Even before the games began, there had been controversies over the Zika virus threat, resettling of some poor families from the favela (officially only a few hundred, unofficially over 50k people), poor living conditions in the Olympic Village and the ban on Russian athletes.The 2016 Olympic Games started yesterday with a colourful ceremony, symbolic for mixing excitement with controversy. Apart from the organisational issues and a beautiful setting, Rio 2016 will be special because of an extensive list of athletes, who will not participate in the Games for various reasons
There are quite a few athletes who will miss the Games due to injuries and other health-related issues. Also, we already know about numerous Russian champions who will be missing (and, unlike others, not missed) after the dope-related ban. Another group of non-participants are the athletes who refused to come to Rio in fear of the Zika virus. Finally, there are of course those, who failed to qualify or were not picked for their national teams despite their respectable results.
The injured and the sick
The long and exciting NBA season took its toll on the American Dream Team with Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin absent due to various injuries. Other well-known basketball players, Marc Gasol from Spain, Dante Exum from Australia and Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia, are also recovering from injuries and thus absent from the Games.
Tennis fans will definitely miss Roger Federer (Switzerland), Milos Raonic (Canada) and Simona Halep (Romania), all brought down by injuries, which is particularly dramatic for Federer, who will miss his last chance for the Olympic gold, the only laurel he failed to win in his fabulous career.
Other notable absentees detained by injuries are Alberto Contador (Spain) in cycling and Sally Pearson (Australia) in 100m hurdles.
Fallen Russian champions
Russia will not be able to participate in athletics and weightlifting at all and many participants were banned in aquatics, canoeing & kayaking, rowing, cycling, modern pentathlon gymnastics, sailing and wrestling
The absence of Olympic and World Champions in athletics, canoeing and weightlifting opens new possibilities for other competitors. For all the early betters, who chose to gamble on the Russian champions like Yelena Isinbayeva (2xOC, 3xWC in pole vault), Anna Chicherova (OC,WC in high jump), Ilia Frolov (3xWC in modern pentathlon), Viktor Lebedev (2xWC in freestyle wrestling), Yulia Efimova (WC in 100m breaststroke swimming), Maria Sharapova (5xGrand Slam winner in tennis) or Alexander Dyachenko (OC in canoe sprint), the ban means an automatic forfeit. On the other hand, all those who bet on their opposition before the ban took place may well feel gratified for their early choice as the odds for any other champion are definitely lower in those disciplines now that the Russians are banned. The pressure rises especially for Brasil’s Fabiana Murer, who will hope to exploit the absence of Isinbayeva.
Not only the champions were affected. Several athletes hoping for a good performance will be missed as well, to name Ilnur Zakarin (cycling, this year’s Tour de France stage winner), Tatiana Kashirina (weightlifting, current snatch world record holder), Sergey Litvinov (hammer throw) or Vladimir Morozov and Nikita Lobintsev (both freestyle swimming).
The Zika threat
Although WHO denied any rumours of a Zika threat to for the Olympics’ participants, some athletes withdrew from the Games fearing the virus (and no wonder…). The discipline most affected is golf with Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Vijay Singh, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson all refusing to participate. Cyclist Tejay van Garderen and tennis player Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) also withdrew, openly admitting it was on account of the Zika virus threat.
The ones staying at home and the ones left there
For various reasons we will not see Lebron James (USA, basketball, resting), Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic (Australia, tennis, row with AOC), Jarryd Hayne (Fiji, rugby, dropped by coach), Adam Scott (Australia, golf, protest against competition format), Phil Mickelson (USA, golf, no. 6 in the world ranking, not qualified), Michael Diamond (Australia, shooting, dropped because of drunk driving charges) and John Isner (USA, tennis, other starting plans).
The long line of notable absentees started yesterday with Pele, the living football legend, missing out on the opening ceremony due to his health condition and after the first day, we can see how this particular problem of absent athletes may affect the Games. In fact, today’s individual, men’s, mass start cycling race was a case study of the missing and the missed in Rio 2016 with Tejay Van Garderen withdrawing because of the Zika virus threat (he didn’t want to risk transferring the virus to his pregnant wife), Ilnur Zakarin banned for dope allegations, Alberto Contador recovering from fractured bones after a crash in the Tour de France and Nairo Quintana absent because… well, nobody knows why he withdrew, but he was replaced by Pantano. Regardless, the race was probably the best Olympic cycling race ever held, with suspense (Majka caught by Van Avermaet and Fuglsang 1,5 km to the finish line) and drama (Nibali and Pantano crashed 10 km to finish, while leading the race) till the very end (gold for Van Avermaet, silver for Fuglsang, bronze for Majka – go Poland!).
This is just what we should expect. There are a lot of athletes missing, but only few will be missed and the Olympic Games are still bound to enchant us with excitement, rivalry, joy and drama with more close finishes and new, open opportunities.