Opening ceremony sets joyful tone
It seems a long time ago now, but on 5 August the curtain came up on the first Olympic Games to be staged in South America. And what a show it was. A joyful sashay through Brazil’s extraordinary musical heritage was infused with a social message and a warning over the dangers of climate change. The athletes were cheered to the rafters, none more so than the refugee team, while Brazil’s diversity and natural beauty were celebrated with style.
Phelps wins 200m butterfly
Michael Phelps cemented his status as the most successful Olympian of all time by winning five golds and one silver at Rio 2016, taking his tally to 28 medals (23 gold). The one that seemed to mean the most to the great American swimmer was the 200m butterfly. It allowed him to avenge his London 2012 defeat by Chad le Clos, who had since said he would break Phelps’s world records in Rio, and Phelps’s celebrations afterwards suggested he had enjoyed putting the younger man in his place.
A very honourable mention also goes to Phelps’s compatriot Katie Ledecky, who won four golds and a silver at Rio 2016, setting new world records in the 400m and 800m freestyle events.
Rafaela Silva wins Brazil’s first gold
The host nation’s first gold is always a key moment, but the victory of Silva, who was born in the infamous City of God favela community and fought against poverty and prejudice, was particularly poignant. It prompted ecstatic scenes at Carioca Arena 2 and across Brazil.
Refugees get rapturous reception at Village
The 10-strong refugee team that competed under the Olympic flag were welcomed to the Olympic Village in classic Brazilian style: warmly and with plenty of music and dancing. Hundreds of athletes from other countries were there to greet them, and Syrian swimmer Rami Anis even showed off his samba steps.
Bolt completes ‘triple-triple’
He was the man of the Games, from the moment he touched down at Rio International Airport, until he completed an unprecedented ‘triple-triple’ by winning the 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles at a third successive Olympics. He charmed Brazil and its people, and when he said “I’m the greatest” it was impossible to disagree.
Monica Puig wins tennis and becomes breakout star of Games
Few people had heard of Monica Puig before Rio 2016. The Puerto Rican tennis player had never been beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament, but her sunny demeanor and surprise charge to the Olympic gold medal made her an internet hit, with even Ricky Martin tweeting his support. She won Puerto Rico’s first Olympic gold medal and melted hearts across the globe.
D’Agostino and Hamblin help each other finish
The true Olympic spirit shone through when the USA’s Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand fell to the ground during their 5000m heat. D’Agostino managed to get up, but rather than speeding off, she stopped and helped Hamblin to her feet. But the American was injured and had difficulty completing the race, so Hamblin supported her and the pair finished the together. They were awarded the Pierre de Courbertin prize for sporting behaviour.
High-tech tracks and pools at Rio 2016 helped runners, cyclists and swimmers to deliver their best performances, with 65 Olympic and 19 world records being broken. Hard work and talent combined with technology to produce some truly amazing moments, such as Wayde van Nierkerk’s incredible run in the 400m final, where his time of 43.03 seconds bettered the 17-year-old mark of 43.18 set by USA legend Michael Johnson.
Olympic cauldron becomes star attraction in revitalised port area
After the lighting of the Olympic cauldron in the Maracana at the opening ceremony, the flame was transported to the second cauldron, in Rio’s rejuvenated port zone, where it became the jewel of the ‘Olympic Boulevard’ live site. An extraordinary artistic creation by American sculptor Anthony Howe, it became a star of social media and selfies in its own right.
Icho stands out alone
Japanese wrestler Kaori Icho become the first woman to win an individual gold medal in four straight Olympic Games in any sport, when she took the 58kg women’s freestyle title. She also became the first wrestler in Olympic history to win four gold medals, and afterwards it was lumps in throat time as she honoured the memory of her late mother.
Elaine Thompson’s ‘double-double’
When it came to Jamaican sprinters, it wasn’t all about Usain Bolt. Elaine Thompson superceded Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as the Caribbean island’s queen of the track, the 24-year-old beating her elder compatriot in the 100m and then adding the 200m to her haul.
Skelton does it for the older generation
Nick Skelton proved that some things just get better with age, winning an astonishing gold medal in individual jumping after a six-person jump-off. He became Great Britain’s oldest gold medallist since 1908, and the oldest medallist in Olympic equestrian history.
Mo does the distance ‘double-double’
Mo Farah was one of the stars of the London 2012 Games, when he won the 5000m and 10,000m titles. He went on to triumph in the same events in two successive world championships and repeated the feat in Rio, emulating Finnish great Lasse Viren at the 1972 Munich and 1976 Montreal Games.
Brazil get the gold they really wanted
Anyone who doubted the value of Olympic football just needed to look at Neymar’s face after he scored the winning penalty in the final against Germany. The Barcelona star had delivered a national obsession and helped, in some small way, avenge the terrible 7-1 defeat at the 2014 World Cup.
The US artistic gymnast came to Rio as one of the most popular stars, with a huge social media following, and left with five medals, four gold and one bronze from her first Olympic Games, to confirm her place among the greatest names of her sport.