It’s all over. Almost as soon as it had begun, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad have ceased to exist. Not that it passed by quietly. The last fortnight was full of drama, suspense, controversy and incredible sporting achievement. Team GB have returned from Rio no longer as ‘just’ athletes, but national treasures. In this post I run through some of my favourite moments from Rio 2016, which I admit are incredibly biased towards Great Britain, but do include some memorable achievements from others too.
Most entertaining sport to watch – Rugby sevens
Who else would love to see canoe slalom and diving given greater TV coverage? Whilst they may not have much in common, both are gripping as they hinge on absolute precision; one tiny mistake can mean the difference between coming first and last. However, it was the sport making its Olympic debut that really caught my eye. Explosive and dynamic, exhibiting skill and strength in equal measure, I hope the powers-that-be keep it a part of the programme beyond Tokyo 2020.
Greatest surprise – Bryony Page
This was a hard one to choose as there were so many unexpected British successes. Joe Clarke’s hugely impressive gold in the K-1 slalom came close, as did the amazing bronze medals achieved by gymnast Amy Tinkler and badminton pair Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge, but Page’s silver medal was that extra bit special. No British woman had ever qualified for a trampolining final before, let alone won an Olympic (or World) medal.
Most heart-warming moment – Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin
In spite of increasing professionalism, the ‘Olympic Spirit’ is still a core value of the Games and appeared in abundance during Rio, most notably in the women’s 5000m heats. Hamblin and D’Agostino were part of a mid-race collision that saw both fall, the former staying down, distraught at what had just happened. However D’Agostino, who had torn her ACL and meniscus, encouraged Hamblin to continue and they helped each other over the finish line. True sportsmanship.
Greatest comeback – Jazz Carlin and Becky James
The desperate lunge by Liam Heath and Chris Schofield to secure an unlikely silver in the K-2 200m final was the greatest comeback in terms of athletic action, but both Carlin and James cannot be beaten here. The two athletes share a number of similarities; both are Welsh and both won two silvers after overcoming serious illnesses that could have affected their lives, not just their careers. Inspirational.
Most tear-jerking moment – Bryony Page
I rarely cry. It’s not that I don’t want to, I can’t. Even at a good friend’s wedding recently, whilst others around me were sniffling, I wasn’t even close to tears. It therefore came as a great surprise that, having watched Page finish her routine in the trampoline final, I felt a few drops sting the back of my eyes. Seeing the raw emotion of someone who was so delighted at having performed at their absolute best struck a chord and I was so delighted when she secured her historic silver.
Best celebration – Great Britain women’s hockey
This may not have been the most inventive or unique celebration – that has to go to Japanese wrestler Risako Kawai for flipping her coach after winning gold – but the sheer delight exhibited by GB’s hockey superstars was a joy to behold and showed just how much the victory meant to them.
Greatest statement made – Katherine Grainger and Victoria Thornley
For some athletes, winning an Olympic medal is more than just a reward for years of hard work and dedication; it’s also a big two-fingered salute to anyone who doubted them. This was the message delivered by Grainger and Thornley with their superb silver in the women’s double sculls. Not deemed good enough to represent GB until a few weeks before the Games, they weren’t expected to make the final, let alone medal. Take that British Rowing!
Most dramatic event – Men’s keirin final
Andy Murray’s gruelling singles final against the fiesty Juan Martin del Potro was a tense affair, but nothing was quite as excruciating as the final event in the Velódromo. The final event of the track cycling calendar eventually saw Jason Kenny join Sir Chris Hoy as the most successful British Olympian, but not after two false starts and a nail-biting sprint finish. Even with a ruined knee I leapt out of my chair, such was the relief I felt when Kenny won.
Greatest individual performance – Wayde van Niekerk
As fans, we witnessed plenty of utterly unbelievable feats during the Rio Games, such as Ethiopian runner Almaz Ayana smashing the 10,000m world record, but it takes something special to leave Usain Bolt in shock. That is exactly what van Niekerk did in the 400m final, annihilating the opposition as he stormed to 400m gold, breaking Michael Johnson’s 17 year-old record in the process. Bolt, and the rest of the world, could only cover their mouths in shock at what they had just witnessed.
Most contentious decision – Various boxing results
Great Britain’s male 4x400m relay team can feel hard done by after their highly questionable disqualification, but even this could not match the disgust and disappointment various boxers must be feeling right now. The judging right the way throughout the competition was terrible, even after the AIBA sent some officials home after admitting they made incorrect decisions. Was this a case of poorly trained judges or corruption? Only time will tell.
Most dominant performance – Laura Trott
This could have been awarded to so many athletes – Simone Biles in the Olympic Arena, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt on the track, Jason Kenny in the Velódromo and Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark on the Marina da Glória – but for me Trott’s performance in the omnium was on another level. She looked certain to win right from the start and the final event – the points race – was basically a 100 lap victory parade for the four-time Olympic champ.
My favourite moment – Gold for women’s hockey
As much as I will try, I will not be able to remember each and every medal Team GB won during Rio. Some memories will stick with me forever though, such as when I welled up after watching Bryony Page win her silver medal or the relief I felt after Jason Kenny finally emerged victorious from the men’s keirin. Neither, however, quite matched the sheer joy I experienced after seeing the women’s hockey team win their first Olympic gold after a fantastic final against the Netherlands. After eight gruelling matches, Hollie Webb’s decisive strike in the penalty shoot-out and the subsequent celebration is a moment that will appear in emotive montages for years to come.