Saturday, August 13, 2016

2016 Summer Olympics: The Recap


In all, Team USA earned 121 medals over two weeks, finishing off on Sunday with yet another gold in men's basketball, an Olympic sport the U.S. practically owns. The performance was so dominant that the U.S. has more gold medals, 46, than all but three other countries managed to win total. Team USA’s 121 medals are the most ever for a U.S. team in a non-boycotted Games, topping the previous high of 110 from Beijing in 2008.

Michael Phelps has proven himself to be the greatest swimmer of all time — and perhaps the greatest athlete of all time. He’s broken so many records, including his own, in Rio that gold medal performances are expected.

With last night’s win he also became the first swimmer to earn four consecutive gold medals in a single event. He also became one of only three American athletes to win an individual event four times, along with track and field Olympians Al Oerter and Carl Lewis.

As if that wasn’t enough, Phelps also beat an ancient Olympic record, surpassing Leonidas of Rhodes’ 12 individual Olympic titles with a 13th individual gold medal. Leonidas won his title over four Olympics (Rio is Phelps’ fifth), earning his last three titles in the 152 BCE Olympics– a 200m race, a 400m race, and a shield-carrying race.

At 31 years old, Phelps says Rio will be his last Olympic performance, fair enough considering he’s already the first American man to make five Olympic swim teams. Last night he told reporters he was proud to have finished out his Olympic career this way, saying, “The biggest thing for me through the meet so far is I’ve been able to finish how I wanted to.” But who knows, Phelps might be back; after all, Leonidas won his 12th individual Olympic title at age 36.

Despite the familiarity with Phelps’ record-breaking performances, these Olympics have been anything but boring. Thursday night, in what may very well have been his last race against teammate and rival (or at least as close to a rival as the GOAT can have), Phelps beat Ryan Lochte soundly in the 200m individual medley. Once again Phelps penned his name in the history books, earning his 22nd career gold medal and fourth gold medal in Rio. Phelps time of 1:54.66 was the fastest in the world this year and only 0.66 seconds off Lochte's 5-year-old world record.

A photo posted by Ryanlochte (@ryanlochte) on

But lost in that perfect outcome is the work it took to get there. It wasn't always this way. When Phelps first returned to training in 2014, he lost sets to female teammates in training. He finished ninth in the 200 freestyle at a May 2014 Grand Prix meet in Charlotte, North Carolina. And just this past June in an Olympic trials tuneup meet in Austin, Texas, he finished fourth in the 200 free and second in the 100 butterfly.

"I feel like a kid again, and that's the difference," Phelps said. "I feel like I did when I was 18. That was the only way to get back and race at this level consistently."

Added Bob Bowman: "It isn't because of the talent; it's the work. The work is what did it -- particularly this time around."

Katie Ledecky earned her fifth medal in Rio when she defended her Olympic title in the 800m freestyle. Ledecky made a statement with each lap, pulling first half-a-body-length then a full body and finally, by the last lap, several lengths ahead. She wasn’t racing the field but the clock, spending most of the race more than a second-and-a-half under her own world record pace, set earlier this year. With two laps to go, she was nearly two seconds under that pace and in the final 50m, crushed it with a final time of 8:04.79–still nearly two seconds ahead of her own world record. The win gave Ledecky her fourth gold of these Olympics to go along with one silver.

Athletes with ties to Maryland have earned 11 gold medals in total, which means that in gold medal count, the state would be the third-ranked country behind the U.S. and China. So far, all of the Maryland’s medaling has come from the swimming: Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Allison Schmitt, Cierra Runge, Jack Conger and Chase Kalisz are each Maryland-area athletes, and they’ve all won medals.

Ashton Eaton joins the USA’s Bob Mathias (1948 and 1952) and Great Britain’s Daley Thompson (1980 and 1984) as the only two-time decathlon winners in Olympic history.

“The decathlon is exclusive company,” Eaton said. “I’m just happy to be part of the family, the decathlon family. To be with the other two-time gold medalists is great, but it’s great to just be a decathlete.”

Add two golds to his growing collection of hardware, which includes two World Championships and three heptathlon titles in the Indoor Championships, the latest coming in his home state of Oregon in March. In doing so, Eaton has staked a strong claim for being the greatest decathlete of all time — and in turn, for being viewed among the greatest athletes to ever participate in the Olympic Games.

To his coach, Harry Marra, there’s no question. Eaton is the greatest, he said. And in a way, this gold was the most meaningful. It will be the final Olympic Games for Marra, who tutored not only Eaton but his wife, Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who took bronze in the women’s heptathlon.

“It’s historic. I wish the rest of the world understood that. Repeating in the decathlon? Repeating in the decathlon? When so many things can go wrong? That’s impressive.”

The 4x400m relay featured another close battle between Jamaica and the United States before the baton fell into the hands of the most decorated female in American track and field history. Allyson Felix anchored the women’s 4x400-meter relay to a gold medal in 3:19.06, which brings her career count to six Olympic gold medals and nine total. She ties Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey for the most Olympic medals all-time by a female track and field athlete. Jamaica took silver in 3:20.34. Great Britain crossed the finish line five seconds later for bronze.

The men’s race was close until the final leg when 400-meter bronze medalist LaShawn Merritt pulled away from the field to put the United States back atop the podium in the 4x400-meter relay. The Americans lost to the Bahamas in 2012 and settled for silver. Botswana was the main challenger for the first three legs of the race before anchor Goane Leaname Maotoanong tied up and was passed by Jamaica and the Bahamas for silver and bronze.

Matthew Centrowitz used his closing speed to hold onto the lead before becoming the first American gold medalist in the metric mile (1,500 meters) since Mel Sheppard’s win at the 1908 Olympics in London.

Since winning the NCAA title in 2011 and a world championship bronze medal at the world championships later that summer, Centrowitz has emerged as one of the best American middle distance runners ever. At just 26, he also became the first American to win gold at any distance longer than 800 meters since Dave Wottle’s gold medal at the 1972 Olympics. Centrowitz is also the third-fastest American at the distance.

But Phelps’ performance wasn’t the only record-breaking swim of the night. American swimmer Simone Manuel broke the Olympic record in the women’s 100m freestyle race and became the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming.

She told reporters that the win was bigger than herself: "It's for a whole bunch of people that came before me and have been an inspiration to me,” she said. “It's for all the people after me, who believe they can't do it. And I just want to be inspiration to others that you can do it."

Additionally, Simone Biles and the American women’s gymnastics team continued to assert their dominance. Biles took gold in the individual all-around competition and teammate Aly Raisman took silver. Biles became the fourth straight American female to win gold in the individual-all around, winning by 2.1 points, a larger margin of victory than in the past nine Olympics combined.

Last night Biles also became the first woman in twenty years– and the first American woman ever– to hold the World Championship and Olympic all-around titles simultaneously. (The last was Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine).

Aly Raisman entered the final rotation of the women's individual gymnastics all-around in third place Thursday, but a marvelous floor exercise flipped the 22-year-old gymnast to a silver medal. With a look of confidence and determination, Raisman entered her final tumbling pass and landed with precision. She wouldn't bow to pressure or gravity on this day.

With that final routine, Raisman secured a medal and found both success and redemption. In 2012 at the London Olympics, Raisman finished third in the women's all-around, but lost out on the bronze based on tie-breaker scoring. But 2016 was Raisman's year and she earned her spot on the podium.

20-year-old Kyle Snyder becomes the youngest wrestling gold medalist in U.S. Olympic history

Carmleo Anthony became the first men’s Olympic basketball player to ever win three gold medals, and broke Team USA's record for career Olympic points (276). He also holds the American record for points in a game with 37 against Nigeria in 2012.


Brazil's captain and star player Neymar scored the winning penalty, booting the ball into right corner as the German goalkeeper dove the wrong way. He broke into tears as his teammates swarmed him in a rapturous Maracana Stadium in Rio.

The gold medal he won for Brazil fills the empty space in the country's trophy case. Brazil has won five world cups, most recently in 2002, when they defeated Germany in the final thanks to two goals from striker Ronaldo, a legend in his own right.

Brazil had won the silver medal three times and the bronze twice. Four years ago, it lost to Mexico in the final in London. Germany was playing in the Olympics for the first time since 1988, when it won bronze competing as West Germany. It had never won the gold, either.

The bronze medal went to Nigeria earlier Saturday, as Sadiq Umar scored a pair of goals in a 3-2 victory over Honduras in Belo Horizonte. It was Nigeria's third overall Olympic medal in soccer. The West African nation won gold at the 1996 Olympics with a 3-2 victory over Argentina, and won the silver in 2008, falling to Argentina 1-0 in the final. Honduras, which challenged with a pair of late goals, heads home from Brazil empty-handed but the team's appearance in the medal round was its best-ever finish at the Olympics.


Usain Bolt produced a moment of human ultimacy in Rio on Sunday night, pulling himself up to his full thrilling height in the final few strides of the 100m to claim an unprecedented third Olympic gold medal in his final Games. This was in many ways Peak Bolt, the last Olympic appearance in the ultimate event for the human race’s ultimate speed freak.

As the 100m men emerged for the final act of the night, the air seemed to disappear out of this grand concrete bowl. The American Justin Gatlin, billed without nuance or sympathy as a kind of anti-Bolt, a convenient super-villain for the wider audience, drew some graceless boos from the crowd.

There remains a basic spasm of accommodation in absorbing and processing such exceptionalism in a sport where history assures us even touching greatness – one or two fine exceptions aside – is to emerge somewhere down the line as tainted, boosted, chemical-fed. Of the 30 fastest 100m times ever, nine – including the top three – are by Bolt. The other 21 were run by athletes who have tested positive at some point for doping. In terms of clean speed the order goes: Bolt fresh air, more fresh air, the rest of the human race. What are we supposed to make of this surplus brilliance?

Something else stood out in Bolt’s moment of crowning glory in Rio.

This was an old man’s race. Bolt turns 30 in a week. Gatlin, who took the silver is 34, the oldest man ever to get Olympic 100m gold or silver. Bolt and Gatlin together are the oldest top two in Olympic 100m podium history, and by some way on the overall spread. The bronze medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada is 13 years younger than Gatlin, but he finished a 10th of a second off the front. Beyond this there have been 55 sub-9.81 second runs in 100m history, but only Bolt and Gatlin have done it in the last four years.


Simone Manuel tied with Penny Oleksiak of Canada who won her fourth medal of the Games, the most medals won by a Canadian at a single Summer Olympics. At just 16 years old, Oleksiak also became the youngest Canadian gold medalist in Olympic history (Winter or Summer Olympics).


Mo Farah became the first man to defend his Olympic titles in the 5,000 and 10,000 since Finland’s Lasse Viren accomplished the feat at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Games.



Joseph Schooling of Singapore met Michael Phelps in the summer of 2008, before Phelps' historic eight gold medals in that Olympics. In 2016, Schooling beat Phelps for gold in the 100m butterfly, and Phelps took silver in a three-way tie with Laszlo Cseh of Hungary and South Africa's Chad le Clos.

With the victory, Schooling won Singapore’s first Olympic gold and became just the third person to beat Phelps in an individual Olympic race. “It’s all kind of a blank really,” Schooling said after beating his idol, whom he met in 2008. “I need time for all of this to sink in. Just being beside [Phelps], walking alongside him and celebrating — I’ll cherish that for the rest of my life.”

Schooling said of his win: "I'm just ecstatic. I don't think it has set in yet. It's just crazy. I hope that Michael can stay around long enough for me to race him again. I'd love that."

Phelps on #Schooling: "What he is able to achieve is up to him. It's as big as he wants to dream."



Fiji's men's rugby 7s team has made history by defeating Great Britain and claiming the country's first-ever medal — a gold. The men from the former British colony dominated their opponents, towering over them with a 43-7 victory at the final whistle. Fiji's first ever medal happened to be in a sport that hasn't been in the Olympics for 92 years.

Fiji have been competing at the Olympics since the Melbourne games of 1956 but have not claimed gold until now. It's the first year rugby, popular in Fiji, has been included in Olympic competition since 1924. The moral to the story? If at first you don't succeed, keep trying and maybe 60 years later you'll absolutely wipe the floor with your competition.

'E Da Sa Qaqa' is a gospel song, translated as 'We Are Winners Because Of This World.'

The team often sings it, along with other hymns like 'Oqo Noqu Masu' (This Is My Prayer) during training camps and games.


The tiny, nutmeg-producing island nation in the Lesser Antilles — population 106,825, or about the same size as Green Bay, Wis. — took home all of one medal: Kirani James’s silver in the men’s 400-meter dash. But that was good enough to take home the per-capital medal title for the second straight Summer Olympics (James won gold in the 400 in London four years ago, as well). The Grenadians edged out the Bahamas, which won two medals, one for every 194,009 people.

More information:
» NBC Olympics Video: "The World Records of the 2016 Rio Olympics"
» NBC Olympics Video: Team USA Basketball routs Serbia for third straight gold medal
» Twitter: "Photos capture athletes staring at their table tennis balls"
» CNN: "Record number of LGBT athletes at Rio 2016"

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