It’s almost that time again when we throw away our usual apathy for sports like javelin, gymnastics and synchronized swimming, and return to humble bragging about that time you threw a stick over a house, or that time you did a backflip on a moon bounce. It can only mean one thing: the Olympics are back.
This year, as we know, they’re taking place in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and there’s been a whole lot of controversy surrounding it. But is anybody really surprised? From Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime hosting the games in Berlin in 1936 and refusing to acknowledge the multiple-medal victory of African-American Jesse Owen, to Israeli athletes being taken hostage and later killed by Palestinian terrorists in 1972 – the games have always courted controversy. Even in the founding myth of the ancient Olympics, the king of Pisa bribed Hermes’ son Myrtilus to tamper with his opponent’s chariot wheels.
The Olympic Games are basically the Kardashians of all major sporting tournaments and we’re here to dish the dirt on the nine things you need to know before watching this year’s edition. And we’ll even squeeze in some sport, too.
The swimmers are literally going to be swimming through shit
There can be few more spectacular sights in the world than the ones from the Marina da Gloria, where the sailing events will be launched this weekend, or the ones from off the coast of Copacabana Beach, where the swimmers will be competing in days and weeks to come. But there’s just one problem – they’re both full of shit.
The waterways at Olympic and Paralympic venues are contaminated with raw human sewage teeming with dangerous viruses, bacteria, rubbish and the occasional dead body. A 16-month-long study commissioned by the Associated Press showed viral levels at up to 1.7 million times what would be considered worrisome in the United States or Europe.
The Independent reports that, at those concentrations, swimmers and athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water are almost certain to be infected with viruses that can cause stomach and respiratory illnesses and, more rarely, heart and brain inflammation. Almost 1,400 athletes taking part in the sailing, rowing, and open-air swimming, plus thousands of tourists, could be affected.
Will anybody get Zika?
Probably not. Unless you’re pregnant, symptoms of the Zika virus are relatively mild, but links to microcephaly, a condition which the babies are born with abnormal smallness of the head, have caused panic in athletes and tourists heading to the games.
Although Brazil is a Zika “hot zone,” Rio is hundreds of miles away from the epicenter of the outbreak and the cool, dry August weather will reduce the risk of transmission by mosquitos even further. Venues have been sprayed with insecticide just in case, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says there’s a “very low risk” of people being infected.
Is it corrupt?
Probably. Alongside diverting tax money away from things like hospitals and schools to build expensive venues which are later left to rot and cozying up to despots like Vladimir Putin and his fleet of roided-up athletes, it’s also been revealed that the results of certain events may be manipulated.
The Guardian reports that horrified senior officials within Olympic boxing believe that some officials are able to use their power to manipulate both the draw and the judging system to ensure certain boxers win. One senior figure was quoted as saying there is “no doubt” some of the judges and referees in Rio “will be corrupted.”
Read more about the dark side of the Olympics here.
Some athletes are having a terrible time already
After first refusing to move into the much-maligned Olympic Village citing electrical problems and gas and water leaks, the Australian team was then hit by illness, medical isolation and thefts of computer equipment and Zika-protective gear. Just a couple of days after that, the team was disrupted again after being evacuated from the village building due to a “small fire.”
The Australian’s will be furious, especially after performing so uncharacteristically poor at the London 2012 games when they finished 10th in the medals table. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes responded to Australian criticism by saying the village is “more beautiful” than Sydney’s for the 2000 Games and that he was going to put “a jumping kangaroo” outside to “make them feel at home.”
Not everyone is unhappy, though. Team GB swimmer Chloe Tutton is delighted that her mom will be in attendance after selling enough cakes to fund her trip to Rio.
There are two new sports this year
Well they’re not quite new, but golf and rugby (in 7s format) are returning to the games for the first time since 1904 and 1924 respectively. We see your eyebrows raising, we hear your sighs, but honestly, they’re pretty good choices. Approximately 450 million people around the world play golf and it can be exciting sometimes (the tip is to wait until it’s almost over, preferably in the last couple of hours – don’t even think about watching the first days). Rugby is justifiable because it’s violent, and that means it’s good. Obviously.
Besides, it’s the Olympics we’re talking about here. it already has dressage, an event in which competitors are judged on how well they can make a horse dance, and race walking, an event in which you literally watch people walk.
For the rugby, watch out for Viliame Mata, he’s the star player on Fiji’s red-hot rugby sevens team and is widely tipped to win the country’s first-ever Olympic medal. For golf, Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy won’t be there, but Open winner Henrik Stenson and two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson will be – they’re the ones to watch.
There’s a refugee team for the first time ever
A cause for celebration on its own, 10 refugees will participate under the Olympic flag as the International Olympic Committee formed the unique team for athletes that have fled conflict-ridden countries and regions. The team includes five runners from South Sudan, two swimmers from Syria, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a marathon runner from Ethiopia.
“I want everyone to think that refugees are normal humans who had homelands and who lost them,” said Yusra Mardini, a swimmer who fled Syria a year ago. “Not because they wanted to and not because they wanted to be refugees or to run away. They had to leave their countries.”
Which team will win the most medals?
In an endearing attempt to prove that economists can have fun too, Goldman Sachs’ economic research unit has predicted which nations will pick up the most medals.
Unsurprisingly, Goldman is backing the United States and China to comfortably top the medal table, as they have in the past two Olympics, with the U.S. forecast to pick up 45 gold medals and a total of 106 medals, with China grabbing 36 golds out of the 89-medal total haul. It also looks healthy for Great Britain, who are predicted to finish third with 59 medals, above the likes of Russia, Germany and France.
You can see the full list of Goldman’s predications here.
Which athletes you should definitely watch
There will be over 10,000 athletes taking part this time around and we’re damned if we’re going to explain which ones to watch in each field. Instead, here are the biggest storylines.
Swimmer Michael Phelps has won more Olympic medals than any other athlete but he’s also experienced his fair share of controversy out of the pool. Two years ago he was charged with a DUI, sentenced to rehab, and suspended by USA swimming for six months. Now he’s back for his fifth and final Olympics – he’s expected to swim faster than ever before.
Another man set to retire after the games is Usain Bolt. He will be trying to win the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4×100-meter relay for the third consecutive time, but as he turns 30 on the day of the closing ceremony, he’s now very much beatable.
You may not know this next athlete now, but you soon will. Simone Biles, already the most decorated female gymnast in history, is the favorite to succeed fellow American Gabby Douglas to win all-round gold. Do not miss.
Finally, For a nation with five World Cup titles to their name, you might be surprised to know that Brazi has never won an Olympic gold medal in football. That’s why they’ve enlisted national god Neymar end the drought on home soil. After failing to set Brazil alight two years ago for the World Cup, he will be hungrier than ever.
The athletes you definitely shouldn’t look out for this year
The 119 Russian athletes banned from competing due to an ongoing doping scandal.
For more sport, here’s why women’s sportswear is so impractical.
- Lead Image: Reuters/Amazon