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Rio 2016: Old rivalries, newcomers hope to shine as Olympic athletes take center stage

Rio 2016: Old rivalries, newcomers hope to shine as Olympic athletes take center stage

Posted by PanamericanWorld on August 04, 2016

The eyes of the world have turned to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 summer Olympic Games. Here's a brief look at a few things to keep an eye out for.

The opening ceremony is just a day away, and the excitement is starting to grow as top athletes prepare to compete their hearts out for a spot on the podium.

“It’s a new Olympic Games, and it’s always so great when you know that we are a few days until we get into the mood of the Olympic rings,” Fox Sports commentator Fernando Fiore told Fox News Latino recently. “I look forward to get every single sport – especially the ones that I don’t have a chance to follow year after year, that I wait for four years.”

The opening ceremony – scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern time – has already been marred by controversy after a skit that included the apparent mugging of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen caused such an outrage that it was removed from the script.

However, viewers can expect a heck of a party at Maracanã Stadium from a country known for its celebrations.

"People might be bashing Brazil now, as if all previous Olympics had been perfect, but it won't be long until they are all enjoying it here,” Denis Eduardo, a 34-year-old travel agent from São Paulo told the Associated Press.

In addition to Bündchen, the opening ceremony is to include appearances by singers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil as well as actress Dame Judi Dench. Most people are betting that soccer legend Pelé – arguably the country’s most famous athlete – will be chosen as the final torch-bearer.

On Wednesday the legendary player said he he had been invited to light the cauldron but sponsorship deals could prevent him from performing the prestigious task. However, Philip Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Rio 2016 organizing committee, would not confirm the report, explaining that the identity of the person lighting the cauldron is supposed to be a surprise.

Under the spotlight this year on the field of competition are U.S. swimmers Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, who have reignited their duel in the pool and could add to their already historic medal counts. It is likely to be the final Olympic appearance for each.

Lochte, an 11-time medalist, will have low-stress Olympic Games after a groin injury on the first day of the U.S. trials limited his qualifying to just two races.

“We are all expecting that he is going to be, again, a star. Probably not as shinning as we are used to see him, but experience always counts,” Fiore told FNL. “These superstar athletes get that little bit of push in the last minute, and usually they accomplish what they look for. I will say that we will see [his medal] count go up.”

Returning undefeated are the U.S. men's and women's basketball teams, which have crisscrossed the country in the run-up to the Olympics and delivered blowouts in all exhibition games.

The men are hoping for their third consecutive gold, while the women are going for their sixth in a row.

“This could be the last time we’re on the court together,” guard Dianna Taurasi told FNL after a recent practice about playing alongside Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings since 2004. “I don’t even want to think about it.”

Following the outstanding showing from the “Fantastic Five” at the London games in 2012, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team has raised expectations. Meeting them may be none other than 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez, a New Jersey native who dazzled at the Olympic trials earlier this summer with her grace and poise.

Hernandez, one of the youngest gymnasts on Team USA, is making her Olympic and international debut later this week and is expected to win big alongside teammate Simone Biles.

Fiore said there has not been another Hispanic athlete – gymnast or otherwise – who has received as much buzz coming into the games.

“I think [she] is going to be a good Latina star who will make us feel better about being part of this country,” he told FNL. “I expect all the Latins, not only from the United States but other Latin countries, will do well.”

Fellow Olympic medalists and veterans Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman just add to the Cinderella story surrounding the female gymnasts who have been dubbed, “The Magnificent Seven.”

One of the most highly anticipated disciplines at this year’s tournament is soccer. While the U.S. men did not qualify, the real battle may come down to a rematch of the London 2012 final between hometown faves Brazil and up-and-coming Mexico.

Brazil's men's soccer team is betting on a talented trio of attacking players to try to finally break through and win Olympic gold.

Star striker Neymar and promising youngsters Gabriel Jesus and Gabigol will lead the Seleçao's attack when the hosts take the pitch against South Africa on Thursday in Brasilia. There are high expectations about the front three, touted by most Brazilians as the best forwards the country has available.

“Brazil has never won an Olympic gold in soccer, and that’s why this particular time they are concentrating on it, and that’s why they requested Neymar Jr. to play in the Olympics and not Copa América Centenario, (but) it’s not a sure bet that Brazil will win gold in soccer,” Fiore said.

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