Highlight of the day
Athletics – Men’s marathon
In all of the hubris about iconic Olympic events, there’s really one that stands out alone – the marathon. The first Olympic games pushed hard to tie the modern Olympic Games to the Greece of old. The tale of Philippides, the solider who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been held off at Marathon, before promptly collapsing and dying, stuck in the minds of the first organisers.
Over time the legacy of the marathon and the Olympics was intertwined. The race distance was officially set after the 1908 Olympics and the placement of the Royal box, and the 1908 race itself was notable for the suffering of Dorando Pietri.
We could go on for days about the marathon, but we won’t try to alienate our tiny audiences anymore.
Eliud Kipchoge has run seven marathons ever, and has won six of them. In that time he has run the second fastest official time ever and won a World Marathon Series. The one time Kipchoge has been beaten it took a world record to do so, and the man to beat him (Wilson Kipsang) isn’t in Rio. There’s no reason on paper that Kipchoge should lose this race, other than than the sometimes bizarre nature of Olympic marathons, and their sheer unpredictability. There are other very strong contenders here in case Kipchoge fails to live up the hype, most notably Stanley Biwott and Lemi Berhanu. The field is relatively deep, and it was a complete surprise packet in Stephen Kiprotich from Uganda who took out the title. Kiprotich is back again in Rio, and will be one to watch again.
Probably should watch
Basketball – Men’s
If you hadn’t been paying attention to the earlier games in this tournament you’d assume that the USA will walk all over Serbia and take the gold unchallenged. But if you had been paying attention you’d know that Serbia nearly beat the US in the group stage, and have hit a rich vein of form. Miloš Teodosić has maybe been the guard of the tournament (alongside Delly and Patty Mills), with Miroslav Raduljica an unmovable force down low.
Serbia are still underdogs here, and perhaps massive ones, but they have a cohesive side, compared with the raw talent of the USA. There are few better international players than Carmelo Anthony, and this is likely his swan song in the Olympics. Add in Irving, Durant and Thompson and the array of stars is blinding.
But there is a way to victory for Serbia – based on hyper-aggressive defense and exploiting the sometimes lackadaisical effort by the US at the other end. Serbia demolished Australia in the semis by attacking Delly and Mills whenever they had the ball, and forcing Mills away from the lane.
One definitely to watch.
Volleyball – men’s
Volleyball is another sleeper pick of the Olympics, an electric sport at its best. With host nation (and volleyball obsessives) Brazil making the final, this one is set to be loud. Brazil only just got through the group stage, beating highly ranked Argentina and Russia on the way to the final. Facing the Brazilians are Italy, who beat them three sets to one in the round robin stage. Brazil are the number one ranked team in the world, and will be carried on the voices of the crowd.
Handball – Men’s
Another extremely enjoyable low-profile sport featuring a rematch of a round robin game. In the group stage, France edged out Denmark, but it was a close fought match. France are the two-time defending gold medalists and will be looking to go for the rare third straight gold, whilst Denmark have never placed at the Olympics.
Watch if it’s on
Cycling – Men’s cross-country
The most obscure and probably dullest cycling discipline to watch is the mountain bike/cross-country race. Slipped in at the end as a little coda to the bike program, it is rather strange that it was added to the Olympics given that it approaches unfilmable – a mass start, repeated laps of the same terrain, rough enough that heliocpters get heavy use and of course it’s a slow slog so not even very fast.
The top ranked racers according to UCI right now are are 2012 silver-medallist Nino Schurter, and three Frenchmen Julien Absalon, Maxime Marotte and Victor Koretzky. The 2012 gold-medallist. Ranked 5th, but the reigning gold-medallist is Jaroslav Kulhavý who is presumably still a show.
Rhythmic Gymnastics – Women’s individual
OK, the Russians will win this, but we ranked this a touch low yesterday. The shit that these athletes can do is off-the-chain. It’s a little long and convoluted for our liking, but better than synchro swimming.
Wrestling – Freestyle Men’s 65kg and 94kg
The 65kg is a very open field with Frank Chamizo and Soslan Romanov the notional top ranked entrants. The 94kg should see Anzor Boltukaev and Kyle Snyder as the gold medal fight if everything sticks to plan.
There’s a bunch of wrestlers from Dagestan and neighbouring Caucasus republics competing for different countries (Romania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) also lurking around the draw of the 94kg in particular.
This Caucasian dominance is the case in most weight divisions of freestyle men’s wrestling, but it reaches its peak here and is worth a bit of highlighting. So far Dagestanis have claimed a gold, a silver and two bronzes variously for Russia, Azerbaijan and Belarus. Others from the northern Caucasus region have several more (two Georgians for Georgia, and Ingushetian for Turkey).
More broadly, 13 of 16 medals have so far been claimed by the six countries in the Caucasus region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey). It appears to be something of a hotspot for the sport.
Boxing – Men’s 52kg, 64kg, 91+; Women’s 75kg
As we’ve said before, Olympic boxing is both fixed and pretty damn sexist. Olympic boxing needs to be reformed. We understand if you like boxing and want to watch, but we can’t recommend something this broken.
If you do watch today, watch Claressa Shields, going for her second straight gold in the women’s 75kg class. She won her first at just 17 years old. Shields grew up in poverty in Flint, and is rewriting boxing history as we speak. The only real question is whether Shields will go pro eventually, which she should.