Two years to Rio Olympics: More sports storylines
The U.S.’ ability to win the medal count at the 2012 Olympics, surpassing rival China by 16 medals and eight golds, was in part due to success in sports outside of the traditionally bountiful swimming, track and field and gymnastics.
In London, the U.S. bettered its medal totals from Beijing in sports such as diving, tennis and wrestling. New champions also emerged in judo (Kayla Harrison) and boxing (Claressa Shields).
Overall, the London Games provided a showcase for track cycling, because of host Great Britain’s rich team, and archery, due to the “Hunger Games” boost.
What can we expect at Rio 2016?
Volleyball, both indoors and on the beach, will be a hot ticket. Brazil’s men’s indoor team has won at least silver at each of the last three Olympics, and the women are two-time reigning Olympic champions.
Brazil has won more beach volleyball medals than any nation since the sport’s Olympic inception in 1996. On Copacabana Beach, Brazilian pairs will look to regain the dominance the nation once had in the late 1990s, when Brazil was sweeping World Championships.
In their way is the greatest women’s beach volleyball player ever, three-time U.S. Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings. Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has found early success with new partner April Ross following the retirement of Misty-May Treanor.
The U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams will likely be overwhelming favorites to win gold again, though the future of NBA stars in the Olympics faces questions with Paul George‘s gruesome injury Friday. London coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Geno Auriemma decided to stick around for another four-year cycle.
American divers bagged four medals in London, after not winning any at the two previous Olympics combined. Platform gold medalist David Boudia will try to add springboard to his plate, while China will take another run at sweeping all eight gold medals. No man or woman has won medals on both the platform and springboard since 2000.
The face of U.S. wrestling, Jordan Burroughs, got married and welcomed a son since London. He also captured the 2013 World Championship four weeks after breaking an ankle and, in February, lost for the first time in his international career, ending a 69-match win streak. No U.S. wrestler has won back-to-back Olympic golds since John Smith in 1988 and 1992.
In shooting, Kim Rhode is back after giving birth to son Carter in May 2013. In London, she became the first American to win medals in five straight Olympics in an individual event. If she makes the podium in Rio, she could become the first Summer Olympian from any nation to win individual medals at six different Olympics.
World No. 1 Gwen Jorgensen could become the second-ever U.S. triathlete to win an Olympic medal, and the first to win gold.
Rio will also see the return of golf and rugby to the Olympics.
Golf was last in the Games in 1904, and it has made plenty of headlines recently with Rory McIlroy‘s decision to represent Ireland over Great Britain, the course’s delayed construction and how the 60-player fields will be determined.
No more than four players from any country can make the field, making qualification difficult for American stars such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Michelle Wie.
Rugby was last in the Olympics in the 15-player, men’s-only format in 1924, when the U.S. won its second straight gold medal.
In 2016, rugby sevens debuts at the Games in both men’s and women’s competitions. Sochi Olympic silver medalist bobsledder Elana Meyers played for the American team internationally this year and has not shut the door for a potential run to Rio.
The U.S. men and women are no lock to qualify for the Olympics, though. The Olympic rugby tournaments will include 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams, with Brazil taking one spot in each.
The U.S. men were ranked No. 13 in this past season’s World Series standings, though England, Scotland and Wales -- three nations ranked higher -- will be part of one nation at the Olympics.
The U.S. women appear to be in better shape, ranked No. 7 in the World Series standings and placing third at the 2013 World Cup.