Olympics: Five talents to watch who could be stars at the Rio Games
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | July 30, 2016
The Olympics from Rio de Janeiro will be the making of some athletes, and the breaking of others.
Usain Bolt, Chris Froome, Neymar – we’ve all heard of them if you’ve been paying the least bit of attention to sport in recent years.
What about the potential household names of tomorrow? Who could emerge in the carnival capital of the world and strut down Copacabana Beach with medals around their necks?
Coral experts have picked out five faces to keep a close eye on in Rio, and also maybe have cheeky punts on for various Olympics events…
Virimi Vakatawa (France)
Rugby sevens is the only true new sport on show in Brazil, although full XV-a-side union has been played at the Olympics in 1900, 1908, 1920 and last in 1924.
Fijian-born back Vakatawa, 24, has full international caps for Les Bleus, making a tryscoring debut in the 2016 Six Nations opener against Italy.
Although arguably overshadowed in February by the exploits of Azzurri kicker Claudio Canna’s all-action display, and a decisive long-distance penalty from French teammate Jules Plisson, Vakatawa got the Man of the Match award on his bow.
While subsequent union outings have yielded no more tries, Vakatawa is a sevens specialist and it’s because of him that Les Bleus could yet surprise fellow rugby heavyweights South Africa and Australia in what admittedly is a tough-looking Olympics pool.
Comfortable at centre as well as on the wing, Vakatawa is the undoubted dangerman for France with 60 tries in 82 sevens outings for his country.
Dafne Schippers (Netherlands)
When you think of sprinters, the mind doesn’t tend to go Dutch, but 24-year-old Schippers is a serious contender to lay the gauntlet down to the conveyor belts of talent that come off the American and Jamaican production lines in the women’s 100m and 200m.
An especially strong 4/7 favourite to win round half a lap in Rio, Schippers is a former world Heptathlon third turned pacy powerhouse. There is more value in the 7/4 on her winning the Olympics 100m.
The core strength this lady brings to the track was aptly demonstrated at last summer’s World Athletics Championships, where Schippers upset her more lauded rivals by running an area record for Europe to take the 200m title in 21.63 seconds.
Not only did she grab glory in Beijing, coincidentally the host city of the Olympics before last, but Schippers missed doing the sprint double by just five hundredths of a second – settling for second behind Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
While the established elite of sprinting shall challenge her again at the Olympics, most notably Elaine Thompson and Fraser-Pryce, Schippers should be aiming for a top podium place over both 100m and 200m.
Jonathan Calleri (Argentina)
With Lionel Messi retired from international football, he won’t be at the Olympics as an overage player, so the opportunity is there for Argentina youngsters to show they can step up and deliver the tournament success that has been eluding the senior side these past couple of years.
Deportivo Maldonado-owned forward Calleri, 22, has just completed a prolific loan spell with Sao Paulo, just down the Atlantic coast from the site of the Olympics.
An Argentine youngster with a parent Uruguayan club, who has made a Brazilian side his temporary home during 2016, Calleri is now interesting Premier League outfit West Ham United and La Liga champions Barcelona, according to reports.
Only host nation Brazil are more fancied for the men’s Olympics football tournament than at 6/1 with Coral.
Remember, the Samba Boys are cursed in this competition, always seemingly having to settle for second best, and lost in the World Cup semi-finals on home soil two years ago.
While Schippers has turned her back on the Heptathlon, Team GB have a very bright prospect in Johnson-Thompson and she could be the young pretender to compatriot Jessica Ennis-Hill as she bids to defend this title at the Olympics.
Johnson-Thompson looks to have learned from her mistakes of the last World Athletics Championships, when she failed to record a legal long jump and lost out on points.
Setting a new outdoor personal best in the high jump, she also defeated sandpit specialist Shara Proctor in the London Anniversary Games long jump.
With the Heptathlon looking like a three-way dance between Johnson-Thompson, Ennis-Hill and Canada’s world leader Brianne Theisen-Eatonm this seven-event, two-day multi-discipline track and field event is set to be among the most compelling viewing from the Olympics.
Pedro Pablo Pichardo (Cuba)
Finally, an explosive member of the Caribbean and Latin American contingent set to be on show at the Olympics is men’s triple jumper Pichardo. He has recorded two of the five longest legal distances for a hop, step and jump in history.
A personal best of 18m 8cm would have been enough to win at any athletics major during the last decade – except for last year’s World Championships, where Christian Taylor of the USA just bettered him and threatened Jonathan Edwards’ world record.
Pichardo, 23, has twice been runner-up at world level, and the third time could be the charm at the Olympics, although he has had a very low key season to date.
This may be a ploy for the Cuban to deliberately come into this under the radar. If able to replicate his best, then he more than has it in him to eclipse Taylor’s world lead mark of 17m 78cm – set at the London Anniversary Games just a few weeks before the Olympics.
Will Claye, also an American athlete, is the only other man to have gone out past 17m 50cm this season, so if Pichardo can perform in the sandpit, then more glory is surely up for grabs.