Moments that defined the Rio Games

Sport360 staff 23/08/2016

Rio 2016 left us with plenty of great moments and our Sport360 team have listed some of the best.

From the velodrome to the track, on the floor and in the pool, here are our favourite memories of the 2016 Olympics…



The idea of justice can be a rare concept in sporting competition. Not in the sense of rules being broken, but when the right person wins, and not simply for the reason of them being the best in the race.

Elia Viviani has endured a painful year with a serious crash at Paris-Roubaix that should havecaused far more harm than it did, while his one Grand Tour appearance, at the Giro d’Italia, was cut short due to the effects of the collision. The Olympics has always been on the horizon, though.

And Viviani, more so than most road cyclists who compete professionally, was desperate for a medal and not silver or bronze. Success in the European Youth Olympics helped fuel his career and a sixth place in the men’s omnium in 2012, after a poor run in the final race of the event, left a lingering feeling he had been wronged.

In Rio, fate nearly went against him, as in the concluding points of the race he was run off the track by rival Mark Cavendish and his dream could have been over. But the Italian battled back, taking the gold he has seen as his destiny for the last four years. The tears at the finish said it all, really.



In Athens 12 years ago, Colombia’s Oscar Figueroa finished fifth in the men’s 56kg weighlifting. Injury saw him with a DNF in Beijing and then in London he narrowly missed out on gold and had to settle for silver. But in Rio, he had his golden moment and it was spine-tingling.

After clinching the 62kg class, the 33-year-old displayed the entire range of emotions exhibited in sport when in an instant he went from focused weightlifter to a tearful veteran. Sportspeople often talk about without knowing how to comprehend the level of their achievements.

After more than a decade of disappointment, Figueroa knew exactly what he’d done. He slumped to his knees, cried tears of joy to a roaring standing ovation and then took his shoes off in the same spot he won, to signal his retirement. It was a beautiful moment.



A 100m butterfly that had everything – shock, drama and a finish both ironic and poetic. There was 21-year-old Joseph Schooling, beating Michael Phelps, the swimmer he idolised and met as a fan eight years ago. The win delivering Singapore its first gold.

In second place, we saw the first triple-tie in Olympic history as Michael Phelps and two of his fiercest rivals, Chad Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh all clocked the same time to share silver. The way the swimming superstars all swam over to Schooling to congratulate him, looking genuinely happy for him was amazing.

After battling in the pool all those years, the trio ascended the second step of the podium holding hands and cracking up. A moment that showed after a lifetime of swimming, Phelps was finally at peace, smiling; after a race in which he came second.



So, why would I pick someone who finished 41st in her competition as my Olympics highlight? Because she epitomised everything that golf hoped to accomplish by becoming a part of the Games after a gap of 112 years.

The 18-year-old from India was the 59th player to make the 60-woman field. She was ranked 462nd in the world, competing against nine of the top-10 ranked LPGA stars.

And yet, she was a co-leader after 27 holes, raising enough curiosity back home to become the third-most trending and searched name for a full day. It was the timely boost Indian golf, especially the women’s game, hoped to receive. She lived up to the true ethos of the Games – she may not have won, but her participation mattered.



One of the reasons we love the Olympics is the platform it provides for athletes to turn into household names right before our eyes. That’s exactly what we witnessed with Simone Biles in Rio as the American teenager took the Games by storm to impressively capture four gold medals.

We all knew she was the gymnast to beat, but her title as favourite didn’t do justice to how dominants she truly was. It was amazing to watch someone so young have so much poise, grace and elegance as they stood head and shoulders above their peers.

Biles is outstanding in all her events, but she really stood out in the floor exercise, delivering flips and manuervers most gymnasts can only dream of. It may have been her first and last appearance at the Olympics, but Biles’ star shined for all to see.



From Abdullah Al-Rashidi winning a skeet bronze for Kuwait in an Arsenal shirt to Lee Eun-ju of South Korea and Hong Un-jong of North Korea showing a moment of unity, there were a number of great moments. But for me, it’s the true sportsmanship of New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin and USA’s Abbey D’Agostino.

They entered the track as strangers but left as heroes and friends, winning the hearts of millions worldwide. Sacrificing four years of preparation for a medal in the 5,000m to help each other to complete the race after both were left hurt on the track after a collision was truly inspiring.

They may have missed out on the podium but received the International Fair Play Committee Award from the IOC. This story rekindled the memories of Derek Redmond crossing the 400m line after pulling up with an injury in the 1992 Games in Barcelona, and captured the spirit of what the Olympics is all about.



The thing about sport that captivates me is how it has this unearthly power to bring people together. A case in point is US shot putter Darrell Hill. The 23-year-old got nowhere near a medal in Rio but, thanks to the kindness of a stranger, his father got close to him.

Dad Ellis is an Uber driver in their native Pennsylvania and told passenger Liz Willock on a cab ride prior to the event he couldn’t afford a plane ticket to Brazil to watch his son compete. Willock created a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $7,500 to send Hill to Rio to see his son in action.

Within days, a bunch of strangers collected $8,200 and Hill, for once the passenger, was making the near 5,000 mile journey to Rio. Aren’t human beings wonderful?



Defending one sprint title is great. Defending three across as many Olympics is beyond belief. Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world but since he was coming back after a hamstring injury, there were some doubts regarding his fitness. But at the grandest stage, he showed that he had not lost his edge, taking the 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles.

There was unprecedented pressure on him to live up to all the hype and the Jamaican didn’t fall short in any regard. The undisputed king of sprint made it an Olympics to remember.



Ahmad Abughaush’s gold in the men’s 68 kg Taekwondo is a moment that I won’t forget in a hurry. Those who stayed up until 4am were rewarded as he beat Russia’s Alexey Denisenko in the final to achieve a glorious gold.

Although local and regional media didn’t consider him a serious contender before the Olympics, he proved everybody wrong with a very confident and smart approach from match to match.

It sent out a great message to future generations of Jordanian Olympians and will hopefully ensure the country’s decision makers start to think more about individual sports rather than investing 90 per cent of a sports budget on football, with no results to speak for.



The 28-year-old British competitor became the first triathlete to win two Olympic gold medals and will now be recognised as the most successful talent the sport has ever seen.

Having dominated the race and opened up a considerable lead, it was the touching way the Yorkshireman noticeably slowed down and walked towards the finishing line to ensure his younger brother Jonathan was right behind him and in the silver medal position, which displayed true brotherly and Olympic spirit.

Alistair always seems to have that extra little bit in the tank when it matters in the big races but seeing two British brothers in one and two position on the podium was a very special sight. This was Alistair’s finest hour but Jonathan, being two years younger, should be proud of his bronze-to-silver step up and could be better placed in Tokyo to finally complete the sibling double gold in four years’ time.



Great Britain’s Lutalo Muhammad was heading for gold in the 80kg Taekwondo final but with literally a second left on the clock, Cheick Sallah Cisse landed a kick to the head to win Ivory Coast’s first ever Olympic gold medal. Cisse had made history for his country while the Brit felt he had let his down.

In one of the Games’ most emotional interviews, a tearful and totally distraught Muhammad said: “I’m absolutely gutted but that’s life, winners and losers, that’s what makes sport so interesting.”

It was a moment that eiptomised how small the margins are between success and failure in the Olympics and how the act of winning a medal can be so different from person to person. For one athlete a silver may be reason to celebrate but for Muhammad, anything other than gold felt like failure.



Sat in a Nairobi airport, as travellers were distracted by Victor Wanyama’s Spurs debut and the start of the Premier League, it was the men’s discus that deserved attention. Four years on from his brother winning gold in London, Germany’s Christoph Harting clinched victory in the most dramatic of fashion.

Poland’s Piotr Malachowski led for the majority of the competition, with Harting in second. That was until the final round when first Martin Kupper moved into silver and then Daniel Jasinski moved in behind Malachowski.

Harting wasn’t having it though and threw 68.37m with the penultimate chuck and usurped his Polish opponent. Harting lapped it up, Malachowski applauded while wearing a smile of disbelief like everyone else watching… including in Nairobi.

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INTERVIEW: UAE hero Toma on Olympic bronze

Matt Jones 22/08/2016
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Toma meets the media in Abu Dubai.

By the time Sergiu Toma got around to phoning his parents after winning just the UAE’s second-ever Olympic Games medal, it was late into the Brazilian night on August 9.

With mum Iona and dad Nikolay in his native Moldova, it was the early hours of the morning.

A lot has changed in the four years since the 29-year-old Toma competed under the banner of his homeland in London. In Rio he fought under the Emirati flag after becoming a naturalised citizen in the wake of the 2012 Games.

He was a wanted man after beating Italy’s Matteo Marconcini in Rio’s Carioca Arena 2 to claim a bronze medal, conducting media interviews and going through the usual post-competition doping control tests.

What was your favourite memories of the Rio 2016 Olympics? Let us know on social media, use #360fans on Twitter and Facebook.

Eventually he managed to escape and share his joy with two people who couldn’t care less who he was fighting for, they were just parents proud of their son’s achievement.

“It was my decision to change the country I represent and they respected that decision,” insisted Toma when speaking to media on his return to his adopted homeland.


Toma done his nation proud in Rio.

“They didn’t mind. If my home is here, why should they be angry about it. They were proud of my achievement. They are happy for their child.

“The first thing I did was telephone my parents to tell them thank you for everything. They were celebrating. They were celebrating more than me.”

Aside from his medal, 2016 is already a milestone year for the Chisinau-born Toma. It marks 20 years since he was first encouraged to take up the sport by a friend of his father’s.

“My father’s friend, when I was nine, proposed that I start,” he said.

“This year is 20 years since I started. I love this sport from the first time and in the first competition I was successful so started taking it seriously.”

Although the Olympics is unquestionably the pinnacle for every athlete who featured in Rio, Toma admits a bronze at the 2011 World Championships in Paris had prepared him for the possibility of success in South America.

“Previously, when I was a bronze medalist at the World Championships, it was unexpected and during the night I couldn’t sleep,” he recalled.

“I woke up in the middle of the night to check the medal was there and that it wasn’t a dream. Now it wasn’t like that, I was ready for it.”

Any athlete who dreams of reaching the top knows discipline and sacrifice is required. Now that his hard work has paid off, Toma admits he can bask in the hue of his bronze.

“The main thing is I can sleep now, I can just enjoy myself. I can feel it and taste it,” he said.

One thing he was perhaps even more grateful to taste after his triumph was treating himself to a meal more befitting an Olympic medalist than the strict and dull regime of kiwi and bananas he had become accustomed to.

“Previously my dinner was one or two kiwis or one banana and three kiwis,” he recalled with a smile.

“When I came back to the Olympic Village I could drink some coke and eat some nice food. I had a McDonalds.”

Toma will relax for a few more weeks before heading back to the mat and planning his future. Although McDonalds and junk food may not be a part of his future, one thing definitely is – the 2020 Games.

“In four years’ time I want to be on the pedestal at Tokyo 2020,” he said.

“We will try for gold. I am confident. An Olympic medal was a big, big dream. Now it’s here I feel the confidence in myself and I feel it is possible to get the gold.”

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Arab countries' Rio 2016 performance breakdown

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Ruth Jebet won gold in the women's 3000m steeplechase.

A total of 16 medals were won by Arab countries in Rio 2016 – although Kuwait’s two in shooting don’t officially count towards the nation’s tally due to its suspension by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over government interference in sport.

Those 16 were captured by athletes from nine Arab states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Algeria, Qatar, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and the UAE – across eight different sports. Three of those are gold, four are silver and nine are bronze.

Is that good?

Well it is more than the 12 (three gold, two silver, seven bronze) amassed in London four years ago, but it remains a measly tally collected by 22 Arab countries spread across the Middle East and North Africa.

Bahrain was the highest Arab finisher in the Rio medals table, lying in 48th, thanks to the gold and silver won by Kenyan-born women Ruth Jebet in the 3,000m steeplechase and Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa in the marathon, respectively.

UAE’s Moldovan-born judoka Sergiu Toma was a third naturalised athlete bringing home a medal for an Arab country, getting bronze in the under-81kg category.

But while looking at numbers and figures can paint a depressing picture of how far behind the Arab world remains when it comes to sport, there is much to celebrate when it comes to Arab achievements in Rio this month.

One important stat is that of the 16 medal won, six of them were won by women. For a region that does not always encourage women to take up sport, and with cultural barriers hindering female Arab talent, the fact that 37.5 per cent of the medals won were captured by women is a great achievement. Especially considering that only two Arab women brought home medals in London 2012.

Two of Egypt’s three medalists were women, 18-year-old Sara Ahmed in weightlifting and 23-year-old Hedaya Malak in Taekwondo. Ahmed was the first Egyptian to ascend the Olympic podium in the nation’s 104-year history at the Games.

Saudi Arabia, who up until London 2012 had never fielded any women at the Olympics, had four females competing in Rio – two in athletics, one judoka and one fencer.

Perhaps the greatest progress was felt in the pool. Nada Al Bedwawi became the UAE’s first female swimmer at the Olympics and she was even chosen as the nation’s flag-bearer in the opening ceremony. There were nine Arab swimmers in the women’s 50m freestyle heats alone, from countries ranging from Palestine to Syria to Kuwait to Sudan.

One unforgettable moment was when 18-year-old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, whose incredible story saw her steal the hearts of fans worldwide, won her 50m butterfly heat.

Nada Meawad and Doaa Elghobashy made history as the first female beach volleyball pair from Egypt and they caught the eye of the public with their full-length bodysuits that showed every Arab woman that you can compete in sport without giving up your personal beliefs.

History was not made at the hands of just the women of course. The sensational Ahmad Abughaush brought Jordan its first-ever Olympic medal by taking gold in taekwondo under-68kg action.

Kuwait’s Fehaid Al Deehani, competing as an independent athlete, won his third career Olympic medal, and first gold, in double trap shooting, 16 years after getting bronze in Sydney.

Mutaz Barshim won Qatar’s first-ever silver medal by clearing 2.36m to place second in high jump.

While a lot of work needs to be done in order for Arab countries to give better performances at the Olympics, there is no doubt that what our athletes exhibited in Rio can be used to inspire many generations to come.

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