Mining for Gold: Olympic Golf and Rugby Reemerge at the Rio 2016 Games
From exuberant national pride to the thrill of competition among world-renowned athletes, the Summer Olympics burst with built-in excitement already, regardless of the year, location or events. But when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approves new sports, extra buzz surrounds the additions, their rules and their athletes.
During the 2012 Olympic Games in London, women’s boxing debuted, and Nicola Adams of Great Britain took home the sport’s first Olympic gold medal in the flyweight event. Marlen Esparza, representing the U.S., earned the flyweight bronze medal, and Claressa Shields took home the gold for the U.S. in the middleweight event. China and Russia also left London with a pair of medals over the three events.
But what about Rio 2016? Luckily for a wide range of sports fans, two previously discontinued Olympic sports with international mass appeal will return to the 2016 Games, to be held August 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Let’s take a look at the fresh events heading to Rio this year.
Golf makes a mighty comeback to the 2016 Games after the absence of 112 years. The sport had only been seen on the world stage in Paris 1900 and St. Louis 1904.
Rules and Format: In the 2016 Games, golf will be played as an individual-based competition with 72 holes of stroke-play hosted on the 18-hole Olympic Golf Course, which will be played four times during a championship. Sixty golfers will participate in competitions for men and women, and the competition’s winner (with the lowest score) will take home the gold medal for their country. Medal tie-breakers will be a three-hole playoff.
Tournament Dates: Men – August 11-14; Women – August 17-20
Where: Olympic Golf Course, Reserva de Marapendi, Barra da Tijuca
How to Qualify: Each competition’s 60 golfers will qualify through the World Golf Rankings. The top 15 ranked golfers automatically receive an Olympic berth, with a limit of four players per country. After those first 15, the world rankings will still be used, but a maximum of two players will be allowed to represent each country that is not already represented by two or more players in the top 15.
Qualified USA Athletes: According to the International Golf Federation Olympic Rankings, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson are all in the top 15 for men. For the women’s competition, the top 15 from the USA include Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller.
Did you know? Tiger Woods may have played a role in the IOC’s 2009 decision to bring this sport back to the Olympics, according to a 2012 Bleacher Report. An international golf superstar, Woods had mass appeal for a sport that is played across the globe, including the PGA Tour in the U.S. and the European Tour. If Woods was battling for the gold, the IOC was convinced the world would be watching. But a lot can happen in four years, and Woods is no longer in the top 60 (much less top 15) to qualify.
Also, the Olympic Golf Course was built specifically for Rio 2016, and landscaping was sourced from local, native vegetation as part of an environmental recovery project. After the Games are over, the course will open to the public.
The 15-player version of rugby was part of the Olympic Games (for men) from 1900 to 1924. But when rugby returns to Rio 2016, it will be in the form of rugby sevens, a faster and shorter version of the game. Still, player safety concerns loom even with the changed format.
Rules and Format: The 2016 Games will feature 12 teams for both the men’s and women’s competitions. Each team will have seven players who attempt to score tries or win penalties by moving the oval-shaped ball by hand between players, with only backward passes allowed, or by kicks, within rules. Rugby sevens is a more fast-paced version of rugby, with 14-minute games split into two seven-minute halves.
Tournament Dates: Women – August 6-8; Men – August 9-11
Where: Deodoro Stadium, Deodoro Modern Pentathlon Park, Vila Militar
How to Qualify: To qualify for the 12 team spots, countries competed in a series of global and regional tournaments, which began in October 2014. As the host nation, Brazil’s teams for men and women automatically qualified for the 2016 Games. The United States qualified for both competitions in June 2015, when the men’s and women’s teams (the Eagles) took home titles at the Rugby Americas North event.
Qualified USA Athletes: The lists of athletes for both Eagles teams are long, and it’s unclear who will make the final Olympic cut, as of early June.
Did you know? Jarryd Hayne, a former Australian rugby star who joined the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent running back in March 2015, recently announced his retirement from the NFL. Why? So he could return to his original sport and compete in the 2016 Olympic Games with the Fiji Rugby Sevens team.
And there could be still more NFL representation on the Olympic rugby sevens field this year. Nate Ebner won a Super Bowl ring last year as a special teams player for the New England Patriots, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2012. Ebner has since taken leave from the Patriots to pursue his Olympic dreams in the sport he grew up playing—rugby. All he has to do is make the squad, as of early June.
Golf and rugby fans worldwide will rejoice when the long-awaited 2016 Olympic Games begin this August. But stay tuned for the 129th IOC Session in Rio that same month, when final approval could come for five new sports to be added to the Olympic Games for Tokyo 2020: karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing and baseball/softball. If approved, it would be considered the most comprehensive set of changes made to the Olympic program in modern history.