Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has the eyes of the world on it, and not just for its lovely beaches teeming with supermodels. The Summer Olympics take place in South America for the first time ever Aug. 5-21, and we’ve got your road map to the Rio Games right here with an A to Z guide to the top athletes, the biggest stories and other nuggets of knowledge you’ll need for 17 spectacular days in Rio.
ALSO SEE: Channel Guide Magazine Coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics
Aquaman’s Final Mission
Michael Phelps qualified for his fifth and final Olympic Games and is no longer the gangly teen we first met in Sydney. The American swimmer and new father looks to add to his Olympic-record collection of 18 gold, two silver and two bronze medals. He’s won a gold medal in the 100m butterfly for the past three Summer Games (2012 London 2012, Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004).
Biles Looks Unbeatable
American gymnast Simone Biles — the reigning three-time world and four-time U.S. all-around champion — looks to follow in the golden footsteps of Gabby Douglas, Nastia Liukin, Carly Patterson and Mary Lou Retton.
Copacabana Beach Party
The legendary Rio neighborhood will be the home of Olympic road cycling, marathon swimming, triathlon, sailing, beach volleyball, rowing and canoeing competitions, and NBC will make Copacabana’s famous beach its broadcasting home base. Millions of visitors are also expected to stroll down the beach’s famous black and white promenade and take in the area’s spectacular view of Sugarloaf Mountain and the Corcovado with its iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.
Douglas Flying High
In 2012, Gabby Douglas led the U.S. women’s gymnastics team’s “Fierce Five” to team gold and earned individual gold for herself. Now 20, the “Flying Squirrel” seeks to be the first back-to-back women’s all-around gold medalist since 1968. Aside from a formidable Chinese team, Douglas’ toughest competition could come from teammate Simone Biles.
Ian Millar is 69 years old and hopes to be an Olympian for the 11th time. The Canadian has competed in every Olympics since 1972’s Munich Games, except for the 1980 Games in Moscow, which Canada boycotted.
Felix In Her Happy Place
U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix dreams of being the first athlete in 20 years to win gold medals in the 200m and 400m sprints at the same Olympics. But to complete this feat, the 2012 gold medalist in the 200m (and member of the gold-medal-winning 4x100m and 4x400m relays) will face stiff competition from Netherlands sprinter Dafne Schippers and a strong Jamaican contingent.
Gators, Rodents And Monkeys, Oh My!
Brazil is known for its diverse wildlife, and a few creatures will undoubtedly show up without tickets. Handlers will capture and relocate alligator-like caimans and capybaras — the world’s largest rodents — that might wander onto the golf course. The course will also have corujas (owls) burrowing into sand traps, and small Mico monkeys will appear all around Rio.
Hardware With A Heart
Medals awarded at the Rio Olympics were designed with the idea that “the force of an Olympic hero is a force of nature.” In that spirit of preserving nature and sustainability, the Games’ awards feature ribbons partially made from recycled plastic bottles, the silver and bronze medals contain 30 percent recycled materials, and the top prizes contain gold that was mined without the use of mercury.
Ibtihaj Muhammad’s More-Than-Fashion Statement
Remember that name, because you’ll be hearing it a lot. Ibtihaj Muhammad is a member of the U.S. fencing team and is the first American Olympian who will compete in a hijab, or headscarf. The saber fencer is ranked No. 2 in the U.S. (behind three-time Olympic medalist Mariel Zagunis) and 12th in the world. Even if this athlete doesn’t earn a medal, she’s already won a victory.
Jamaica’s Lightning Bolt
Sprinter Usain Bolt will return to the track with the hope of winning an unprecedented “triple-triple.” Arguably the greatest sprinter of all time, “Lightning Bolt” has raced to gold medals in the 100m and 200m sprints and 4x100m relay in the last two Olympics.
Kim Rhode: Top Gun
Shooter Kim Rhode is the only U.S. Olympian to have won medals at five consecutive Olympics. In Rio, she’ll aim to be only the third woman in Olympic history to win medals in six Olympic Games.
Lochte Locked Out?
There was a shocker at the U.S. swimming trials in June, as Ryan Lochte failed to qualify for the 400m individual medley and won’t have a chance to defend his Olympic title. At the very least, Lochte will have a relay spot in Rio, but just how serious is the 11-time Olympic medalist’s groin injury, and how will it affect his medal count?
Maturation Of Missy Franklin
At age 17, U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin won four gold medals and one bronze at the 2012 London Games. Franklin, now older and wiser, has struggled with a back injury. With the emergence of Katie Ledecky, Franklin will need to stay loose but focused if she wants to expand her medal collection.
New & Improved Slogan
The official slogan of the 2016 Olympic Games is “A New World,” or “Um Mundo Novo” in Portuguese. The motto replaces the previously announced “Live Your Passion” or “Viva Sua Paixão.” We hope that the change celebrates the fact that the Olympics are being held in South America for the first time and not a response to the Olympic village being a legendary hookup hotbed, where “living your passion” could have unintended Zika-y consequences.
Old Man And The Sea
Sailor Robert Scheidt has already said that he will hang up his sails after competing in Rio. The 43-year-old is Brazil’s most decorated Olympian — with two gold, two silver and one bronze medal in sailing.
Parade Of National Pride
When the world’s athletes enter Maracanã Stadium during the opening ceremony’s Parade of Nations, it will be the realization of a lifetime of preparation, a moment of soaring national pride, and a time of infinite selfies. Whether the athletes are part of a big contingent, or their country’s lone delegate, they carry the support of their homelands like a laurel around their heads.
Quest For World Domination
Simply put, Team USA just owns some events. The U.S. women’s soccer team has won four gold and one silver medal in the five Games in which women’s soccer was a medal event. The U.S. women’s basketball team hasn’t lost an Olympic tournament game since it settled for bronze in 1992. Even without stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, a 15th gold medal for the U.S. men’s basketball team should be a slam dunk.
Refugees At Home In Rio
For the first time in Olympic history, 10 athletes will compete under the Olympic flag as the Refugee Olympic Team. The athletes include two Syrian swimmers, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a marathoner from Ethiopia and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan. In these Games, they’re representing all people displaced by war and oppression.
Rugby makes its return to the Olympics after a 92-year absence. The sport was originally contested in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924 with 15 players per side. But in Rio, the sport returns in a modern incarnation as Rugby Sevens, with — you guessed it — seven players per side.
Trio To Rio
Estonian marathoners Leila, Liina and Lily Luik are set to become the first set of triplets to compete in the same event at the Olympic Games. The 30-year-olds aren’t believed to be in medal contention, but we’ve got to think if one of them does make it to the podium, she’s got a pretty cool cheering section at her side.
Unis By Ralph Lauren
The Games’ opening ceremony is an opportunity for all athletes to share a moment of pre-competition triumph, but the Parade of Nations has also become the world’s biggest sportswear runway. While Team USA is decked out in Ralph Lauren’s finest, Team China will sport a kit the media has dubbed “Tomato and Eggs.” And don’t forget Team Bermuda and those glorious shorts.
Veni, Vidi, Vinicius?
The official mascot of the Rio Olympics is a mixture of Brazilian animals including bird, cat and monkey, and is named Vinicius, after Vinicius de Moraes, a Brazilian poet, essayist, playwright, musician, lyricist and the father of bossa nova music who penned the lyrics to “The Girl From Ipanema.” Legend has it that the cartoon mascot was “born out of the explosion of joy” when Rio was announced as the 2016 Olympic host.
Winter Is Here
These may be the Summer Games, but in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s winter. But don’t worry about needing a coat if you travel south of the equator for the Olympics. Brazil’s average August temperature ranges between 66-78 degrees. While we’re on the subject of winter, the 2018 Winter Olympics will be in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Not every Olympian can earn a gold medal, but with the Games’ bounty of personalities and stories of personal triumph, some unknown is bound to steal our hearts.
Youth Is Served
The U.S. men’s volleyball team includes eight players who will be playing in their first Olympics, and nine of the 12 players on the roster are under age 30. Team USA has won three gold medals in men’s volleyball since 1964, but didn’t reach the podium in 2012.
Zhang Hopes To Overturn The Tables
American Lily Zhang seeks to upset China’s decades of table tennis dominance. China has won 24 out of 28 gold medals in table tennis since the event became an Olympic sport in 1988.