fb-pixel Skip to main content

Unless the Soviet Union does a reverse Humpty Dumpty or Vladimir Putin annexes China, the United States figures to stand atop Olympus for the sixth straight time at the Summer Games, which begin a year from Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro.

Uncle Sam’s mother lode, as always, will come from the sports with armloads of medals. The Americans win many more in track and field than the Chinese and in swimming than the Russians, and their podium breadth ranges from gymnastics to tennis to fencing to shooting to basketball. And after more than four decades of Title IX development, the US women excel in everything that comes with a college scholarship.

Advertisement



Here is a sport-by-sport look at the US prospects for 2016:

Archery: They’re not going to outshoot the South Koreans or the rest of the Asians who have taken over a sport they once owned, but the Americans could make the men’s team podium again behind Brady Ellison. Khatuna Lorig, the Georgian emigré and former bronze medalist, had an errant world championships but still is the best hope on the women’s side.

Badminton: With former world doubles titlists Tony Gunawan and Howard Bach departed, the medal chances have, too. Sattawat Pongnairat might win a men’s singles match, but there simply are too many Asians between the US and the podium.

Basketball: After the men and women ran roughshod over the rest of the planet in last year’s world tournaments, nobody is betting against a third consecutive double in Rio. The only question is whether the planet’s best player, who already has three medals, wants another. Even if LeBron James opts out, there’s still plenty of top-shelf NBA talent available. The women will be gunning for a sixth straight crown, with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi both going for their fourth golds.

Advertisement



Beach volleyball: The US women’s 1-2 medal punch in London was downsized to a solo shot after Misty May-Treanor retired after three gold medals and Kerri Walsh Jennings teamed with silver rival April Ross. If Jennings can bounce back from two recent shoulder dislocations, they will be in the mix with the Brazilians. Nick Lucena and Theo Brunner, who just missed a medal at the world championships, could get the men back on the podium.

Boxing: Claressa Shields and Marlen Esparza picked up the only two medals in the inaugural tournament last time, and they’re both world titlists now. The men, who sleepwalked through their worst Games in 2012, haven’t gotten much better. They didn’t come close to the podium at the last world championships. Short of cloning Sugar Ray Leonard, there’s little hope for next summer.

Canoe/kayak: No American ever has won a whitewater gold at the Games, but French-born two-time medalist Fabien Lefevre, who’ll be defending his world title next month, could be the man. Nothing doing in flatwater, where nobody made a final in London.

Cycling: The women will have to deliver again, just as they did in London with Kristin Armstrong’s repeat time trial gold and a couple of silvers. Best bets this time rest with the back-from-retirement Armstrong, world bronze medalists Evelyn Stevens (time trial), and Lea Davison (mountain bike). Tejay van Garderen, who was in contention in this summer’s Tour de France when he withdrew after falling ill, could get something on the road, and Brooke Crain will contend in women’s BMX.

Advertisement



Diving: The eight-year dry spell ended with a splash in London, where David Boudia won the platform gold and the Yanks picked up three synchro medals. They didn’t do nearly as well at last week’s world championships, but Boudia, who earned the silver, should make the Rio podium, and he and Steele Johnson have a chance in the synchro event, as does Amy Cozad in women’s platform.

Equestrian: The riders went from five to three to zero at the last three Games, their worst showing since 1956. While the Yanks have fallen behind the Germans, British, and Dutch, they figure to get an individual jumping medal from Beezie Madden and another from the team.

Fencing: After their huge London letdown — one women’s team bronze after half a dozen medals in Beijing — the Americans are en garde for Rio after picking up five at the recent world championships. Mariel Zagunis, who has two sabre golds on her résumé, still is the one to watch.

Field hockey: After finishing dead last in London, the women have much to make up for, but after finishing fourth in last year’s World Cup and winning the Pan American Games, they should be in the mix. The men, as usual, didn’t qualify.

Golf: They won’t own the podium as they did when the sport last was on the program in 1904 and only US entries competed, but the Americans still should be good for a few if they send their best. Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson both figure to make the podium, as does Stacy Lewis on the women’s side.

Advertisement



Gymnastics: What the Russian women used to be, the Americans are now. After the Fierce Five had their way with the world in London, last year’s global team beat the Chinese by nearly 7 points, went 1-3 in the all-around with Simone Biles and Kyla Ross, and won four event medals, two of them golds by Biles. The men, who missed the team podium in 2012, should be on this time, as should Danell Leyva (parallel bars) and Jake Dalton (vault).

Judo: Ronda Rousey set things in motion in Beijing, and Kayla Harrison had the golden touch in London. Look for Harrison to be on the podium again in Rio, and Marti Malloy also could get there again. Not much chance for the men, who haven’t won a medal since Jimmy Pedro in 2004.

Modern pentathlon: Unfortunately, the team relay isn’t an Olympic sport. Margaux Isaksen and Nathan Schrimsher won the bronze at the world championships. Isaksen, who just missed what would have been a historic medal in London, was out of the individual top 20 at the worlds but she’s still the top podium contender.

Rowing: After coming within half a second of five medals in London, the Yanks could pick up that many in Rio. The women’s eight is odds-on for a record-tying third straight gold, and the pair and quad are podium-proven, as are the men’s eight and four.

Advertisement



Rugby sevens: Both the men and women qualified for the sport’s Games debut (the 15-a-side version was discontinued after 1924), but making the podium will be a stretch. The Canadians gave them a tutorial at the Pan American Games, beating the men in the semis and the women (55-7) in the final.

Sailing: The wind has gone out of their sails. Nothing at Olympus last time and nothing at last year’s world championships in Spain, where a fifth place by Newton native Stu McNay and David Hughes in the men’s 470 was the best showing. Perhaps the ill-smelling winds of Guanabara Bay will blow the Yanks some good.

Shooting: The US may not be bagging half a dozen these days, but the shotgun people still are very much on target. Kim Rhode will be going for a fourth gold, and Brandy Drozd will be favored in skeet, as will Vince Hancock and Joshua Richmond on the men’s side.

Soccer: Assuming they qualify, the women will be favored to win a record fourth straight gold medal, with goalie Hope Solo, gunner Carli Lloyd, and much of the same winning cast from London. After missing two of the last three Games, the men have to make it to Rio or start sending the NCAA champs.

Swimming: The Americans left everyone in their froth in London, grabbing 31 medals and 16 golds, but the world has been catching up, as they’ve been finding to their dismay at this week’s world meet in Russia where the US had only four medals after three days. While the unsinkable Katie Ledecky has been in her own universe, Missy Franklin was fifth in the 100-meter backstroke, which she won at the Games, and the men’s 4 by 100 freestyle relay didn’t qualify for the final. The veterans from the Class of 2012, including comebacking Michael Phelps, need to get back up to speed.

Synchronized swimming: Too bad that mixed duet, where Bill May and his partners won gold and silver at the world championships, isn’t on the Olympic program. The US has been shut out at the last two Games and probably won’t qualify for the team event again, and cracking the top 10 in duet will be a challenge.

Table tennis: The only way the Americans get near the medal stand is if they buy front-row seats. They’re not alone there; the Chinese have a hammerlock on the podium. If the US gets anyone past the second round, it’ll be an achievement.

Taekwondo: The day when the Family Lopez could grab a fistful of medals is over. The men didn’t get anyone past the quarterfinals at the world championships and the sole women’s medal was a bronze from Olympic medalist Paige McPherson.

Team handball: You can be excused if you don’t know that the country that taught the world how to throw a ball while running has a handball team. But the men haven’t qualified for the Games since 1988 nor the women since 1992. Next chance is 2020 and Tokyo.

Tennis: Nobody’s betting against Serena Williams retaining her women’s singles crown, and she and big sister Venus have won three of the last four doubles titles. If they decline, Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears are next in line. Bob and Mike Bryan will be favored to go back-to-back in men’s doubles while the latter and Bethanie Mattek-Sands will contend in mixed doubles.

Track and field: Uncle Sam ruled the planet in London with 29 medals (nine golds) and topped the world table ahead of the Russians again in 2013. We’ll know more after the upcoming global meet in Beijing, but the Americans still get more from their sprinters, hurdlers, and jumpers than anyone else with the likes of Justin Gatlin, Allyson Felix, LaShawn Merritt, David Oliver, Brianna Rollins, Jenn Suhr, and Brittney Reese, plus decathlon king Ashton Eaton.

Triathlon: After winning just one bronze since the sport was added to the program in 2000, the Yanks are due for something shiny. It could come from Gwen Jorgensen, who has owned this year’s world series along with teammates Sarah (Groff) True and Katie Zaferes. The men still aren’t close to the leaders.

Volleyball: After settling for the silver behind the Brazilians at the last two Games, the women come in as world champs this time, primed to snatch their first gold at Olympus. The men, who won gold in Beijing, went out in the quarters in London and in the second round at last year’s world championships, where they lost to Iran.

Water polo: The women, who finally came up with the gold in London, are back in the medal mix at this week’s world tournament after slumping to fifth last time. The men, who dropped to eighth after winning the Beijing silver, were bopped by Serbia in Tuesday’s quarterfinals and will need some oomph to make it back to the podium.

Weightlifting: There’s been nothing shiny since Tara Nott’s gold in 2000 and won’t be this time. Sarah Robles, whose steroid suspension ends this month, came the closest (seventh) in London, where Holley Mangold was 10th. If Derrick Johnson or Colin Burns can crack the men’s top 10, it’ll be an achievement.

Wrestling: Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner, who won freestyle golds last time, still are around, as is Tervel Dlagnev, who’s now a global medalist. Adeline Gray will be defending her crown at next month’s women’s world championships in Las Vegas, and Elena Pirozhkova is a reigning silver medalist.

Andy Bisek could get the greco guys back on the podium.


John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.