The first Olympics to be held in South America will take place in August, when 10,500 athletes from 206 countries will compete in Rio de Janeiro.
The 2016 Summer Games will feature such iconic venues as Copacabana Beach for beach volleyball and Maracaña Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and medal soccer matches. (The most successful World Cup nation with five titles, Brazil has never won a men’s or women’s Olympic soccer title.)
Golf and rugby will return, golf for the first time since 1904 and rugby since 1924. But it will likely be the last Games for American Michael Phelps, who enters as the top-ranked swimmer in the 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly and the 200-meter individual medley, and for Jamaican Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, who swept the 100-meter dash and 200 meter dash at the World Championships in August.
Brazil is in a financial crisis and costs have been a problem. Organizers have cut $500 million to balance an operating budget of $1.85 billion, and the number of seats in some venues has been reduced.
And the appearance of the Zika virus has added a new anxiety.
So six months out, here are six ways to follow the 2016 Summer Games now:
The Olympic Torch will be lit from the sun’s rays on April 21 in the Greek city of Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient games. It will tour Greece before the relay officially begins on May 3 in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia. About 12,000 torchbearers will cover more than 22,000 miles by road and air. The torch itself — made from recycled aluminum and resin — expands as it is passed to reveal the colors of Brazil. The relay will end on Aug. 5, when the last torchbearer will light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony at Maracaña Stadium.
How does the flame remain burning throughout? The torch itself is extinguished at night or while on planes but the flame is still lighted in enclosed lanterns, which are closely guarded.
Will Rio be ready to host the Games?
One worry is the sewage-infested water that athletes will be swimming and boating in — near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay, off Copacabana beach and in Rodrigo de Freitas Lake. Tests commissioned by The Associated Press -- the results of which were released in July and again in December -- discovered high levels of viruses and bacteria from human feces, up to 1.7 million times what would be considered dangerous on a Southern California beach. The contamination was found not only close to land but also offshore, where sailing will take place. In August, some athletes participating in pre-Olympic rowing and sailing events became ill with vomiting, fevers and diarrhea.
Olympic and World Health Organization officials have not followed through on promises to do their own viral testing, according to the AP. WHO says Brazil needs only to test for bacterial “markers” of pollution.
Adding to the health concerns is the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which arrived in Brazil last year and is now “spreading explosively” across the Americas, according to WHO. Brazil reported a surge of babies born with microcephaly — marked by unusually small heads and severe brain damage — though exactly how many is in flux. The virus may also be causing another serious condition, Guillain-Barre syndrome, which leaves some patients unable to move.
Brazil’s health minister said the country would send 220,000 troops to eradicate mosquitoes but he also was quoted this month in the country’s major newspapers as saying the country was badly losing the battle.
Transgender athletes should be able to compete without undergoing sex reassignment surgery, according to guidelines announced by the International Olympic Committee in January.
The guidelines were changed to reflect current scientific, social and legal attitudes about transgender issues, the committee’s medical officials told The Associated Press.
Previous guidelines, approved in 2003, required transgender athletes to have surgery followed by at least two years of hormone therapy before they could compete.
Now, female-to-male athletes are eligible to compete as males without restriction. Male-to-female athletes must show a testosterone level below a certain cutoff for at least a year before their first competition.
The guidelines, not regulations, are meant for international sports federations to follow.
Accusations of doping by Russia prompted U.S. Olympic athletes to call for officials to broaden their investigation, the AP reported. The Americans wrote to the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency the week of Jan. 25 in response to a two-part report detailing doping inside Russia’s track team, allegedly with the state’s participation.
The Americans want the investigation to be expanded to sports beyond track and field.
Follow along as athletes earn their way to Rio, beginning with the U.S. marathon trials in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. Trials for other popular events: diving, June 18 to 26 in Indianapolis; men’s gymnastics, June 24 to 26 in St. Louis; swimming, June 26 to July 3 in Omaha, Nebraska; track and field, July 1 to 10 in Eugene, Oregon; and women’s gymnastics, July 8 to 10 in San Jose, California.
The U.S. women’s soccer team will compete in Olympic qualifying matches to be held from Feb. 10 to 21 in Dallas and Houston, while the U.S. women’s water polo team will be competing for a berth from March 21 to 28 in Gouda, Netherlands.
A surfeit of talented players in some sports will make it tough to finalize Olympic teams.
Superstars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are among the 30 finalists for the U.S. men’s basketball team. The list features 18 players who have won 29 Olympic or World Cup gold medals. Other marquee names vying for the 12-member roster: Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City Thunder and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Likewise, the qualification system for golf will eliminate some top players. The 60 men and women will be chosen from the top official world rankings, but there is a limit of four players per country. The cutoff for qualifying is July 11.
Refugee athletes will have the chance to compete in the Games. Three potential athletes have been identified so far and up to 10 are expected to qualify, according to the IOC. A group of refugees will march together in the opening ceremony, a refugee will carry the torch during the Greek leg of the relay, and the torch will make a stop at a refugee camp in Athens, the president of the IOC said on Jan. 28 during a three-day trip to Greece, the AP reported.
The IOC has pledged $2 million to help refugees.
Nick Zaccardi contributed information for this article.