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The Rio Olympics: A viewer's guide to 9 top sports

Basketball, swimming, gymnastics — oh my!

The Summer Games in Rio, taking place Aug. 5–21, will feature 42 Olympic sports over 306 events. Here's a preview of nine of the biggest to keep an eye on.

1. Basketball

The Associated Press

The U.S. men's basketball team will launch its bid for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal when it plays China on Aug. 6. Guided by longtime Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, the team is headlined by New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and newly minted Golden State Warrior Kevin Durant. Though stars like Stephen Curry and LeBron James withdrew from consideration, saying they wanted to rest after the long NBA season, the lineup still features a roster of standout, versatile players. Nine were 2016 NBA All-Stars; Anthony is the first player selected to four Olympic teams, and Durant led the team in scoring at the 2012 London Games, averaging 19.5 points a game — a U.S. Olympic record. The 2016 tournament begins round-robin style, with the U.S. playing each of the other countries in Group A: France, Venezuela, China, Australia, and Serbia. In Group B, European champion Spain could emerge as the U.S.'s main challenger for gold.

2. Soccer

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Women's soccer has come to overshadow men's at the Olympics, and the U.S. women's squad may cast the biggest shadow of all. The team is gunning for its fourth consecutive gold medal — and its fifth since the sport debuted at Atlanta in 1996. Of the 18 players bound for Brazil, 14 were part of last year's Women's World Cup championship team, including the 2015 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, midfielder Carli Lloyd. The 34-year-old is also the team's all-time leading scorer, with 87 career goals. Other stars include goalie Hope Solo, midfielder Megan Rapinoe, and forward Alex Morgan. The tournament begins with group play before progressing to the knockout rounds, where Brazil, Canada, Australia, and Germany could all pose threats. In the men's tournament, teams are restricted to players under 23, with three overage exceptions. Team USA didn't qualify, but Mexico, Argentina, Germany, Portugal, and Brazil are all contenders. Brazil is especially hungry: Despite a record five World Cup victories, it has never brought home Olympic gold.

3. Swimming

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The U.S. swim squad is dominated by first-timers, who make up 30 of its 47 members. They'll need to quicken their Olympic trial times to match Team USA's 31-medal performance four years ago in London. Big things are expected of 19-year-old Katie Ledecky, the world's most dominant swimmer, who won gold in 2012 in the 800-meter freestyle. She holds three world records and has posted the world's best times this year in the 200-, 400-, and 800-meter freestyles, all events in which she'll be racing. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals, has come out of retirement for his fifth Games. Slower than in the past — but not to be counted out — the 31-year-old will compete in relays plus the 100- and 200-meter butterfly and 200-meter medley. Others to watch include Josh Prenot in the 200-meter breaststroke, David Plummer in the 100-meter backstroke, and Lilly King in the 100-meter breaststroke, each of whom ranks first in the world in those events. The races start Aug. 6.

4. Track and field

The Associated Press

Expectations are high for the U.S. track-and-field team, which features five reigning Olympic champions and five world champions. LaShawn Merritt will likely try to match Michael Johnson's historic 1996 performance — remember the gold sneakers? — with wins in the 400- and 200-meter races. He'll have competition from Justin Gatlin, who'll be sprinting in the 100 and 200 meters, as will Jamaican speed king Usain Bolt. Fresh off a torn hamstring, Bolt's condition is somewhat unknown; Gatlin recently turned in the fastest 100-meter time of the year, at 9.8 seconds. Six-time medalist Allyson Felix surprised by failing to qualify in the 200-meter race, but she's favored for gold in the 400 meters. Other U.S. Olympic veterans who'll be chasing medals include decathlete Ashton Eaton, triple jumper Christian Taylor, long jumper Brittney Reese, and pole-vaulter Jenn Suhr. They'll be joined by plenty of fresh faces, with 77 athletes — almost two-thirds of the team — reaching the Olympics for the first time. At 16, 400-meter hurdler Sydney McLaughlin is the youngest member. The competition begins Aug. 12.

5. Diving

The Associated Press

Twenty-time U.S. national champion David Boudia, 27, could be the key to thwarting China's goal of sweeping gold in all eight diving events. The Chinese have come close before, taking six golds in London, seven in Beijing in 2008, and six in Athens in 2004. China's standout female diver is Wu Minxia, who holds six Olympic medals including four golds; if she lands in the top three in any diving event in Rio, she'll set a new record for the most Olympic diving medals. The big names on China's men's team include Qiu Bo, Qin Kai, and He Chong. Boudia squeaked past Qiu to win the 10-meter platform in 2012 and will be looking to defend his gold — a feat not accomplished by an American diver since Greg Louganis in 1988. Other returning U.S. veterans of London 2012 include Kristian Ipsen and seven-time national champion Abby Johnston, both of whom medaled in the synchronized 3-meter springboard and will now compete in the individual version of the event. Tune in from Aug. 7.

6. Gymnastics

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USA women's gymnastics is fielding another powerhouse squad as it aims to repeat the team all-around gold it won four years ago. And with traditional rivals China and Russia in periods of transition, there's little standing in the Americans' way. Two members of the "Fierce Five" who wowed in London are returning: Gabby Douglas, who took gold in the all-around competition, and Aly Raisman, who took gold in floor exercises. All eyes, however, will be on first-time Olympian Simone Biles, 19, the favorite for the individual all-around title. A three-time reigning individual world champion and the reigning world champion on the balance beam and the floor, she's established a reputation for routines of high difficulty that keep her ahead of the competition, even if she has a few bobbles. Madison Kocian, the world champion on uneven bars, and Laurie Hernandez, who excels on the floor and the beam, round out the squad. Competition begins with the qualifying rounds on Aug. 7.

7. Beach volleyball

Most fans of the sport are used to seeing five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings play with her longtime partner, Misty May-Treanor. The iconic pair took home gold in Athens, Beijing, and London, raising beach volleyball's profile in the U.S. But since May-Treanor's retirement in 2012, Walsh Jennings — who will turn 38 during the Games — has played with April Ross, 34, one half of the team she and May-Treanor defeated in the London finals. The new power duo enters Rio as the No. 3 seed, and will start in Pool C. (Each of the top six seeds headlines a four-team pool.) The other U.S. women's team, Olympic newcomers Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, will play in Pool A under the No. 1 seed, Brazil's Talita Antunes and Larissa França. On the men's side, the U.S. pairings each include one Olympic veteran and one first-timer — and both landed in the top six seeds. Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena headline Pool C, while Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson lead Pool F. The opening serve will be Aug. 6.

8. Rowing

The Associated Press

The USA women's eight will fight to continue its dynasty when the team hits the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. The crew is heavily favored for a third consecutive gold medal, having won every world championship title and Olympic race since the 2006 World Rowing Championships. While most of the crew has turned over in that time, it includes two experienced Olympians: Eleanor Logan was part of the team that started the streak in Beijing, and both she and Meghan Musnicki rowed in London. Coxswain Katelin Snyder, an eight-time national team member known for pushing the rowers hard with her shouted commands, will be making her Olympic debut. Possible threats come from Britain and New Zealand, both of which finished strong at the World Rowing Cup II in May. The men's four is also one to watch; two of the crew, Charlie Cole and Henrik Rummel, won bronze in London. The races begin Aug. 6.

9. Triathlon

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There's a lot of talent in the U.S. women's triathlon team, but Wisconsin native Gwen Jorgensen seems most likely to claim the gold. Jorgensen, who finished 38th in London after suffering a flat tire, captured back-to-back triathlon World Championships in 2014 and 2015. She also enjoyed an unprecedented winning streak from May 2014 to April 2016 that saw her take a dozen first-place finishes. The other team members are Sarah True, who missed a bronze medal in London by just 10 seconds, and Katie Zaferes, who recently won her first World Triathlon Series title. On the U.S. men's team, Greg Billington, Ben Kanute, and Joe Maloy are considered long shots for medals. The top spots are likely to go to British brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, especially since their main rival, Spain's Javier Gómez Noya, was forced to withdraw from Rio after breaking his elbow in a cycling accident. Triathletes swim 0.9 miles in open water, cycle for 24.8 miles, and run for 6.2 miles. The men race Aug. 18 at Copacabana Beach, and the women on Aug. 20.

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