The biggest sporting event in the world is taking place in South America for the first time ever, with 10,500 athletes competing across 33 venues for Olympic glory at Rio 2016, including a ten-strong team of refugee stars. To bring you up to speed, Azimo has run, jumped and swum its way around the schedule to find some of the biggest contenders this August.
World Record: Usain Bolt (9.58secs)
In a sport mired in doping controversy, Jamaican hero Usain Bolt stands tall as a beacon of hope for clean-living athletes the world over. He’s pretty fast, too: he set a new Olympic record in the 200m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, before getting his breath back and doing it all over again in the 100m at London 2012. Cool runnings.
Rio Contender: Justin Gatlin
Now 34, Justin Gatlin is at the last chance saloon when it comes to pipping Bolt to the finishing post and beating his record. He sees Rio as his road to redemption, having twice been banned for doping offences. Gatlin did beat Bolt’s record time this year on a Japanese game show, but he had a little help from a massive fan blowing him along the track.
World Record: Michael Johnson (43.18secs)
Michael Johnson, he of the famously bling gold running spikes, set the sport alight at this distance nearly two decades ago when he set a new world record at Seville in 1999. He also held the 200m record for more than a decade, after posting 19.31secs at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but Usain Bolt finally snatched that away from him at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Rio Contender: Wayde Van Niekerk
Wayde Van Niekerk is a 23-year-old South African who has become a real contender in the Olympic line-up since posting the fourth fastest 400m in history at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. His time of 43.48secs beat his personal best by half a second and was just 0.3secs off Johnson’s 17-year-old world record. He might get even closer to MJ in Rio.
Men’s 400m Hurdles
World Record: Kevin Young (46.78secs)
World records don’t come easily in the 400m hurdles. American Edwin Moses held the record from 1976 to 1992, and won 122 races in a row between 1977 and 1987. Fellow American Kevin Young has held it ever since, after storming to victory at the Barcelona Olympics. He was the first, and still only, person to dip below 47secs in the event.
Rio Contender: Jaheel Hyde
Jaheel Hyde was a promising footballer and played for Jamaica’s Under-17s, but has now opted to run without the ball instead. The decision has paid off – he won gold at the 2014 World Junior Championships. Now 19, he’s looking to push his way on to the podium in Rio as well, and maybe even break Young’s 24-year-old record in the process.
World Record: Dennis Kimetto (2hrs 2mins 57secs)
The ten fastest marathon runs to date have all taken place during the last decade, with eight of them by Kenyans and six of them on the streets of Berlin, including the fastest time on record by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014. His astonishing performance knocked nearly half a minute off the previous world best.
Rio Contender: Eliud Kipchoge
Another Kenyan, 31-year-old Eliud Kipchoge, is hot on Kimetto’s heels. He ran the second fastest marathon in history when he retained his title on the streets of London in April this year. His time? 2hrs 3mins 5secs – just eight seconds behind Kimetto’s world record time in Berlin.
Men’s Triple Jump
World Record: Jonathan Edwards (18.29m)
The world looked on in awe when Jonathan Edwards hopped, skipped and jumped his way to stardom with a gigantic triple jump of 18.29m at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg. But the Olympic record is still held by American Kenny Powell, who beat Edwards into silver with a jump of 18.09m at the 1996 Barcelona Olympics.
Rio Contender: Christian Taylor
Both of these 20-year-old records could be under threat in Rio from American Christian Taylor, who leaped to fame at the World Championships in Beijing in 2015 with his first, and only, jump over the magic 18m mark. In fact, it was way over, and the 18.21m recorded is now the second longest leap in history behind Edwards. Can he go even longer at Rio?
World Record: Florence Griffith Joyner (21.34secs)
Florence Griffith Joyner, or Flo-Jo, is one of the legends of track and field and was a triple gold medallist at the Seoul Olympics, although her career was marred by unproven allegations of drug use. The speed queen still holds the 100m and 200m world records she set way back in 1988, but she tragically died in her sleep a decade later at the age of just 38.
Rio Contender: Dafne Schippers
Dafne Schippers is a Dutch dynamo who’s taking the sprinting world by storm. She won silver in the 100m at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, and went one better in the 200m. Her winning time of 21.63secs was a new European record and was the third fastest time in history, just 0.29secs off Flo-Jo’s world record, which has stood for an astonishing 27 years.
Women’s 200m Freestyle Swimming
World Record: Federica Pellegrini (1min 52.98secs)
As a native of Venice province, Federica Pellegrini grew up just a few kilometres from the Adriatic Sea. Now 27, she has become an Italian swimming icon. She was the first ever woman to duck under four minutes in the 400m freestyle and she still holds the world record in the 200m freestyle, having lost her 400m record to young American pretender Katie Ledecky.
Rio Contender: Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky won her first Olympic medal at London 2012 at the tender age of 15 and now, still only 19, she’s on course to dominate the women’s swimming events at Rio. She already holds the world record for 400m, 800m and 1,500m, which just leaves Pellegrini’s seven-year-old 200m record to break at the swanky new $38 million Olympic Aquatics Stadium.
World Record: Jackie Joyner-Kersee (7,291 points)
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is regarded by many experts as one of the finest athletes ever to have walked into a stadium. During her glittering career, she won three Olympic golds (one for long jump, two for heptathlon) and set a world record heptathlon score of 7,291 points in 1988 that still stands firm nearly 28 years later.
Rio Contender: Jessica Ennis-Hill
Jessica Ennis-Hill is a British heptathlon superhero, having won gold at the London Olympics with a personal best score of 6,955 points. She’s now 30 and has a young child, so Rio will almost certainly be her last Olympics and she wants to go out in a blaze of glory. The bookies agree – she’s favourite to come home with another gold medal round her neck.
If you’re a huge Olympics fan (and let’s face it, who isn’t) you’ll love our previous blog on Perfect 10: Rio’s Refugee Stars