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Next Stop: Rio de Janeiro

By Doug Williams | Aug. 20, 2012, 5 p.m. (ET)

Atop of the Corcovado Mountain stands a 130-feet high beacon of white soapstone, concrete — a statue known in Portuguese as Christo Redentor.

The statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks all of Rio de Janeiro, from its neighborhoods and skyscrapers to its deep blue Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and beyond the vast Guanabara Bay.

Since it was completed more than 80 years ago, the statue — the most photographed site in all of Brazil — has towered over the city, its arms spread wide as if welcoming the world.

In four short years now, Rio will do just that.

With the London 2012 Olympic Games now over, the countdown is on to the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro.

As of Monday, Aug. 20, there are 1445 days to go until the world’s greatest athletes come to Brazil for the first Olympic Games to be held in South America, Aug. 5-21, 2016. Rio then will play host to the Paralympic Games, scheduled for Sept. 7-18, 2016.

Though much will change between now and Rio’s Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5, 2016, there is much to anticipate for a Games in which beach volleyball and bikinis will finally look at home, golf will return to the Games and the rhythms of the samba should infuse venues with a bit of Brazil’s carnival atmosphere.

Leonardo Gryner, chief executive of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee told the media in London that Brazil will put on a Games like no other.

“In Brazil, as you may know, we like a lot of parties,” he told reporters.

A few things to know about the 2016 Games (aside from the parties) as we look ahead to the next gathering of nations:

The Rio Bid

The Olympic Games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro in an October 2009 vote by the International Olympic Committee. Rio overcame bids by three other finalists: Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago. The city of 6.5 million is expecting nearly 400,000 foreign tourists for the Games, which are expected to attract 10,500 athletes competing in 28 sports.

The Venues

The Games are a tremendous undertaking, and some have expressed doubt that the city will complete an estimated 230 projects — including four main Olympic sites — in good time. More than $12 billion will be spent on venues, a new public transportation line and improvements to roads, the airport and port.

The IOC, according to reports, is especially worried that Olympic Park, the centerpiece of the Rio Olympics, has yet to be built.

Yet the Games — like the World Cup to be hosted by Brazil in 2014 — are a chance for the nation, now the world’s seventh-biggest economy, to show the world what it can do as an emerging player in the 21st century.

And the venues, scattered across the picturesque city, should offer gorgeous views of white beaches, blue water and green mountains for TV viewers across the globe.

Gryner said construction began on Olympic Park and Olympic Village in June and all sporting venues will be completed by 2015 in time for test events. Gryner added that security plans are well underway and new public transport systems needed to reach the four different zones where events will be held also will be finished in time.

Gryner, for one, promises that everything will be ready on time.

“Time is an adversary but time is also on our side,” he told the Herald Sun of Melbourne, Australia. “We’ll get a few cold sweats, but this is normal. We are on time and going according to schedule.”

The four main venue clusters for the Games will be:

* Rio Olympic Park in the Barra Zone: This is the main grouping of sports venues for swimming, gymnastics, water polo, diving, tennis, track cycling, handball, wrestling, judo, basketball, boxing, table tennis, taekwando and weightlifting. The Main Press Center and International Broadcast Center will be located here.

* Copacabana Zone: This cluster of venues will include rowing and flatwater kayaking on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon; beach volleyball alongside Copacabana beach; triathlon and open-water swimming, sailing, road cycling and race walking.

* Maracana Zone: The Maracana Stadium will be where the Opening Ceremony and Closing Ceremony will take place. The stadium also will be used for the soccer finals.  Track and field events will be held at Joao Havelange Stadium. Rugby and indoor volleyball also will take place in this zone.

* Deodoro Zone — Here, to the north of the city, will be modern pentathlon, equestrian events, mountain biking, BMX, whitewater kayaking, fencing, field hockey and shooting.

In addition to the venues within Rio, four other cities will host soccer games: Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia and Salvador.

Team USA

We likely won’t see Michael Phelps in swimming or Kobe Bryant on the basketball court or beach volleyball star Misty May-Treanor on the sand, but many of the outstanding U.S. performers from London should be back to compete in Rio, including:

  • Basketball: No Kobe? No problem, with the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook still available, each will still be in their prime. James told the Associated Press over the weekend that he would like to play in his fourth Olympic Games.
  • Gymnastics: John Orozco was disappointed by his performance in London, but he’ll only be 23 in Rio. Danell Leyva, who earned bronze in the all-around, will only be 24. On the women’s side, each of the “Fierce Five” — who won the United States’ first team gold medal since 1996 — are leaning toward coming back. When asked by Jay Leno about 2016, Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas replied: “Oh, definitely.”
  • Swimming: With Phelps calling the London Games his last, does Missy Franklin become the U.S. star to watch in Brazil? Four gold medals and five overall at age 17 — after qualifying for seven events in London — sets her up to go after multiple medals the way Phelps did in Beijing when he won eight golds in 2008. Another young swimming star from London, 15-year-old Katie Ledecky (800-meter freestyle gold medalist) also is expected to make a big splash in Rio.
  • Track and field: Ashton Eaton at 24 won the decathlon so he will still be in his prime when he tries to become the first man to repeat since Britain’s Daley Thompson in 1984. Three-time Olympic gold medalist from London Allyson Felix said she is interested in continuing to compete. Moments after hurdler Lashinda Demus finished second in London, she vowed publicly to make another run at gold in 2016.
  • Shooting: Kim Rhode won gold in skeet shooting, making her the first American to win a medal in an individual sport in five consecutive Games. At just 33 in a sport where age doesn’t so quickly erode skills, Rhode easily could be gunning for a sixth medal in Brazil. As she told TeamUSA.org, the oldest Olympic medal winner ever was a shooter who was 72. She’s got plenty of time. Jamie Gray, who won the gold medal in the 50-meter rifle three position event, also has hopes for returning in Rio and would like to add a medal in the 10-meter air rifle.
  • Archery: Brady Ellison helped the men’s team to silver, but the greatest archer in the world, just 23, was an early elimination in qualifying rounds for an individual medal. He probably already has Rio on his target.
  • Boxing: At 17, middleweight Claressa Shields was sensational in London, winning a gold medal in the debut of women’s boxing. It’s possible that Shields could remain an amateur, since prize money for women fighters in the professional ranks still is low.
  • Beach Volleyball: Although Misty May-Treanor said she will not be competing in Rio for a fourth Olympic gold medal, her longtime teammate, Kerri Walsh Jennings, could be back. The sport is hugely popular in Brazil.

Brazil’s Prospects

Brazil won just three gold medals at London, but it actually won a record 17 medals overall and exceeded the country’s goal of 15. Looking ahead to 2016, the host nation hopes to finish in the top 10 in the medal standings. Brazil reportedly invested more than $150 million in its Olympic program since Beijing in 2008, and it will likely spend much more over the next four years to ensure more success as host.

“To reach the top 10 in 2016, we will need to have athletes making the podium in at least 13 sports,” Marcus Vinicius Freire, the Brazilian Olympic Committee’s top sports director, told the Associated Press. “We have been reaching the podium in eight or nine sports only. We will focus on individual sports now, in addition to our tradition of doing well in the team sports.”

At London, for instance, Brazil won no medals in track and field and only two in swimming. But Brazil’s Sarah Menezes won a gold medal in judo (48 kg class), Arthur Zanetti claimed the rings title for the country’s first Olympic gymnastics medal and the women’s indoor volleyball team won the gold medal. Brazil tallied five silver and nine bronze medals.

New Sports

Rugby sevens and golf will join the Olympic lineup in Rio, and kitesurfing will replace windsurfing as a class in the sailing competition.

Golf is back in the Games for the first time since the St. Louis Games in 1904, and 60 players, both men and women, will compete in a 72-hole stroke-play event. The course is to be constructed in the Barra zone. Get ready for the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer to be putting for a gold medal in four years.

Rugby sevens is a smaller, faster-paced game than the more common 15-a-side rugby union format (which was last played in the 1924 Olympic Games). The competition will feature both men’s and women’s teams. And Team USA is already gearing up for it. USA Rugby has awarded professional contracts to players who are training for 2016 full-time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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