Rio de Janeiro is on course to become one of the most iconic Olympic Games of all time as athletes from all over the world, and especially from Africa, aim to produce the performance of a lifetime under the Brazilian sun. By Chris Hatherall.
There can be few more impressive settings for an Olympics than Brazil’s legendary seafront city – and the Olympic Stadium’s deep blue track has also taken people’s breath away. The track has been specifically designed with Rio’s hot and humid conditions in mind and has been tipped to be one of the fastest surfaces ever raced on. That’s music to the ears of athletes like Kenya’s 800m superstar David Rudisha, who broke the world record when he won in London four years ago, and world legend Usain Bolt of Jamaica who is yet again going for gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x400m.“It’s a very fast surface and I hope it brings us some fast times,” said Seb Coe, the Olympic President, who won gold medals himself during an illustrious career in middle-distance running. “I’m sure that with a full stadium of noisy, passionate track and field fans, the athletes will raise their game and rise to the occasion. The unique spirit of Rio will make it a special Olympics too, I’m confident of that.”
Kenya at the Olympics
Few countries look forward to an Olympics more than Kenya, a nation that has produced some of the greatest middle- and long-distance runners of all time.
But Kipchoge Kip Keino, President of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya and double Olympic gold-medal-winning athlete, says it is not only athletics that is the focus of the team this time as they compete in Rio.
“As always, we will do our best in athletics. It is a sport in which we can show our talent to the world,” he said. “But we also want to perform to the best of our abilities in all sports. Whatever happens, I think the Games will be wonderful. I believe that the Rio 2016 Organising Committee will put on the best edition of the Games that the Olympic movement has ever seen.”
Excitingly for Kenyan fans, the nation has some serious medal contenders. Rudisha will be going for gold in the 800m, Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor in the 10,000m and Julius Yego in the javelin, for instance. Then, of course, there is the marathon – an event Kenya (and Africa) has dominated for decades. World Marathon Majors champion Eliud Kipchoge is a hot tip for the men’s event – backed up by New York Marathon winner Stanley Biwott and also Wesley Korir, but watch out too for Kenya’s Helah Kiprop, who won silver in Beijing but has improved rapidly over the last two years. If she does win gold it will be an historic win – because amazingly Kenya has never won Olympic gold in the women’s marathon.
“I have done my training well. Teamwork will be important and I hope we will have the support of the fans. It’s time we won gold – because Kenya has some of the best marathon runners,” said Kiprop.
DID YOU KNOW?
Athletes’ village: More than 18,000 people will call Rio’s athletes’ village home during the Games – from athletes to officials, doctors, coaches and physiotherapists. Around 13,000 staff and volunteers will look after them. The village consists of 31 brand new buildings of up to 17 floors each, with a total of 3604 apartments.
Rugby takes a bow
Away from athletics, there will be big African interest in the rugby sevens tournament as the sport makes its first ever appearance in the Olympic Games – with Kenya and South Africa both contenders.
Rugby hasn’t featured in the Olympics since 1924 and that was the 15-a-side format. The growing sport of sevens will be at Rio and also Tokyo in 2020.
It is exciting news for Kenya, which is a founding member of the IRB Sevens Series. In fact Kenya (who earned their Olympic spot by winning the African qualifying event) finished seventh in this year’s series and won their first ever tournament, in Singapore. No wonder assistant Paul Murunga believes his team have the potential to fight for a medal.
He said: “When the season began, that was the big target we were looking at. We want to do well in the Olympics. We are ready for the challenge.”
Collins Injera, who scored 32 tries in the season, will be Kenya’s big hope. His try in London at the end of the season took him to 235 in his career – making him the top scorer in rugby sevens history. The action takes place in the Deodoro Stadium between 6 and 11 August.
5 minutes with… Collins Injera
Q This is an exciting time for Kenyan rugby – what are the possibilities of winning a medal in Rio?
“Our target has been to win a medal in Rio and I believe looking at how the team has grown this season, we have a chance to do it. There is a good blend of youth and experience, and with good preparation we can make it.”
Q You must be looking forward to it after a season in which you became the record try scorer in sevens?
“I am excited about it because it is the pinnacle of sport. Hopefully we will pick up a medal because that would be incredible. Scoring tries and winning individual awards is great, but winning as a team is what it’s all about.”
Q True – and you proved that by winning an IRB Sevens tournament in Singapore, the first time Kenya has ever done that!
“It was a special moment, one we had waited a long time for. It was an amazing thing and now we are preparing for the Olympics and seeing how far we can go.”
Q What does it mean to Kenyan rugby to be in Rio?
“A lot. Rugby is really developing in Kenya. We’re putting new systems into the junior levels to help build up the game and now that we’ve won a final and got to the Olympics, hopefully more people will start following us. Rugby in Kenya has already come a long way – it’s an amazing thing. Now the Olympics can take it a step further.”
5 minutes with…Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopian marathon legend, now retired)
Q What are you expecting from this Olympic marathon?
“It’s going to be a very good marathon in Rio. In terms of comparison, Rio could be similar to the conditions we had in Athens, in 2004, and that’s good news.”
Q By that do you mean the conditions could be perfect for a fast time?
“I hope so. The Games are in winter, but the temperatures will not be so low as to be cold. But athletes will still need to acclimatise because the humidity could be high.”
Q You were famous for your duels with Kenya’s Paul Tergat – and it’s bound to be Kenya v Ethiopia for gold again. Is there a big rivalry between the countries?
“It’s a sporting battle for gold, like Brazil and Argentina in football. But it is also different. It’s interesting – of all the countries that border or are near Ethiopia, there has never been a conflict with Kenya. It’s a rivalry in sport.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Olympic flame: For the first time in the history of the Summer Olympics, the main cauldron will not be permanently located at the Games’ main stadiums. Instead it will sit proudly on
the Port of Rio de Janeiro.
5 minutes with…Mo Farah (Great Britain, Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion)
Q You are going for the ‘quadruple double’, having won 5000m and 10,000m gold at the last Olympics and the last two World Championships! Can you do it?
“This is what I’m training for every day. It takes a lot of hard work. I’m very happy with my gold medals from London, Moscow and Beijing – and being able to win and then defend my titles meant a lot to me. I want to make history.”
Q Who will be your main rivals?
“It’s the same people. I would expect my main challengers to be the same as the last few years, mostly athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia. There are always incredibly talented runners in both the 5k and 10k.”
Q What do you expect from Rio as a venue for the Olympics?
“It’s going to be amazing. I’ve never been before but I can’t wait. Everyone has told me how beautiful the beaches are and how the people are so friendly.”
Q Will you be doing your ‘Mobot’ celebration if you win in Rio?
”Yes! I hope it will be making an appearance!”
DID YOU KNOW?
Ticketing: A total of 7.5 million tickets have been sold for the Rio Olympics. Additionally, events such as road cycling, race walk and the marathon can be watched along their routes for free.
5 minutes with… Usain Bolt (Jamaica, 100m, 200m and 4x400m Olympic champion)
Q How are you feeling going into the Olympics?
“I am in good nick, training hard and feeling good. My time trials have gone well, my coach is happy, so everything is good.”
Q Does the fact that you are nearing the end of your career make this even bigger for you?
“Yes, it’s a really big deal. So I am just trying to get my mind right and go out there and win. That’s always the plan. When I retire I want to do it unbeaten.”
Q So once you retire there’s no chance of changing your mind and suddenly competing in 2020?
“No, I won’t be one of those athletes who after you dominate over a couple of years decides that you want to come back – and then starts to lose. It doesn’t look good. When I hang up my spikes, that is it.”
Q What makes the public love you so much do you think?
“It’s because I am different, I bring a different vibe. I am a performer, not just an athlete. I bring and I entertain. People like that.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Venues: The battle for Olympic medals will take place in 32 venues in Rio de Janeiro, plus
five football co-host cities: Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Manaus, Salvador and São Paulo.
Events to look out for
100m Men’s Final
Blue riband event of any Olympic Games – and especially when Usain Bolt is going for a hat-trick. This will be the day when the Games receives its biggest television audience in history.
800m Men’s Final
Having broken the world record when he won in London, Kenya’s David Rudisha will attract a huge audience as he goes for another gold.
5000m & 10,000m Men’s Finals
Africa wants revenge over double-gold winner Mo Farah! So expect a real battle in both finals.
This will be the first time golf has been played at the Olympics since 1904. Men’s and women’s events will be staged at the new Olympic golf course, built at the Reserva de Marapendi in the Barra da Tijuca zone.
The sport will be contested on the legendary Copacabana beach. With Brazil favourites for gold, there should be an amazing atmosphere.
Astonishingly, Brazil have never won an Olympic gold medal at football – but with Barcelona star Neymar leading the charge in Rio you can bet they will be contenders this time. The atmosphere at the Maracanã should be electric – and there are also matches at the Olympic Stadium as well as at other venues. Expect the women’s event to be as big as the men’s.
5 minutes with… Michael Phelps (United States, 18 Olympic gold medal swimmer)
Q We thought you had retired! How come you changed your mind?
”In 2012 I wanted nothing to do with the sport any more. I was ready to retire and didn’t want to train any more. But after a year and a half off, I just randomly decided to jump back in the pool. I thought I’d just splash around and see what happens. I was enjoying it and I just said, ‘What the hell, I don’t want my career to end on what ifs’.”
Q So do you feel good going into these Olympics?
“I do. I decided I wanted to prepare like I should have in 2012. Now the results are speaking for themselves, I feel like I did back at high school.”
Q People say you seem less stressed and less tense too. Is that right?
“It is. I’m more relaxed in my own skin than I’ve ever been, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. And it’s showing in my performance.”
The Olympic tennis tournament has become so big that most players now regard it as the ‘fifth Grand Slam event’. All the top players will be in Rio, with Andy Murray of Great Britain and World Number One Novak Djokovic going for gold in the men’s event. Murray said: “I won the gold in London four years ago so to try to defend that is another big goal for me. The Olympics is the biggest sporting competition by far. I have been to the opening ceremony and you have the best athletes in the world there. There is no comparison.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Events: The 2016 Summer Olympic programme features 28 sports and a total of 41 disciplines and 306 events.
Africa’s ones to watch
msafiri picks out 17 African athletes you should look out for
1 Julius Yego (Kenya, javelin)
The Kenyan superstar won gold at the World Championships in 2015. He will be going for gold again in Rio.
2 The Kenya and South Africa rugby sevens stars
Both Kenya’s men’s and women’s teams qualified for Rio. South Africa, who finished second in the IRB Sevens 2016, are tipped for a medal.
3 Genzebe Dibaba (Ethiopia, 1500m)
Having set a new world record to win the World Championships last year, Dibaba is favourite to win in Rio too.
4 Wayde van Niekerk (South Africa, 400m)
Van Niekerk’s gold medal-winning 400m performance in the World Championships made him the fourth fastest of all time. He has since become the first man to break 10 seconds for 100m, 20 seconds for 200m and 44 seconds for 400m.
5 David Rudisha (Kenya, 800m)
Rudisha’s stunning record-breaking victory in London will be hard to match. But he’s vowed to give it a go in Rio.
6 Paul Tanui (Kenya, 10,000m)
Someone has to give Mo Farah a run for his money! Tanui’s time of 27.22.28 is the fastest of 2016 so far.
7 Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor (Kenya, 10,000m)
He finished less than a second behind Farah in the World Championships and vows to go one better this time.
8 Caleb Ndiku (Kenya, 5000m)
Insists Farah is beatable. Rio would be a good time to prove a point.
9 Yomif Kejelcha (Ethiopia, 5000m)
At only 19 years old, Kejelcha is a real prospect. This could be his Olympics.
10 Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya, marathon)
The World Marathon Majors champion won in London in the second fastest time in history.
11 Helah Kiprop (Kenya, marathon)
Having won silver in Beijing, Kiprop is determined to go one better in Rio.
12 Oluwatobiloba Amusan (Nigeria, 100m hurdles)
Only 18 years old but already a sprint star, she won gold at the 2015 African Junior Championships and at the Brazzaville 2015 All Africa Games.
13 Stephen Mozia (Nigeria, shot putt)
Has a best of 21.03m and the world record is only 23.12 and has stood since 1990; so he’s a contender.
14 Caster Semenya (South Africa, 800m)
Always one of the most talked about athletes, Semenya has been in top form, winning 400m, 800m and 1500m at the SA Championships. One of the 800m favourites in Rio.
15 Chad le Clos (South Africa, swimming 200m fly)
The South African swimming superstar beat Michael Phelps in London and now wants to do it again. It’s going to be an incredible battle.
16 Cameron van der Burgh (South Africa, swimming)
Another sure-fire medal winner in the South African swimming squad. He’ll be going for multiple golds.
17 Jairus Birech (Kenya, 3000m steeplechase)
Kenya has a proud heritage in steeplechase and Birech will be one of the favourites in Rio.
PARALYMPICS 7-18 September 2016
Rio is bracing itself for a record-breaking Paralympic Games in September as sport grips the Brazilian city for an extra few weeks
The Paralympics take place between 7 and 18 September and are already attracting huge attention. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) expects record media coverage with the events due to be shown in more than 120 countries to an audience of four billion people.
IPC President Sir Philip Craven said: “Para-athletes will showcase to billions around the world the power of the human spirit and what can be achieved when testing your body to its absolute limits. Expansive global coverage will have a seismic impact on how people around the world view people with an impairment. But most of all I am fully confident that Rio 2016 will be the best ever in terms of athletic performance, going beyond what we saw in London four years ago.
“I am hugely excited about what people will witness in Rio this September. They will see incredible feats of skill, endurance and speed from athletes that many thought were unimaginable years ago.”
About 4,350 athletes from more than 170 countries are set to compete across 22 sports at the Games, which open on Wednesday 7 September at the legendary Maracanã Stadium.
Olympic schedule highlights
Wednesday, August 3 First event – women’s football first round
Friday, August 5 Opening ceremony, Maracanã Stadium
Saturday 6 August First gold medal of the Games in the women’s 10m air rifle
Beach volleyball – begins on Copacabana beach
Rugby sevens – women’s tournament begins, including Kenya
Monday 8 August Rugby sevens – Women’s Final
Tuesday 9 August Swimming – Mens 200m fly (Phelps v Le Clos)
Rugby sevens – Kenya in action
Thursday 11 August Golf – first round of men’s competition
Rugby sevens – Men’s Final
Saturday 13 August Athletics – Men’s 10km Final – Kenya v Mo Farah Part 1
Athletics – Women’s 100m Final
Tennis – Women’s Singles Final
Sunday 14 August Athletics – Men’s 400m Final
Athletics – Men’s 100m Final – can Usain Bolt do it?
Athletics – Men’s 800m Final – time for David Rudisha
Golf – Men’s final round
Tennis – Men’s Singles Final – can Djokovic take gold?
Thursday 18 August Beach volleyball – Men’s Final
Athletics – Men’s 200m Final – Bolt goes again
Friday 19 August Athletics – Men’s 4x100m Relay
Football – Women’s gold medal match
Saturday 20 August Golf – Women’s final round
Football – Men’s gold medal match
Athletics – Men’s 5000m – Kenya v Mo Farah Part 2
Athletics – 4x400m Relay Finals
Athletics – Javelin Men’s Final – Julius Yego for gold?
Sunday 21 August Athletics – Marathon – time for Kenya to shine
Basketball – Men’s gold medal match