Rio Olympics from A to Z

Experts available to discuss topics related to Games of the XXXI Olympiad, from the birth of the Olympics in Athens to concerns about the zika virus

Christ the Redeemer statue

The iconic Christ the Redeemer statue will be in plain view of Olympic athletes in Rio de Janeiro this month. UCR experts are available to discuss a variety of topics related to the Olympic Games and Brazil. Photo used with permission of runt35 at

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — With the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics scheduled Aug. 5, scholars from the University of California, Riverside are available to talk about a variety of topics related to Rio 2016, such as the history of the Olympic Games, the psychology of waiting, and health concerns of athletes. The XXXI Olympiad begins Aug. 5 and continues through Aug. 21.

History of the Games

Thomas Scanlon, professor of Classics
Thomas Scanlon has written many books and articles on the original Olympics held in Olympia, Greece, and sport in the ancient world. Some traditions of the ancient games set patterns that are still followed in the modern Olympics, the first of which was in 1896 in Athens. The Olympic torch, the notion of the amateur athlete, and the concept of gold, silver and bronze medals are all inventions of the modern games, he says. Scanlon can also talk about issues of gender, economics and violence as they relate to both modes and ancient Olympic sports. Read his blogpost about the role of violent sports in ancient and modern societies.

Brazil’s Economy, Life in Rio
Steven Helfand, associate professor of economics

Brazil’s economy, the 8th-largest in the world and the largest in Latin America, is experiencing its worst recession since the 1930s. Steven Helfand, whose research agenda includes economic issues in Brazil and Latin America, is available to discuss the current state of Brazil’s economy and the impact of its current difficulties on the Olympic Games. He also has lived in Rio de Janeiro on and off over the last 25 years and can address what visitors are likely to experience in Brazil’s second-largest city.

Security: Video Surveillance

Amit Roy-Chowdhury, professor of electrical engineering

Amit Roy-Chowdhury is an expert on video surveillance and analysis, particularly as it relates to national and homeland security. He can talk about surveillance security at the Olympics. He is the co-author of “Camera Networks: The Acquisition and Analysis of Videos over Wide Areas.”

Combating Zika

Omar Akbari, assistant professor of entomology

Omar Akbari’s research is focused on developing novel genetic based gene-drive technologies for mosquitoes that can be used to rapidly replace entire wild populations with genes that confer resistance to vectored diseases. His lab is currently focused on engineering technologies for Aedes aegypti, the main mosquito responsible for the transmission of both Dengue and Zika viruses. While mosquitoes are not developed yet, the combination of an evolutionary stable gene drive system linked with genes that can prevent Aedes from vectoring Dengue and Zika could provide a rapid, wide-range solution to combating the spread of these devastating viruses in a cheap, environmentally friendly manner.

Professor Akbari said this about Zika and the Olympics:

“It is estimated that 1/2 million visitors will travel to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics, and it is important that these travelers exercise extreme caution as related to Zika. In Brazil, Zika still poses a significant threat with a total of 166,000 suspected cases, and counting, thus far. As recommended by the CDC, pregnant women should avoid the games completely, and individuals with pregnant partners should abstain from sexual contact for the duration of the pregnancy, and upon returning home from the games. In addition, all visitors should take the necessary steps to prevent mosquito bites, both during the games and for several weeks after returning home.”

Soccer, Gender and Sports

Jennifer Doyle, associate professor of English

Jennifer Doyle blogs about sports, with an emphasis on gender and race. She has written about a range of athletes, including Caster Semenya, Serena Williams, and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. She covered the 2011 Women’s World Cup for Fox, and has published articles on sexism and sports culture with Deadspin and The Guardian. In the fall, she will teach a course called “The Sports Story.”

The Waiting Game
Kate Sweeny, associate professor of psychology

“Between the peaks of Olympic excitement, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the athletes wait. They wait for their moment in the spotlight to arrive; they wait to see how their competitors stack up; and they wait to see if their performance will be sufficient to secure success,” says Kate Sweeny. Her research reveals insights about these quiet moments of uncertainty. “Although some athletes are likely better than others at the waiting game, waiting presents an emotionally fraught challenge for most, and how you wait has consequences for both performance and reactions to one’s outcomes.”

Keeping Fit in Our Genes

Theodore Garland Jr., professor of biology

Trained in comparative physiology and evolutionary biology, as well as quantitative genetics with emphasis on exercise physiology, Theodore Garland can talk about how wanting to keep fit is in our genes, capable of being passed on genetically from generation to generation, and how future medicine could promote our activity by targeting these genes — thus complicating how athletes will be judged for their performance at future Olympic Games.

Media Contact

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Additional Contacts

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Sarah Nightingale
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Mojgan Sherkat
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