Where's the beef? The rivalries that are livening up the Rio Games

Story highlights

  • Spats between athletes create narratives at Rio Olympics
  • Ultra-competitive sportsmen and women form grudges against their sporting rivals

(CNN)Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan; the Russian and US ice hockey teams; Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson; Mary Decker vs. Zola Budd -- the Olympics have always played host to some intense rivalries, sometimes personal, sometimes geopolitical.

It's hardly a surprise -- Olympians are among the most driven, competitive people on the planet. So 2016 is no exception, with some monumental spats boiling over in the pool, on the track -- and even in the stands.
Here's a look at some of the great feuds that could come to define the Rio Olympic Games.

    Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos

    Chad le Clos looks on as Michael Phelps goes on to win gold.
    For more than a decade, the great American swimmer had vanquished all comers in the 200 meters butterfly on both the world and Olympic stage, but then along came Chad le Clos.
    Chad le Clos: Beating Michael Phelps was 'crazy feeling'
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      Chad le Clos: Beating Michael Phelps was 'crazy feeling'


    Chad le Clos: Beating Michael Phelps was 'crazy feeling' 01:43
    The South African chased down Phelps -- his childhood hero -- in the final 50 meters of their meeting in London in 2012, to snatch a dramatic fingertip victory.
    But, after retaking the 200-meter butterfly crown, arms aloft and waving his finger, Michael Phelps left nobody in doubt just who was No. 1 Tuesday.
    Previously, cameras had caught the American -- the greatest Olympian ever -- looking less than pleased as he sat patiently waiting in the "ready room" for the 200-meter butterfly semifinal. In front of him, le Clos is seen doing what can best be described as a shadow boxing-style dance routine.
    But Le Clos shouldn't take it personally -- ultra-competitive Phelps also has a beef with USA teammate Ryan Lochte, with whom he resumed his rivalry in the 200-meter medley.

    Mack Horton and Sun Yang

    Mack Horton of Australia celebrates winning gold in the Final of the Men's 400m Freestyle on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
    Australian swimmer Mack Horton narrowly beat China's Sun Yang in the 400-meter freestyle event -- but the deepest cut came out of the pool, when he accused Yang of being a "drug cheat."
    Horton sparked outrage across China -- a nation not always known to handle slights well -- for describing his narrow win as one "for the good guys." Prior to the race, Horton said Sun, who served a three-month ban for testing positive for a banned substance in 2014, was a "drug cheat."
    Horton's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts were flooded with comments attacking him and demanding he apologize to Sun.
    "You are too complacent and will die quickly," read a comment on one of Horton's Instagram posts. Others called him a "loser" and "shameful," and flooded the comments with a snake emoji. Chinese state media also joined in the outrage.
    The spat adds another dimension to the men's 1500-meter freestyle race on Friday, when Sun and Horton will face off again. Sun won gold in the 200-meter freestyle on Monday.

    Lilly King and Yulia Efimova

    Lilly King of the United States celebrates winning gold in the Women's 100m Breaststroke Final.
    In one of the most anticipated swimming races of the Rio Olympics, US star Lilly King backed up her fighting talk by defeating Yulia Efimova to win gold in the 100-meter breaststroke. The Russian -- who had previously been suspended for testing positive for banned substances -- had drawn the ire of her rival by waving her finger in a "#1" gesture after winning her semifinal.
    American Lilly King defeats Russia's Efimova for gold
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      American Lilly King defeats Russia's Efimova for gold


    American Lilly King defeats Russia's Efimova for gold 01:04
    The Indiana native chastised the Russian ahead of the race, telling a reporter, "You're shaking your finger No. 1, and you've been caught for drug cheating. I'm just not a fan. I'm going to go swim my heart out for USA and hopefully that turns out the best."
    The American let her swimming do the talking. After bagging the gold -- by just under a second -- she told NBC reporter Michelle Tafoia that she felt she had made a statement on behalf of her country and other "clean" athletes.
    "I hope I (made a statement) -- that we can still compete clean and do well at the Olympic Games and that's how it should be."

    Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt

    Usain Bolt talks with  Justin Gatlin after the Men's 200 metres final during day six of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium in 2015.
    Even the fastest man on the planet has some competition -- and it comes in the form of American Justin Gatlin, who will be looking to spoil Bolt's samba party in Rio this summer.
    Usain Bolt: I will be 'fully accomplished' after Rio
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      Usain Bolt: I will be 'fully accomplished' after Rio


    Usain Bolt: I will be 'fully accomplished' after Rio 02:36
    But the Jamaican insists he's unfazed by the man who won gold in the 100m in Athens twelve years ago.
    "I don't think about him really," Bolt told CNN's Amanda Davies. "I always try to run the race in my head and try to execute. I definitely try not to sit around and think about people. I am trying to focus on working hard, executing and figuring out what I need to do to get it right."
    But he did say that Gatlin would "feel his full wrath."
    Gatlin responds to Bolt on 'feel my full wrath' promise
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      Gatlin responds to Bolt on 'feel my full wrath' promise


    Gatlin responds to Bolt on 'feel my full wrath' promise 01:20
    Gatlin responded amiably, saying that he just had to do what he "had to do." He said that he "hadn't really thought about" the possibility that the running track in Rio could be the last time the two greats meet.

    Argentina and Brazil's supporters

     Argentinian volleyballer Demian Gonzalez is hugged by a fan after his team won the men's qualifying volleyball match between Russia and Argentina at the Maracanazinho stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
    Fans are getting in on the rivalries too. Brazil and Argentina will hold talks Wednesday to discuss the relationship between fans from both countries attending the Rio Olympics, according to a press release from the Brazilian government.
    The meeting will take place in Rio de Janeiro, with the goal of encouraging "peaceful interactions" between Brazilians and Argentines during the Olympic Games.
    Russian athletes booed at Rio Olympics
    Russian athletes booed at Rio Olympics


      Russian athletes booed at Rio Olympics


    Russian athletes booed at Rio Olympics 01:34
    Russian athletes have also been booed at the Games, with sports fans jeering during Friday's Opening Ceremony, turning the normally jubilant parade of nations into mixed commentary on the decision to let 271 of Russia's 389 athletes compete despite a report accusing the country of "state-sponsored doping."

    Surprising non-beefs

    South Korea's Lee Eun-ju, left, smiles as she talks with North Korea's Hong Un Jong during the artistic gymnastics women's qualification.
    But sport's greatest show isn't always driven by intense rivalry. A couple of gymnasts at Rio 2016 have taken to heart one of the founding principles of Olympism -- "placing sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind" -- in a very modern way.
    Gymnasts Lee Eun-ju of South Korea and Hong Un-Jong of North Korea posed for a charming selfie, an impromptu photograph that's a rare occurrence by members of the two Koreas -- two countries which are still technically at war.