After 16 days of riveting and emotional sport in the first ever Olympic Games held in South America, lets have a look at 10 moments that you can put in the time capsule.
Fiji win first gold medal
Coming into Rio, Fiji had never won a medal – of any colour, in any sport. But with the inclusion of rugby sevens, a sport that is a religion in the country, its opportunity had arrived. Their British coach stands out like a beacon in Fiji because of his red hair and the Fijian prime minister told him only a gold medal will do. And coach Ben Ryan duly delivered. Fiji went unbeaten through the competition, finishing with a 43-7 belting of Great Britain in the gold medal match. The result brought ecstasy to the island nation of 900,000. But the players’ humbleness and appreciation was what made this so memorable. They sang in unity and tears after the win and that vision will stick in my mind for a long time.
Van Niekerk breaks 400m world record
On the same night Usain Bolt retained the 100m title, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk delivered one of the standout performances in track and field. He already was the only man ever to run 100m under 10 seconds, 200m under 20 seconds and 400m under 44 seconds. But he went one better. He broke the long-standing record of legendary Michael Johnson from 1999 in the 400m with a blistering 43.18 seconds. Van Niekerk says he hates the 400m event but doesn’t want to waste the talent he has been blessed with.
Brazil win first soccer gold
Soccer is a religion in Brazil. The Selecao had already won five World Cups but only three silvers at Olympic Games. With Neymar leading the team, they started with two goalless draws but eventually navigated their way to the final against Germany at the iconic Maracana Stadium. The public expectation to finally deliver a gold medal was enormous. It was time for Brazil to exorcize the demons of two years ago in Belo Horizonte when they famously lost 7-1 to Germany in the semi-finals of the World Cup they were hosting. It was regarded as Brazil’s worst sporting moment in its history. Unable to be separated after extra-time, it was the face of the team, Neymar, who fittingly kicked the winning penalty to send the crowd into euphoria.
Underdog Braz becomes national hero
22 year old Thiago Braz da Silva, became a national hero in Brazil after upstaging favourite and world record holder Renaud Lavillenie in an incredibly high-standard pole vault. Both kept raising the bar, literally and the competition which was delayed by rain didn’t finish until midnight. Eventually Braz cleared 6.03m, a new Olympic record and 10cm better than his previous best. The Frenchman had no answer. Braz became only the sixth Brazilian to win an athletics gold and first since 1984. It was Brazil’s ‘Cathy Freeman moment’.
Legends leave Olympics in style
Although Usain Bolt won’t retire until the 2017 IAAF World Championships, he left his Olympics legacy with a perfect nine from nine. No silvers, no bronze, just nine gold medals. It was one of the big questions coming into the Games, especially since he had a hamstring injury on weeks ago. He thrilled with wins in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay to cement his name as the greatest sprinter we have ever seen.
As for Michael Phelps, who was supposed to retire after London, it was expected he would only come into Rio and focus on one or two events but he was back to his brilliant best adding another five gold medals and a silver to finish with 23 Olympic gold — the most decorated Olympian ever. This time, he appeared more open and not as guarded as in the past. Perhaps it was his son Boomer coming into his life that has triggered the change.
Olympic spirit of sportsmanship
In the heats of the women’s 5000m, New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin stumbled, fell and accidentally brought down fellow competitor Abbey D’Agostino of USA. The American helped Hamblin up and said “get up, we have to finish this”. As they tried to resume running, it was D’Agostino who was appeared to suffer from cramp and it was Hamblin’s turn to offer her hand. Both refused to give up and finished last together. But the story gets even better. The referee used his discretion to reward their incredible act of sportsmanship by reinstating them into the final.
Ledecky makes her mark
With Phelps and Bolt now gone, 19 year American swimmer Katie Ledecky could now be one of the faces of the next Olympics. She scooped up gold medal after gold medal at last year’s World Championships but it is the Olympics where you can really make your mark and become a household name. She proved her versatility winning three individual gold across distances from 200m to 800m and also won team gold in the 4x200m freestyle. She broke her own world record in the 800m, leaving her rivals in her wake. If only the 1500m was an Olympic event for the women, which she would have been a sure bet in, her tally of gold could have been even higher.
Campbell sisters fail to medal
Not all memorable moments are good. The bubbly Campbell sisters – Cate and Bronte – are two of the most likeable swimmers on the Australian team. They specialise in the sprint freestyle races and came in as two of the favourites, especially Cate who broke the 100m world record only one month prior. Her hot semi-final form gave even more validity to her favourite tag. So Australians were in shock when neither could medal in either the 50m or 100m freestyle. Cate called it “possibly the greatest choke in history”. Thankfully, they didn’t leave empty handed, picking up a gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay. Cate said she has unfinished business and has already committed to righting some wrongs at the next Games in Tokyo.
Tears in the tennis
Many believe tennis shouldn’t even be at the Olympics because a gold medal isn’t as valuable as a grand slam title. But tell that to Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Murray, who all broke down in tears, some happy and some sad. The tears revealed just how much it meant to represent their respective countries. Murray was the flag bearer for Team GB and defended his gold medal from London. Del Potro earlier in the week, caused a massive boilover, denying Djokovic a run in Rio. For Djokovic, an Olympic gold is the only thing missing from his trophy cabinet and they only come around every four years.
Sport transcends culture clashes
The unforgettable image of Egyptian beach volleyballer Doaa Elghobashy wearing a hijab contrasted on the other side of the net with the more commonly worn bikini worn by her German opponent served as a reminder that despite our differences, sport has the power to bring us together. The power of one image can leave a lasting impact. It sends a message of education and inclusion and that you can be different and still belong.