RIO DE JANEIRO — On Sunday the Olympic flame will once again be extinguished, the flag handed over to Tokyo and most people in the world will forget about sports like weightlifting and synchronised swimming for another four years.
Yes, we’ve finally reached the end of the 2016 Games and while the closing ceremony is usually a bittersweet moment, I suspect here in Rio it will be greeted with a massive sigh of relief.
Those who predicted the worst were proved wrong and despite some serious challenges, the Olympics have gone off largely without any major incidents.
While Brazil have not performed quite as well as a host nation usually does, their pride is very much intact having secured both the men’s football and beach volleyball titles, along with golds in judo, pole vault, sailing and boxing.
The football gold was by far the most celebrated – with parties erupting across the city on Saturday night after they defeated Germany 5-4 on penalties. Even though it was their under-23 team, it was some consolation for their 7-1 semi-final humiliation at their home World Cup at the hands of the Germans two years ago.
So, having picked my favourite moments at the halfway mark, it’s time to reflect on the games as a whole. Here are my picks…
SUPERSTAR OF THE GAMES – Usain Bolt (Jamaica)
There was American swimmer Michael Phelps in the first week and gymnast Simone Biles with her four golds and a bronze but there has only been one man who had his name chanted by every nationality in the crowd, every time he stepped out to compete in Rio – Usain Bolt.
The Jamaican sensation successfully achieved his historic triple treble (winning three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at three consecutive Olympics) but more than that – he once again charmed the sporting world.
It’s impossible not to like the phenomenal Jamaican when he’s showing off his dance moves, interrupting a TV interview to congratulate another athlete or waving a Brazilian flag alongside his own. A true superstar.
BEST POST-EVENT INTERVIEW – Paul & Gary O’Donovan (Ireland)
It’s tricky to top this one from Ireland’s silver medallists in the lightweight men’s double sculls. Brothers Paul and Gary O’Donovan took the internet by storm. Still searching for those podium pants…
SCARIEST MOMENT – Locked up
Working late one night up in the press tribune at the athletics, I managed to lose track of time and got myself locked inside the Olympic Stadium!
Every exit I found had an armed soldier telling me I couldn’t go out that way and the doors of the venue media centre were all locked. Thankfully, I tracked down a colleague on the phone who contacted a volunteer to come and rescue me. Not fun. Close second would be any trip in a Rio bus after 2am. There isn’t an Ayrton Senna Avenue here for nothing.
MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT – Ilia Zakharov (Russia)
He was the defending champion in the 3m springboard diving. After winning gold, Ilia Zakharov was named the 2012 Male Diver of the Year by the International Swimming Federation and he holds the title of Honoured Master of Sport in the Russian Federation. Then this happened…
Needless to say there was no gold for him in Rio this time around!
BEST DIVE – Shaunae Miller (Bahamas)
Ironically the best dive of the Olympics didn’t come from the diving competition and not even the football. That honour goes to women’s 400m winner Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas whose desperate dive across the finish line secured her the gold ahead of American Allyson Felix.
MOST EMOTIONAL GOLD – (Argentina)
It was a tear-jerker of note when Argentina’s Santiago Lange and partner Cecilia Carranza Saroli claimed gold in the mixed Nacra 17 class in the sailing. At 54, Lange was the oldest sailor in the competition but what made the victory all the more remarkable was that he was diagnosed with cancer just last year and had a lung removed.
Lange powered on though to take the gold – after which his two sons (who had been competing for Argentina in the 49er class) jumped into the water to embrace their victorious dad. Amazing scenes!
BEST VENUE – Fort Copacabana
Rio has so many picturesque spots to choose from but my choice for this one goes to Fort Copacabana, the venue for the open water swimming and the triathlon. Pristine 4km stretch of beach, surrounded by mountains, great crowds – just stunning.
PERSONAL HIGHLIGHT – Van Niekerk’s record-breaking gold
I’m going to be patriotic with this one and go with South African Wayde van Niekerk’s incredible world record-breaking run for gold in the 400m. He did it from lane eight, where he couldn’t see any of the athletes around him and simply blew the opposition away – shattering the great Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record on his way to a 43.03-second victory. Brilliant.
His legs were tired, but Britain’s Mo Farah produced blistering pace in the final straight to become the first man in 40 years to retain the two Olympic distance titles.
The 33-year-old, who fought back from a stumble to claim the 10,000m last week, said his victory in the 5,000m on Saturday night had been the most satisfying of the four golds.
Farah won his second straight 5,000m in 13min 3.30sec to match the feat of Finland’s Lasse Viren who retained the same Olympic titles in 1976.
“Oh my God I can’t believe it,” said Farah. “It’s every athlete’s dream but I can’t believe it. My legs were tired after the 10,000m and people had to bring me food in my room.
“This is the most satisfying win of the four, it is incredible.”
Farah, who trains in Oregon under ex-marathon great Alberto Salazar, said watching Ethiopian distance legend Kenenisa Bekele medalling had been an inspiration.
“When Bekele won all those medals I said I just want one. If you have dreams they can come true and I always wanted to achieve these for my kids because for so much of the year you don’t see them and thus you want to show them something or rather the reason for the absences.”
What was your favourite moment of day 15?
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