Relay fireworks to light up opening weekend

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Phelps hints that Rio may not be his final Olympics

Michael Phelps is fired up and ready to go for what promises to be an explosive first weekend of the Rio Olympic swimming program.

The American could feature in Sunday's 4x100 freestyle relay final and should collect the 23rd Olympic medal of his record-breaking career if he does.

The U.S. men have not failed to finish in the top three since the event was introduced in 1964 but champions France and resurgent Australia will be tough opponents.

SEE MORE: Everything you need to know about the Summer Olympics

The women's 4x100 is Saturday's late night highlight, with U.S. golden girl Katie Ledecky tipped to swim in the preliminary heats to qualify for a medal in an event world champions Australia are favorites to win.

"The first two nights of the relays, with the women's on the first night and the men's on the second, there will probably be a lot of fireworks in the swimming pool," said Phelps.

"I'm looking forward to either watching or being in that race. Those races are ... super fast and there are always some crazy splits that take place."

Water and pyrotechnics usually result in a damp squib but Phelps is right to be excited. The sprint relays offer memorable nights of high drama.

Now 31 and in his fifth Games, the most medaled Olympian of all time (18 golds) has played his part in many such moments but may have to dig deeper this time.

THE STARS OF SYDNEY 2000: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

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Where are they now? The stars of Sydney 2000, Michael Phelps' first Olympics
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Where are they now? The stars of Sydney 2000, Michael Phelps' first Olympics

Michael Phelps was 15 years old in the 2000 Olympics. He finished fifth in the 200-meter butterfly, his only event of the games.

Now 31, Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history and is expected to medal again in Rio.

Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe won five medals, three of them gold, in 2000 as a 17-year-old.

Today, the "Thorpedo" does occasional media commentary, owns an aquatic center in Australia, and recently launched a line of pool cleaners called Thorpedo.

Nicknamed "Eric the Eel," Eric Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, became a fan-favorite for his inspirational story, though he finished the 100-meter freestyle with the worst time in Olympic history.

Moussambani will attend the Rio Olympics as the coach of the Equatorial Guinea swim team.

Misty Hyman became the hero of US Swimming when she pulled off a major upset over Australia's Susie O'Neill to win gold in the 200-meter butterfly.

Hyman didn't qualify for the 2004 Olympics and retired from swimming. Today, she's an assistant coach for Arizona State University's swim team.

Dara Torres was another US swimming star, winning five medals, two gold in relays, after taking a seven-year break from swimming from 1992 to 1999.

Torres won 12 medals in her Olympic career. She is now an author and CBS Sports Network panelist.

Russian gymnast Alexei Nemov won the most medals in the entire games, pulling in two individual golds.

It's unclear what Nemov currently does, though he made headlines in 2016 for getting in an altercation with a political activist.

Michael Johnson concluded his legendary career with a gold medal in the 400 meters.

Widely considered the greatest 400-meter runner in history, Johnson now works with BBC and owns a training company called Michael Johnson Performance. He will be with BBC at Rio 2016.

Maurice Greene also starred for US track, winning a gold in the 100 meters and the 4x100-meter relay.

Greene retired as one of the best male sprinters, and has since appeared on "Dancing With the Stars" and volunteered as a track coach at UCLA.

Marion Jones dominated women's track for the US, winning five medals, three of them gold.

Jones was later stripped of those medals after admitting to taking performance-enhancing drugs. She has since written a book and become a public speaker.

Ato Boldon shined for the Trinidad and Tobago track team, pulling in a silver and bronze medal.

Today, Boldon is a track and field analyst for NBC Sports and ESPN.

Sprinter Cathy Freeman was a star for Australia in 2000. An Indigenous Australian, she won gold in the 400 meters and carried the torch in a spectacular opening ceremony.

Today, Freeman runs her own foundation focusing on the education of indigenous children and is an IOC Sport and Active Society Commission Member

Vince Carter was one of the stars of the US basketball team after pulling off "le dunk de la mort" — his wild dunk over 7-foot French center Frederic Weis.

Now, Carter is 39 years old and still playing in the NBA.

Meanwhile, Sheryl Swoopes averaged over 13 points per game to lead the US women to a gold medal.

Swoopes was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016 and was coaching the Loyola Chicago women's basketball team but was fired in 2016.

American wrestler Rulon Gardner became a legend when he pulled off a massive upset over Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin, who had not lost in 15 years.

Gardner has had a bit of a wild journey since 2000. He's attempted several comebacks, struggled with weight, appeared on "The Biggest Loser," and worked briefly as an analyst. He attempted to make the trials for Rio 2016 but was unsuccessful.

Lisa Fernandez set an Olympics softball strikeouts record for the US.

Today, Fernandez is an assistant coach for UCLA's softball team.

In 2000, Venus, 20, and Serena Williams, 18, won gold in women's doubles. Venus also won gold in women's singles.

Now, Serena is 34, Venus is 36, they're ranked first and sixth in the world, respectively, and own 114 combined singles titles.

In 2000, Lance Armstrong was 28 years old and fresh off his first Tour de France victory. He won bronze in the individual time trial.

Armstrong, of course, after his immense doping scandal, was stripped of his Olympic medal. Now, Armstrong has various projects, including a podcast.

Leontien Van Moorsel took home three gold medals in cycling for the Netherlands in her return from a battle with anorexia.

Van Moorsel is the most decorated women's cyclist of all-time and now owns Leontien Total Sports, a sportswear shop, and the Leontien Foundation, which raises money and awareness for eating disorders.

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"I think this sport has changed to where there's not really one or two power houses," said Phelps. "You could probably pick three or four teams that are going to have a chance to win that (men's) relay."

"The Australians have made a significant charge over the last couple of years ... there are a lot of young guys who have really stepped up that I think brings more excitement to the sport."

Russia took the bronze in 2012 but two of that quartet -- Vladimir Morozov and Nikita Lobintsev -- will be absent due to the doping scandal that has overshadowed the run-up to Rio.

The shadow of the past also hangs over Saturday's men's 400 freestyle, won in 2012 by China's Sun Yang ahead of South Korea's Park Tae-hwan.

Park, the first Korean to win an Olympic swimming medal when he claimed gold in Beijing in 2008, completed an 18-month ban imposed by world governing body FINA in March after testing positive for testosterone.

Sun served a three-month ban in 2014 after testing positive for a banned stimulant, spent a week in jail for crashing a car driven without a license, and was involved in an altercation at last year's world Championships.

Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles: The Athletes to Watch in Rio

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