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2016 Summer Olympics: 8 Things We’re Looking Forward To in Rio, And How to Watch Them

Even if you're not a sports fan, there's plenty of exciting drama (and maybe even comedy) to be found in this year's games.

Summer Olympics

Andre Penner/AP/REX/Shutterstock

And they’re off! After weeks of reports about trouble in Rio – from the threat of Zika virus to the very real problem of polluted water – the 2016 Summer Olympics got underway Friday night with an Opening Ceremony that underwhelmed – at least for American TV audiences. (Initial ratings were way down from the 2012 London Olympics.)

Nonetheless, the real drama and excitement is still to come over the next two weeks, as some of the world’s most decorated athletes look to add to their record tallies. As NBC’s Bob Costas recently told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour, “Obviously Michael Phelps is already the greatest swimmer in Olympic history. Usain Bolt is already the greatest sprinter in Olympic history, and they’re trying to add to what they already have done, so we’re talking about Mount Rushmore-type stuff.”

Costas also has his eye on this year’s gymnastics competition: “If Simone Biles of the United States delivers her “A” game, she will be, by acclamation, the greatest all round female gymnast of all time,” he said.

Meanwhile, NBC’s Mary Carillo (whose human interest sob stories are always an Olympics highlight) is bullish on several female events: “We’ve got all these dynasties, especially the dynastic qualities of the American women here in soccer, in basketball, in gymnastics, in swimming,” she said. “I think it’s going to be I’m not just saying this because I’m a woman, but I think a lot of tremendous women stories are going to come out of Rio.”

Then there are the stories that no one expects – even, occasionally, ones that happen to NBC team themselves. (Remember Costas’ infamous pink eye?) The NBC announcers said they won’t shy away from controversy as it arrives. “We have our fingers crossed that there won’t be a security issue, and something like Zika, the outcome of that is something you’d have to track months down the road because, even if someone is infected, the outcome of that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent during the 2 1/2 to 3 weeks that we are televising the Olympics,” Costas said. “But one thing for certain, every bit of competition that takes place on open water, marathon swimming, sailing, you’ve got to talk about the condition of the water.”

Here are some of the key Olympic events we’re looking forward to this year from Rio – and how to watch.

Michael Phelps: Ready to Make Another Splash

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps

Matt Slocum/AP/REX/Shutterstock

As the most decorated Olympian of all time, swimmer Michael Phelps isn’t looking for redemption in the pool. But he’s now prepared to show the outside world how he has personally matured.

Phelps, who has won 22 medals (including 18 gold), is in Rio for his fifth consecutive Summer Olympics, and a shoo-in to add to this year’s USA tally.

Meanwhile, Phelps is now a father, and comes to Rio with a different outlook on life. “I’ve been able to let go of some of the things I’ve been carrying with me for my entire life,” Phelps told USA Today. “That’s allowed me to get back to something I love and enjoy what I love. It’s about looking in the mirror and actually being happy with who you see. A lot of people in the world have a hard time doing that.”

Two years after his stellar performance at the London Olympics, Phelps was arrested for DUI in Baltimore. After pleading guilty, he was barred from competing in the 2015 world championships. The Baltimore incident came years after a 2004 DUI arrest, and controversy in 2009 when a photo of him with a marijuana pipe went viral.

“I feel like I’m a different person now,” Phelps told USA Today. “Maybe I’m nicer. I like to be able to interact with people, and before I don’t think I would have welcomed that. I’m just in a happier place with where I am in my life. For so long, I thought of myself as this kind of robot. Now that I see myself as a human being, it changed my life.”

Phelps was tapped to lead the USA team at Friday’s Opening Ceremonies as flag bearer.

How to Watch:
Men’s 200m butterfly heats (Monday, Aug. 8, 1:34pm, NBC)
Men’s 200m butterfly semifinals (Monday, Aug. 8, 11:10pm, NBC)
Men’s 200m butterfly final (Tuesday, Aug. 9, 10:28pm, NBC)
Men’s 200m individual medley heats (Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2:09pm, NBC)
Men’s 200m individual medley semifinals (Wednesday, Aug. 10, 11:29pm, NBC)
Men’s 100m butterfly heats (Thursday, Aug. 11, 2:16pm, NBC)
Men’s 100m butterfly semifinals (Thursday, Aug. 11, 11:34pm, NBC)
Men’s 100m butterfly final (Friday, Aug 12, 10:12pm, NBC)

Venus and Serena Williams

Serena Williams in "7 Days in Hell."

Serena Williams in “7 Days in Hell.”

HBO

Serena Williams is more than just one of the funniest parts of HBO’s “7 Days In Hell” (second only to Michael Sheen) — she and her sister Venus have also been known to play a little tennis. Since 2000, Serena and Venus have been icons for the Olympic sport, with Serena just having won her 22nd Grand Slam title. The legendary talents are coming to Rio de Janero to compete in both singles and doubles, chasing a fifth and maybe even a sixth gold medal.

How to Watch:
Women’s Singles Round 1 (Saturday, Aug. 6, Bravo)
Women’s Doubles Round 1 (Saturday, Aug. 6, Bravo)
Women’s Singles Finals (Saturday, Aug. 13, Bravo)
Women’s Doubles Finals (Saturday, Aug. 13, Bravo)
Women’s Doubles Finals (Saturday, Aug. 13, Bravo)

Women’s Soccer Team USA aims for a four-peat

Hope Solo

Hope Solo

Colin E. Braley/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The team to beat is the women’s Team USA, which has snagged gold medals in the three previous Olympics, and is looking for its fourth. During Wednesday’s easy prelim win, Brazilian crowds booed goalie Hope Solo after her paranoid tweets about the Zika virus. She laughed it off and has softened her stance, blaming the U.S. “media” for their coverage of conditions in Brazil.

How to Watch:
Group G prelims vs. France (Saturday, Aug. 6, 1pm, NBC)
Group G prelims vs. Colombia (Tuesday, Aug. 9, 3pm, NBC)
Quarterfinal matches (Friday, Aug. 12, 9am and 12pm, NBC)
Semifinal matches (Tuesday, Aug. 16, 9am and 12pm, NBC)
Bronze medal match (Friday, Aug. 19, 9am, NBC)
Gold medal match (Friday, Aug. 19, 1:30pm, NBC)

Gymnasts May Make History

Simone Biles

Simone Biles

Rebecca Blackwell/AP/REX/Shutterstock

All eyes will be on America’s Simon Biles, whose dynamic floor routines have gone viral for her combination of personality-driven performances and unbelievable athleticism — causing her tumbling pass comprised of a double layout with a half twist to be dubbed the “Biles.” The multiple world all-around champ could be making history, along with a male Japanese gymnast. “When these Games are over, if Simone Biles of the United States delivers her A game, she will be, by acclamation, the greatest all-around female gymnast of all time,” said NBC Sports’ Bob Costas at the Television Critics Association Rio Olympics panel. “And at the same time, Kohei Uchimura of Japan… if he maxes out among the male gymnasts, then he’ll leave Rio with the same designation, as the greatest all-around male gymnast ever.”

How to Watch:
All-Around Men’s finals (Monday, Aug. 8, 12 pm, NBC)
All-Around Women’s finals (Tuesday, Aug. 9, 12 pm, NBC)
Men’s Individual All-Around (Wednesday, Aug. 10, 12 pm, NBC)
Women’s Individual All-Around (Thursday, Aug. 11, 12 pm, NBC)
Men’s Floor Exercise (Sunday, Aug. 14, 10 am, NBC)
Women’s Vault (Sunday, Aug. 14, 10:47 am, NBC)
Men’s Pommel Horse (Sunday, Aug. 14,  11:34 am, NBC)
Women’s Uneven Bars (Sunday, Aug. 14, 2:21 pm, NBC)
Men’s Rings at (Monday, Aug. 15, 10am, NBC)
Men’s Vault (Monday, Aug. 15, 10:54 am, NBC)
Women’s Beam (Monday, Aug. 15, 11:46 am, NBC)
Men’s Parallel Bars (Tuesday, Aug. 16, 10 am, NBC)
Women’s Floor Exercise (Tuesday, Aug. 16, 10:47 am, NBC)
Men’s Horizontal Bar (Tuesday, Aug. 16, 11:34 am, NBC)

Ibtihaj Muhammad Brings A New Look to Fencing

U.S. Fencing's Ibtihaj Muhammad.

U.S. Fencing’s Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Flickr user U.S. Embassy London

The 30-year-old sabre fencer will become the first athlete to compete at the Olympics in a hijab. The fencing uniform with its full sleeves and pants was appealing to the lifetime athlete, who had previously had to tweak uniforms to cover her limbs as befitting her Muslim faith, and the mask itself allows her the anonymity to be judged for her skills and prowess, not her skin color, religion or gender. Muhammad joining Team USA could bring new interest to a sport with such rich history.

How to Watch (Live-Stream Coverage):
Women’s Individual Sabre starts (Monday, Aug. 8, 5am)
Muhammad’s first bout (Monday, Aug. 8, 7am)
Gold and bronze medal bouts (Monday, Aug. 8, 1:15pm)

Men’s Basketball May Win, But the Women Are the Ones to Watch

Kevin Duran

Kevin Durant

Remember when USA basketball formed the Dream Team? In 1992, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and a slew of unstoppable athletes came together to form what’s been labeled the most dominant team ever assembled. The group was extraordinarily competitive, even among themselves, and nabbing a spot on the squad was an honor refused to some of the sport’s most elite players (Isiah Thomas and Shaquille O’Neal, to name just two). The athletes took great pride in representing their country, with Bird overcoming injuries and Johnson coming out of retirement just to be a part of the legendary squad.

Well, that era is over — for the men. Many of the game’s top athletes are sitting out of the 2016 Olympics, including NBA Finals stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry. And while the existing American roster is still heavily favored, it’s the women’s team who have taken up the mantle of the Dream Team. Many are saying this group is the best ever put to a court, and Team USA will be shooting for their sixth consecutive gold medal in Rio. Let’s get behind them.

How to Watch:

The schedule has the women playing Senegal on Sunday, August 7, to tip things off. Other confirmed dates are August 8, 10, 12 and 14. The quarterfinals begin August 16 and the championship is set for August 20.

The men’s first matchup is against China on Saturday August 6, with other games set for August 8, 10, 12 and 14. The knockout stage begins August 17 and the championship is scheduled for August 21. Much of both sports will be on TV, but you can stream the games, live, online.

Is Anything More American Than Beach Volleyball?

The answer to this question is no, and not just because Tom Cruise was once filmed playing with the boys, shirtless, while Val Kilmer snarled at him, his partner flexed and good ‘ol Goose tried to convince Tommy that winning a volleyball match was better than sex. I’m sure our Olympians would have stuck around to finish the match, as their competitive ire is more on par with Goose’s than Maverick’s. Unless they find their way to the basketball teams’ yacht, that is…

Top Gun Beach Volleyball

How to Watch:

Beach Volleyball runs August 6 – 18, with the championship matches on the 17 and 18. It will undoubtedly get plenty of TV time, but you can also live stream the games, live, online.

Usain Bolt Rockets Back to Track and Field

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt’s mind is ready, but is his body? The Olympic gold medalist is making a dash to add even more medals to his collection of six gold. But after pulling a hamstring during the Olympic Trials, Bolt’s participation looked iffy – until he got a medical exemption to compete.

Now, despite (or because of) trash talking from his opponents, Bolt is eager to keep his streak over.

“I think they have not learned over the years that the more you talk, the more I will want to beat you,” Bolt told Reuters about his rivals. “We’ve been doing a lot of work since I’ve been here, everything has been going well, I’ve been feeling great and I have no problem so I’m happy with the progress I’m making.”

How to Watch:

Track & field/Men’s 100m preliminaries (Saturday, Aug. 13, 9:30 a.m., NBC)
Track & field/Men’s 100m Round 1 (Saturday, Aug. 13, noon, NBC)
Track & field/Men’s 100m semifinals (Sunday, Aug. 14, 9 p.m., NBC)
Track & field/Men’s 100m final (Saturday, Aug. 14, 10:25 p.m., NBC)
Track & field/Men’s 200m Round 1 (Tuesday, Aug. 16, 11:50 a.m., NBC)
Track & field/Men’s 200m semifinals (Wednesday, Aug. 17, 10 p.m., NBC)
Track & field/Men’s 4x100m Relay round 1 (Thursday, Aug. 18, 9:30 a.m., NBC)
Track & field/Men’s 200m final (Thursday, Aug. 18, 10:30 p.m., NBC)
Track & field/Men’s 4x100m Relay final (Friday, Aug. 19, 10:35 p.m., NBC)

All the Other Odd Sports

Beyond the mainstream, there are plenty of delights to be found in the Olympics schedule this year — things you might not have known were official competition events, but totally are. And while there may be fewer eyes on things like Speed Walking (which is far harder than you might think) and Trampoline, that doesn’t mean they lack for Olympic spirit. And don’t forget about rhythmic gymnastics! Ribbon dancing is the best.

How to Watch (A Sampling):
Women’s Trampoline (Saturday, Aug. 12, on NBC at 2pm PST)
Men’s Trampoline (Sunday, Aug. 13, on NBC at 2pm PST)
Rhythmic Gymnastics (Saturday, Aug. 19 on NBCSN at 8am PST and 3:45pm PST)

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