Everybody will want to watch Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps attempt to cement their places in history at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. But who are the up-and-coming athletes, or maybe not so up-and-coming, who could step into the shoes of the biggest stars on the biggest stage of all? I have spent the week doing some research and have put together a list, by no means extensive, of the young guns and athletes on the verge to look out for at the first Olympic Games in South America.
So without further preamble let’s get into it.
Jaheel Hyde of Jamaica, a promising footballer (he played for Jamaica’s under-17 side), he decided to focus on athletics instead and he was richly rewarded, winning gold in the 400m hurdles at the 2014 World Junior Championships then posting a stunning world youth record of 12.96 on his way to 110m gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. The 19-year-old now has his sights set on glory at Rio 2016.
Always a powerhouse in diving, China may have another phenom in Si Yajie, who has been diving since she was six years old. She stunned her rivals by winning the 10m platform title at the 2013 world championships, aged just 14. The following year she won gold in the same event at the Asian Games. She will be a major contender in her first Olympic Games in Rio.
Son of the soil, Marcus Vinicius D’Almeida will take aim for Brazil in Rio, billed the “Neymar of Archery”, he shot to fame in 2014 when he finished second, by one arrow, in an archery World Cup final, aged just 16. One of the host nation’s top medal hopes for the Rio Games, he also took silver at the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games and three gold medals at the South American Games in Santiago, both in 2014.
After stunning home favourite, in the water, Rebecca Adlington, to win the 800m freestyle gold at the London 2012 Games –– and at her first major international event –– Katie Ledecky of the USA, aged 15, will hardly be a surprise in Rio. She also holds world records in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m and it seems almost certain that she will add more records and could compete for seven gold medals in 2016, which if successful would be an unprecedented feat for a female swimmer.
Another Brazillian will try to medal at home in Matheus Santana. Having already taken silver in the 50m freestyle at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, swimming sensation Santana then broke his own junior world record on the way to gold in the 100m freestyle. He will be 20 years old at the Rio 2016 Games and could be one of the host nation’s star performers, especially if he helps Brazil to glory in the 4x100m freestyle.
Fernando Gaviria of Colombia first caught the world’s attention when he defeated former world champion Mark Cavendish in two sprint finishes at the 2015 Tour de San Luis in Argentina. Next, in February, he snagged the omnium title at the 2015 Track Cycling World Championships. Now, headed for Rio his sights are for sure set on snagging the gold in the multi-race category.
Getting back close to home Cuban Yunidis Castillo, one of the fastest Paralympians in the world and Cuba’s most decorated Paralympian, is currently working hard in hopes of earning herself a few more Olympic-level gold medals. “Rio 2016 may be the perfect event to end my career on a high note,” she told the media recently.
Women’s athletics has been crying out of for a global superstar to match Usain Bolt for much of the 21st century, and in Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba, it finally may have one. The 25-year-old has established herself as one of the greatest indoor middle-distance runners of all time over the past two years by setting four world records ranging from 1,500m to 5,000m, all of them by huge margins.
South African Wayde van Niekerk competes in the men’s 400m which has the potential to be one of the most enthralling events of the athletics programme in Rio. Van Niekerk looks set to be its chief protagonist. This time last year, the 23-year-old wasn’t seen as a potential Olympic gold medallist –– an also-ran behind Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt –– but he then clocked the fourth fastest time in history on the way to winning gold at the World Championships in Beijing last August and he is now very much the man to beat.
The marathon world record is one of the toughest and most mythical challenges in sport, and thanks to Eliud Kipchoge, it could be put under serious threat in Rio. The 31-year-old Kenyan fell just eight seconds short of the current record of 2hr 2min 57sec when running the second fastest time ever at last Sunday’s London Marathon –– and it looked like he had more in the tank. Given that London is not regarded as a particularly fast course, Kipchoge’s performance not only established him as the clear favourite for Rio, but it also suggested he could take both Olympic gold and the world record in one swoop, a feat achieved only four other times in history.
It is not an extensive list as I mentioned earlier by any stretch of the imagination but it is definitely a list of the people I will be following closely and without a doubt the people to watch among the already established stars of the biggest event in the world.