Not to be the kind of guy to say ‘I told you so’ but I told you so.
There was plenty of doom and gloom in the lead up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Construction was behind schedule. The Olympics village had dodgy facilities. The country was in political turmoil. Doping allegations were widespread. There was a funky smell coming out of the water that the rowers would be competing in.
In spite of all that, I always confident that come the 5th of August, the Summer Games would come good. The earliest Olympic games I can remember with any sort of clarity is the Barcelona Olympics of 1992. Since then, plenty of Olympic games – both Summer and Winter – have had a media narrative of disastrous preparations and they have all turned out fine. At the end of the day, once the opening ceremony is finished and the athletes takes centre stage, you’d have to be some kind of ardent sports-hating individual to not get caught up in the achievements of some of the talented sports men and women in the world.
After the first week has wrapped up, here are some of my personal highlights of the games so far.
Simone Biles is one of the breakout stars of the Olympics at just 19 years of age. She won her second gold in the women’s all-round by a margin of 2.1 points in a competition that measures performances down to one hundredth of a point. She is, without hyperbole, the greatest gymnast in the world today and her performance in the Rio Olympics would have to be in the discussion for being one of the most dominating victories in the history of the competition.
Simone Manuel’s Olympic Record breaking performance in the 100m freestyle made her the first black swimmer to ever achieve Olympics gold in an individual event.
The absence of African Americans in competitive swimming has been a long observed stereotype that I admit I naively never gave much consideration as to why that would be the case. It is only with Manuel’s performance and the subsequent commentary surrounding it, did I see the wider social context of her victory.
In a year where Donald Trump has become the presidential nominee of a major political party off the back of some shocking racially charged rhetoric, these sort of milestones become even more significant.
They drained an entire swimming pool because Dorothy Dandridge stuck her toe in it.
That is why Simone Manuel is important
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 12, 2016
This is a great photo.
It evokes an immediate response from the viewer and there are a number of interpretations of what it could represent.
Anti-Islamist conservatives have leapt upon this image as representing a clash of incompatible civilisations. Multicultural leftists will argue it represents the very best of diversity, that people from all walks of life can come together at the Olympics to compete, no matter what their background.
Elghobashy is just 19 years of age and alongside her partner is the first pair of Egyptian women to compete in beach volleyball at the Olympics.
After Mack Horton won Australia’s first gold medal at the Rio Olympics by finishing first in the 400m Mens Freestyle, he gave an interview where he stated plainly in no uncertain terms that his Chinese rival Sun Yang who finished second was a drug cheat (which is factually correct). It sparked an international war of words between Australian and Chinese viewers.
I was a little taken aback at first by how blunt Horton was with his words but have since come to appreciate the importance of what he did. At a time when the IOC and WADA have shown a crushing lack of conviction when faced with the evidence that there is widespread and systematic doping taking place, Horton’s words are important as they highlight the drug cheats for exactly what they are. US swimmer Lilly King who won gold in the 100m Womens breaststroke final also singled out Russia’s Yulia Efimova (who failed a doping test earlier in the year) as a cheater.
Doping will be a on-going challenge for the IOC to tackle but any attempt to turn the other way or normalize its use should be fiercely rejected. For Horton and King to so bluntly draw attention to two known cheaters and shame them on the biggest stage is an act of courage to be applauded.
Australia had a new sporting hero crowned at the Rio Olympics when Kyle Chalmers – just 18 years old – sensationally won gold at the 100m Mens freestyle final. And if that wasn’t enough, the video reaction of his grandparents also melted hearts around the country.
Robel Kiros Habte
In a competition showcasing world class Olympians performing feats of athleticism that the rest of us mortals can only dream of, its nice to have an everyman like Robel Kiros Habte. The Ethiopian swimmer finished last in his 100m freestyle heat but won fans over for his efforts nonetheless.
On the flipside to Robel Kiros Habte, some of the most breathtaking moments of the Olympics can come from the spectacle of an athlete who totally dominates their field. Such was the case with Katie Ledecky who won the 800m womens freestyle by a mind boggling 11 seconds, absolutely smoking her rivals in the process.
Evergreen Olympic legend Michael Phelps continued to build upon his legacy at these games. He now has 22 gold medals to his name. The next closest Olympian has eight. He has won five gold medals at these Olympics. If he were a country, he would be in the top ten medal tally in Rio. He has 27 Olympic medals in total. What else is there to say? He is one of the greatest of all time and Rio has been an incredible swan song.
On a personal level, the Olympic athletes I’ve most enjoyed following have been the Australian women’s football team The Matildas. After qualifying for the Rio Olympics in an arduous Asian campaign (5 games in 10 days!), the Matildas had a dramatic Olympic tournament filled with many highs and lows. They conceded a goal less than 30 seconds into their first game against Canada but they recovered from that moment and put their best foot forward. They pushed Germany to the limit, leading for most of the game before conceding a late goal and drawing 2-2. They thumped Zimbabwe 6-1 and then faced hosts Brazil in the quarter final. The match was an absorbing two hour encounter than went to penalties with Brazil eventually winning 7-6.
The Matildas are by far my favourite Australian sporting team to support at the moment. They play their football in some of the best leagues around the world and should rightly be millionaires like their male counterparts. Instead they have to scrape and fight and claw their way to get paid minimum wage by the FFA. The squad is full of incredible personalities like the freakishly talented Lisa De Vanna and the incredible shot stopper Lydia Williams. Sam Kerr, Katrina Gorry, Michelle Heyman, Emily Van Egmond, Elise Kellond Knight. They are all stars.
Although the Matildas just came up short against Brazil, they were entertaining to watch throughout the tournament and I look forward to seeing the team bounce back. On their day, they can be world beaters.