Simone Biles (Gymnast, USA)
Simone Biles (Gymnast, USA)
Look out for this 19-year-old with an infectious smile. She has all the tools to set the gymnastics arena on fire. Even before her Olympic debut, Biles has secured her place as one of the best in the sport’s history. But she needs the Olympic seal of approval to cement her greatness. Biles is the first American to win 10 titles at the Worlds. The record haul includes three straight all-round crowns, a feat no gymnast can boast of. The Ohio native is a sure-fire gold contender in floor, beam, vault and all-round in addition to the team event. Biles, whose ebullience is certain to win over the Olympic audience, has plans to use music from the film, Rio, in the floor exercise with a few samba steps to boot.
Katie Ledecky (Swimmer, USA) Her slew of records suggests that she is born to swim. After nailing the 800m free-style Olympic gold as a 15-year-old in 2012, Ledecky is on course for three individual medals in freestyle — 200m, 400m and 800m — at Rio. At the 2015 World Championships, Katie won gold in 200m, 400m and 800m without much sweat in addition to the non-Olympic event of 1,500m. With the American at the peak of her powers, the competition in longer freestyle events would essentially be for silver and bronze medals. Even Michael Phelps is in awe of Ledecky’s prowess in water.
Mo Farah (Athletics, Great Britain) Great champions have a knack for raising their game when the pressure to perform is at its zenith. Farah, with his famous kick on the home stretch intact, did the 5,000m and 10,000m double under the glare of the spotlight at home in London 2012. Two more golds in Rio will enshrine him in the pantheon of distance runners. Lasse Viren of Finland did accomplish the feat in 1972 and 1976 but he had always been under a doping cloud. Farah, who was born in Somalia before he emigrated to Britain as a child, can really thrill Rio.
Neymar (Footballer, Brazil) If there is one Olympic participant who would be more popular than Jamaican sprint sensation Usain Bolt in Rio, it should be Neymar. An unquestionable star at football’s spiritual home, Neymar has unfinished business. After the humiliation of the 1-7 rout against Germany in the semifinal of the 2014 World Cup, Brazil need the soothing balm of Olympic glory. Neymar, who escaped the German thrashing as a result of a back injury, has the onerous task of bringing smiles back on the faces of Brazilian fans. Also, Brazil, five-time world champions, have never won the Olympic gold and there isn’t a better place than the Maracana to end the drought. In team games, no gold would be more precious to Brazil.
Kohei Uchimura (Gymnast, Japan) His nickname — Superman — says it all. The Japanese superstar is ready for an encore in the all-round event, which determines the best gymnast at the Games. Kawao Sato, also a Japanese, was the last man to win back-to-back all-round golds in 1968 and 1972. Uchimura is so good with his seemingly effortless routines that even two falls in the pommel horse couldn’t prevent him from winning an all-round silver in 2008. The six-time world all-round champion has gymnastics in his genes — his parents were gymnasts. Japan are also the front-runners for the team gold. In Uchimura, they have an all-time great in their ranks.