One year out: Five showdowns to watch at Rio 2016 Olympics

Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky
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Recent Olympics saw rivalries such as the U.S. and Australia in swimming, the U.S. and China or Russia or Romania in gymnastics and the U.S. in China in the medal standings. None of those are looking likely in Rio, but other duels are on the radar. Here are five showdowns to watch with the Games one year away:

Missy Franklin vs. Katie Ledecky

Franklin won four golds at London 2012 and six golds at the 2013 World Championships. But it’s Ledecky, at 15 the youngest of more than 500 U.S. athletes at the London Olympics, who is perhaps the world’s most impressive swimmer. Franklin and Ledecky’s programs intersect with the 200m freestyle, which Franklin won at the 2013 World Championships and Ledecky won at the biggest meet of 2014, the Pan Pacific Championships.

Ledecky’s talent is so great that it’s not out of the question that she attempts to add the 100m freestyle to the 200m, 400m and 800m, which could create two head-to-heads with Franklin.

Katie Ledecky breaks 1500m freestyle world record again

Usain Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin

Bolt, the six-time Olympic champion and fastest man of all time, is concerned about his legacy. As he should be. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion who is five years older than Bolt, may prove to be the challenger to finally take down the tall Jamaican at the Olympics.

Gatlin has unquestionably been the world’s best sprinter since the start of 2014 and will signal alarms if he beats Bolt in the 100m and 200m at the World Championships in three weeks. In part because Gatlin is five years removed from a four-year doping ban. In Rio, his stated final Games, Bolt could pull off an unprecedented “triple-triple,” sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at three straight Olympics.

Bolt: Gatlin won’t break my world record

Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte

This rivalry hit its peak in 2011 and 2012, but Phelps and Lochte remain the two most famous names in men’s swimming to U.S. fans. Even if neither is the world’s best all-around swimmer anymore.

Phelps and Lochte split their two head-to-heads at London 2012. They could race for the final time in Rio, Phelps’ last Olympics, in the 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley.

Phelps: I’ve looked at my 22 medals together once or twice

U.S. Volleyball vs. Brazil Volleyball

Brazil owns more Olympic indoor and beach volleyball medals than any other nation with 20. Second place? The U.S. with 17. In Rio, Brazil and the U.S. could meet in any of the four volleyball gold-medal matches.

In indoor, Brazil’s women beat the U.S. in the last two Olympic finals, but the U.S. upset Brazil in the 2014 World Championships semifinals. In men’s indoor, the U.S. topped Brazil in the 2008 Olympic final, but it fell to No. 5 in the world rankings after missing the final four at the 2014 World Championships. Brazil is world No. 1.

In beach, the U.S. pair of three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross and the Brazil pair of Larissa and Talita each won four FIVB World Tour events in 2014. No other pair won more than two. Brazil is so deep that it swept the podium at the World Championships in July with three pairs other than Larissa and Talita. Americans Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal were the world’s top men’s team last year, but they’ve since split to throw the already crowded men’s field into further disarray. Brazilians Alison and Bruno provided some stability by winning the World Championships in July and following it with two straight World Tour victories.

Kerri Walsh Jennings sets return date from shoulder injury

 

Jordan Burroughs vs. Denis Tsargush

The never-lacking-confidence Burroughs has compared his rivalry with the Russian Tsargush to that of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Burroughs won the 2012 Olympic title and 2011 and 2013 World titles. Tsargush won the 2009, 2010 and 2014 World titles. All in the 74kg freestyle division.

In Rio, Burroughs could become the third U.S. wrestler to win back-to-back Olympic titles and provide more argument that he belongs with (or above) American legends like John Smith. His chances going in of winning gold will be greatly influences by what happens at the World Championships in Las Vegas in December. He will hope to avoid a repeat of 2014, when he fell to Tsargush, this image of defeat stuck in his mind on his smart phone for motivation.

Burroughs on Rio: My chances are better than in London