Once in a Lifetime: A Preview of the 2016 Olympics

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are nearly upon us and they're shaping up to be one of the most competitive and controversial ever.

Competitive because these games will see 10,500 athletes from a record 206 countries competing against one another in 28 Olympic sports including, for the first time in over a century, golf. Controversial because the Brazil that will play host to the games this summer is not the same Brazil that won the rights to host them in 2009. That Brazil was an emerging economic powerhouse newly aligned with Russia, India, and China to form the BRIC trading bloc, while the Brazil of 2016 is a country on a steep economic slide led by a government in tatters.

All of that however will take a back seat and the world's attention will focus squarely on the Herculean effort put forth by the athletes, many of whom have prepared their entire lives for what may be their only chance to capture glory. In this preview we're going to train our eye on a trio of Olympic sports that don't necessarily grab headlines and see if we can't determine who might be favourites to leave Rio wearing Olympic gold medals.

Football

There are those who will claim Olympic football doesn't generate the same level of intense interest that other international competitions do. Don't tell that to the millions who will be glued to their TV sets watching their national teams vie for the gold or the untold numbers scouring the Internet seeking football tips related to the Olympic tournament or the hundreds of thousands who will watch the games live in the seven Olympic stadiums spread throughout the country.

Brazil, still feeling the sting of placing fourth in the World Cup they hosted in 2014 and, perhaps more significantly, desperate to erase the humiliation of their 7-1 loss to Germany in that tournament from the national memory, are determined to break through in front of their home crowd and capture Olympic gold.

Defending gold medallist Mexico will have something to say to those who view Rio '16 as little more than a coronation for Brazil. Mexico secured their place in the Olympic tournament by beating a talented and determined team from Honduras and must be considered one of the favorites to stand atop the medals platform on August 20th.

Other teams who could potentially be wearing Olympic jewelry to the closing ceremony include a hungry German team, a talented but unproven Argentine squad, and that same Honduran team beaten in the qualifying round by Mexico who qualified themselves and will be looking for vindication.

Tennis

Tennis has been part of the Olympic Games for more than a century and 2016 will once again feature the top players in the world vying for the coveted gold medal.

On the men's side, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will seek to upend world No. 2 (and defending Olympic gold medallist) Andy Murray. But don't expect either one of them to just stroll into the finals on August 14th. Not with the likes of 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and 14-time Grand Slam champ Rafael Nadal also in the field.

On the women's side, everyone not named Serena Williams will be taking aim at the powerful American. Williams is the defending singles and doubles gold medallist, as well as being the No. 1 ranked women's tennis player in the world. Among the group looking to upset her are world No. 2 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain and veteran Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a former world No. 1 herself and winner of the bronze medal in London.

Golf

Golf returns to the Olympic Games after a 112-year absence with 60 competitors vying for men's and women's individual gold medals. There will be no alterations to the official rules of golf for the Olympic competition meaning the sport so many have come to love will be presented in its familiar format in a 72-hole match play competition with the top three finishers taking home the Olympic hardware.

Qualification for the 2016 Olympic golf competition will be based on official world golf rankings on July 11, 2016. The top 15 ranked players will automatically qualify, but no country can have more than four golfers on either the men's or women's side in the competition.

Although the IOC has done its best to ensure a fair selection system, one thing they could not have anticipated was the Zika virus, which has prompted some of the world's top golfers to withdraw from the competition, including world No. 1 Jason Day, No. 4 Rory McIlroy, and No. 8 Adam Scott.

Plenty of big names remain on the men's side, however, including U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson, world No. 3 Jordan Spieth, and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. They'll be teeing off on August 17th at the new Reserva de Marapendi course just southwest of central Rio with the final round slated for August 20th.

On the women's side, world No. 1 Lydia Ko from New Zealand will lead a deep and talented field that includes 2016 Women's PGA champion Brooke Henderson from Canada, former world No. 1 Inbee Park from South Korea, and former child prodigy and multiple tournament winner Lexi Thompson of the U.S. The ladies will tee off on August 11 and we should have a gold medal winner on the 14th.

As thousands of athletes and millions of fans descend on Rio for the games of the 31st Olympiad, anticipation and excitement are sure to push politics, economics, and other concerns to the back burner for two glorious weeks. We'll be anxiously waiting to see which national team emerges from the 16 that qualified for the football tournament, which tennis ace will dig down deep and carve out victory under the blazing Brazilian sun at the Barra Olympic Park tennis facility. and which golfer will fend off the competition on the back nine on the final day at Reserva de Marapendi.

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