This year is a historic one for the Olympics, with the 2016 summer games in Rio marking the first Olympics held in a South American city. Between the opening ceremony on Aug. 5 and the closing ceremony on Aug. 21, a staggering 10,500 athletes from 206 countries competing across 306 events are expected to take part, including a 10-person team of refugee athletes. There’s been the usual shakeup in the competition lineup—rugby sevens, golf and kitesurfing are in; baseball, softball and windsurfing are out. Given the jam-packed schedule of the games, we’ve picked out a few of the most exciting events and Team U.S.A. players (locals, of course—we play favorites) to highlight as the must-sees of the Rio games.
Though Michael Phelps has been dominating U.S. swimming for the past four Olympics, we have a feeling that this year Katie Ledecky might take first place in the spotlight. The 19-year old Marylander has been making waves since her gold medal win at the 2012 games in the 800m freestyle. This year, she’ll be looking to beat her own world record as much as anyone else in the pool.
Women’s 800m freestyle final: 9 p.m. Aug. 12.
The disciplined, muscly elegance of gymnastics competition has proven just as (if not more) entrancing as hair’s breadth racing triumphs or victories won via the ineffable chemistry of teamwork. The aesthetic and athletic requirements of the all-around is the encapsulation of the sport’s appeal.
Men’s all-around final: 3 p.m. Aug. 10; Women’s all-around final:
3 p.m. Aug. 11
There’s no sport that feels more classically summer and American than the sand between your toes thrill of beach volleyball, and the U.S. has won at least one gold in the sport since its Olympic introduction in 1986 … so it’s with good reason that we expect to see Americans take to the sand for the finals.
Women’s gold medal match: 11 p.m. Aug. 17; Men’s: 11 p.m. Aug. 18
Though this is the sport’s first year in the Olympics, the U.S. will actually be defending its title—the American team won back-to-back gold in 1920 and 1924, the last two games where the 15-man version of the sport was played. In its new iteration, both U.S. teams have already picked up a promising momentum.
Women’s medal matches: 4:30 p.m. Aug. 8; Men’s medal matches: 4:30 p.m. Aug. 11
Yes, you’ve heard it before: The most decorated Olympian of all time calls the Baltimore area home. Phelps is looking to add to that record during his fifth Olympic games, in which he’s competing in seven events, kicking off at noon Aug. 6 with the men’s 400m individual medley.
The Baltimore native was the first overall WNBA draft pick in 2009 and became an Olympic gold medalist at the London games. The U.S. women’s basketball team has won at seven of the last eight Olympics, so it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll be on the court during the final rounds of the tournament on Aug. 20.
The triathlete was born in Baltimore and grew up in Hampstead, Md., where she foreshadowed her athletic versatility with varsity letters in track and field, cross country, swimming, lacrosse and soccer. The first-time Olympian will compete to make it to the final of the women’s triathlon competition, to be held at 10 a.m. on Aug. 20.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Ellicott City, the young outside hitter for the U.S. men’s volleyball team helped his team to win gold and qualify for Rio at the 2015 FIVB World Cup, where he was their lead scorer in the final three matches. The men’s volleyball medal matches air on Aug. 21.
This Carroll County native is already an accomplished wrestler—with a record of 179-0 in high school and a wrestling world title last year at 19—and this month, he’ll add Olympian to that impressive list. Snyder will be going for wrestling gold starting Aug. 14.
Crazy Olympic Facts
Due to the strict patriarchal culture of Greece, women weren’t allowed to compete in the Ancient Olympic games (married women weren’t even allowed to watch), however, dating back to at least the 6th century BCE, there was a women’s athletic competition dedicated to the goddess Hera held in the Olympic Stadium. The original Heraean Games, like the men’s competition, consisted of footraces around the Olympic track.
The Olympics are heralded as a celebration of sportsmanship and athletic ability. From 1912-1948, however, juried art competitions were held as part of the games as well. Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin’s poem “Ode to Sport” won the first gold for literature, but he might have had a leg up on the competition considering he was the founder of the modern Olympic games.
In the 1928 Amsterdam games, the Australian Bobby Pearce temporarily stopped rowing during a qualifying heat in the single sculls competition in order to allow a family of ducks to safely cross his lane. He went on to win the heat and then win gold in the final race.
This summer, Rio de Janeiro will become the first South American city to host an Olympics. So far, no African city has ever played host to the games, while London has hosted the Olympics a record three times and the U.S. holds the record for most games hosted by country with a total of eight.