freestyle champion at Tokyo 1964, is the most decorated athlete in freestyle wrestling history and will be going for a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal in Rio to maintain her perfect record at the Games. Yoshida is the first female captain of the Japan national team and has won 13 straight world titles dating back to 2002.
Henrik Stenson (SWE)
Date of birth: April 5, 1976
The world No5 is the hottest player in golf right now, having won two titles in his last three starts, including the Open Championship at Royal Troon. An unabashed fan of Olympics, the 40-year-old Stenson’s confidence is at an all-time high and he is eager to give his season a golden shine.
Lydia Ko (NZL)
Date of birth: April 24, 1997
The world No1 Korean-born New Zealander will be leading the ladies field as golf makes its return to the Olympics schedule.
The two-time major winner was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014. When she rose to No1 as a 17-year-old last year, she became the youngest player ever – male or female – to top the golf world rankings.
Qiu Bo (CHN)
Date of birth: January 31, 1993
The three-time reigning 10m platform World Champion was shocked by David Boudia in London 2012 and ended up taking a surprising silver. Will be seeking redemption in Rio as he hopes to best Boudia and Tom Daley.
Ren Qian (CHN)
Date of birth: February 20, 2001
Aged 14, Ren Qian won silver in the 10m platform at the World Championships in Kazan last year. The teenage prodigy scored a perfect 10 in a Diving World Cup in February and is a definite medal contender for China.
Michael Phelps (USA)
Date of birth: June 30, 1985
With 22 Olympic medals including 18 gold, is there any reason why Phelps is still swimming? The answer is: Yes. Phelps will not just be shooting for more history in the pool in Rio, he’ll also be seeking redemption. Following a second DUI and some time spent in rehab, Phelps wants to see how far he can go when he’s fully fit and committed. We’re curious as well.
Katie Ledecky (USA)
Date of birth: March 17, 1997
At just 19, it is truly remarkable what Ledecky has already achieved. Besides her 800m freestyle gold in London – whichshe won when she was 15 with the second-fastest performance ever – Ledecky owns nine World Championship (50m) golds and has set 11 world records, including her current marks in the 400, 800and 1,500m freestyle.
Simone Biles (USA)
Date of birth: March 14, 1997
The London Olympics was historic for US gymnastics with the “Fierce Five” winningjust the second-ever team gold for USAand Gabby Douglas becoming the first African-American all-round gold medallist. Yet Biles is somehow creating an even bigger buzz ahead of Rio as arguably the most dominant gymnast of all-time.
She’s won three consecutive World Championships – the first to do so – and owns 14 World Championship medals, including 10 gold, in just three years at the senior level.
Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Date of birth: May 22, 1987
With a sole bronze medal from Beijing 2008, Djokovic will be fiercly chasing Olympic gold in Rio, where he is playing doubles alongside Nenad Zimonjic, and is the top seed in the singles draw.
After completing the career Grand Slam by winning an elusive French Open title in June, Olympic gold appears to be the only accolade missing from Djokovic’s resume.
Serena Williams (USA)
Date of birth: September 26, 1981
Already the owner of four Olympic gold medals, dating back to Sydney 2000, Serena is in contention for at least two more as she headlines the women’s field in singles and is joining Venus in doubles action.
Fresh off a Wimbledon title triumph that saw her equal Steffi Graf’s Open Era record off 22 grand slams, Olympic gold is now the next main target for the American tennis queen.