The Olympics of 2016 will be a Games of many firsts: the first Summer Games to be held in winter—though the Sydney Olympics were also in the Southern Hemisphere, their September start put it in spring—the first in South America, the first in a Portuguese-speaking nation, the first to feature a refugee team and the first Games for Kosovo and South Sudan. They will also be the first in 52 years without Kuwait (suspended due to government interference with its national Olympic committee) and in 32 years without a track and field delegation—and perhaps other athletes—from Russia or the former U.S.S.R. (sanctioned for systematic doping).
On the field, golf and rugby sevens are making their contemporary debuts, though most sports changes are subtle shifts in regulations. Scores from the qualification rounds of the shooting competitions will be wiped before the finals—gold will be decided in a head-to-head competition. Swimmers brought to Rio to compete only in relay events must compete in either heats or finals, or their team will face disqualification. The weight classes in wrestling have been revamped in order to achieve more parity between men’s and women’s events. Now there will be six men’s freestyle divisions, six men’s Greco-Roman divisions and six women’s divisions. Field hockey games will now consist of quarters of 15 minutes, instead of 35-minute halves. Badminton, handball, judo and modern pentathlon also have changes in format since London 2012.
The biggest alterations to existing Olympic sports apply to boxing and soccer. For the first time since Moscow in 1980, male boxers will compete without protective headgear. And for the first time, professional prizefighters will be eligible for the Olympics. The decision to allow pros to compete was made only on June 1, and thus is unlikely to have a significant effect this year. The highest-profile pros in Rio will be former IBF flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand and former WBO middleweight champion Hassan N’Dam from Cameroon.