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Aug. 5, 2016 — The overarching stories of the Rio Olympics

Aside from field hockey (which we’ll be liveblogging), there are a number of overarching stories which are going to bear watching over the next 16 days and beyond:

1. Personal safety and security. As journalists and others have arrived in Brazil, they’ve already documented a heavy paramilitary presence. Yet, there have been kidnappings of at least one athlete already, and the thefts of items from the Olympic Village. It’s been reported that armed security will be accompanying teams around Rio. Regrettably, the Olympics have now become guards, guns, and gates.

2. Health scares. It’s gotten to the point where athletes who skip the Olympics for fear of the mosquito-borne Zika virus are making the news on a nearly daily basis. The problem is that the virus could be controlled with some basic health and sanitary changes on the part of the Brazilian public, such as getting rid of standing water or washing hands frequently. Regrettably, the same can be said of the Brazilian government, which has completely failed to make any kinds of substantive and systematic changes to improve public health and sanitary conditions. Indeed, when the Games were awarded to Rio seven years ago, a major goal was to clean up Guaranara Bay and to keep it from being an open sewer. Nothing has been done in the years since.

3. Performance-enhancing drugs. The Russian team notwithstanding, there are going to be plenty of doping questions surrounding the games. And I think there are going to be more questions for women athletes this time than in the past. But ultimately, I think one question that needs to eventually be asked is whether the efforts to clean up doping are all worth it. It reminds me of a parody article from a 1986 fake version of USA Today written by the Harvard Lampoon, which envisions a football league in which anything goes when it comes to drug use. A few days ago, Vice came out with this.

4. The women. The United States are gold-medal favorites in women’s soccer, women’s basketball and the team event in women’s gymnastics. As they should be; they have done incredibly well in these three disciplines over the last 20 years. But the U.S. women are also favorites in team events. The women’s water polo team, anchored by 21-year old goalie Ashleigh Johnson, are the reigning FINA World League champions. The women’s volleyball and field hockey teams are also in the medal hunt. It could be the best-ever medal haul in team sports for the American women’s delegation.

5. Corruption. Ultimately, are the IOC and head honchos making money while keeping “amateur” athletes in the poor house? Read this devastating article in the Washington Post.

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