Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Rio Olympics: The top 10 moments

A grab-bag bunch of ups, downs and What The Fs from the last fortnight of exhilarating competition that was Rio Olympic Games 2016

After two weeks of relentless action and suspense and thrills and spills and, frankly, quite exhausting daily despatch-ing for this writer, the Rio Olympics has finally come to a close. I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to sleeping like a civilized person again—at a civilized time, say between 10 and 11pm, without my head drowning under timings and repechages and scores and Produnovas and Tsukaharas.

Oh the relief! Right? No. Because in exactly 24 hours I’m going to miss the Olympics very much indeed. All that excitement and suspense and tragedy and triumph slowly turns into a kind of drug. Every day, there are new heroes and villains. And new acts of superhuman endeavour. Addictive.

In this last despatch of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, I want to highlight my top 10 moments of the Olympics. A grab-bag bunch of my favourite ups, downs and What The Fs from the last fortnight of exhilarating competition. Moments that I suspect will stay with me forever. In no particular order.

1. Slavery and the opening ceremony

The opening ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games 2016 at Maracana stadium in Rio. Photo: Reuters
The opening ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games 2016 at Maracana stadium in Rio. Photo: Reuters

Olympics opening ceremonies are usually opportunities for countries to turn the knob on their patriotism machine to 11. The ceremony at Rio, an affair that was low on budget but huge on effort and impact, embraced Brazil’s tumultuous history—warts and all. Slavery and the culture of Brazil’s urban poor were tackled with sensitivity and honesty. And, in the end, they just played the music loud and everybody danced. Loved it.

2. Katie Ledecky’s dominance

Katie Ledecky’s domination in the pool, yielding four golds and a silver, boggles the mind. Photo: AP
Katie Ledecky’s domination in the pool, yielding four golds and a silver, boggles the mind. Photo: AP

If there is one thing we learnt from the Olympics it was that Katie Ledecky can swim a bit. Sure, Phelps broke all kinds of records and scooped up medals effortlessly, but Ledecky was just something else. Her domination in the pool, yielding four golds and a silver, boggles the mind. It was the kind of talent that made you believe in a higher power.

3. Wayde Van Niekerk’s finish

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk came from nowhere to not just blast past favourites Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt but also demolish the great Michael Johnson’s world record in the 400 metres. Photo: AFP
South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk came from nowhere to not just blast past favourites Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt but also demolish the great Michael Johnson’s world record in the 400 metres. Photo: AFP

Where in the world did that come from?!!! Athletes aren’t supposed to break world records from the outer lanes. South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk came from nowhere to not just blast past favourites Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt but also demolish the great Michael Johnson’s world record in the 400 metres. This was what they call a “Flawless Victory" in video games. van Niekerk actually seemed to accelerate through the last few meters. Michael Johnson summarized it well when he later said: “It was a massacre."

4. PV Sindhu’s resolve

India’s P.V. Sindhu Sindhu played with tremendous strength and courage all the way through the tournament before losing to the indomitable Carolina Marin. Photo: AP
India’s P.V. Sindhu Sindhu played with tremendous strength and courage all the way through the tournament before losing to the indomitable Carolina Marin. Photo: AP

For the first few days of the Olympics, P.V. Sindhu was one of the low-profile Indian athletes sent to Rio to make up the numbers. But then the injured Saina Nehwal lost, and the spotlight shifted, ever so slowly, to Sindhu. And how she revelled in it. Sindhu played with tremendous strength and courage all the way through the tournament before losing to the indomitable Carolina Marin. Her left-handed fist pump will now play on video montages for decades to come. I cried a bit when she won her semi-final.

5. Katinka Hosszu and husband

While Katinka Hosszu churned through the pool, Tusup just went mental by the poolside. Photo: AFP
While Katinka Hosszu churned through the pool, Tusup just went mental by the poolside. Photo: AFP

Hungary is a role model for the lesser sporting nations at the Olympics. The Magyars focus on a few disciplines. And then, essentially, kicks ass. Just look at Katinka Hosszu’s utterly insane performance at the Olympics. Three gold medals, one silver and a world record in the 400 metres individual medley. Hosszu was spectacular but so was her husband-coach Shane Tusup. While Hosszu churned through the pool, Tusup just went mental by the poolside.

6. Kiribati’s Dancing Giant

Even as he failed to lift his weight successfully, Katoatau danced off with a huge smile and happy feet. Photo: Reuters
Even as he failed to lift his weight successfully, Katoatau danced off with a huge smile and happy feet. Photo: Reuters

David Katoatau gave us a glimpse of his moves during the opening ceremony when he was Kiribati’s flag bearer. But it was at the weightlifting ring that Katoatau got a chance to show us his complete dancing repertoire. Katoatau was a-may-zing. Even as he failed to lift his weight successfully, Katoatau danced off with a huge smile and happy feet. The truth, however, is that Katoatau was hoping people would notice Kiribati’s perilous place on the globe. Global warming and rising sea-levels could soon render much of his country inhabitable. Katoatau did not win any medals. But in another sense he won everything.

7. The 200m men’s final, the ecstasy and the agony

The 200m final was part of Usain Bolt’s final was, surely, part of Bolt’s three-part Olympics swan song. Photo: AP
The 200m final was part of Usain Bolt’s final was, surely, part of Bolt’s three-part Olympics swan song. Photo: AP

Usain Bolt won. Demolished the record books. Rewrote history. Et cetera. Et cetera. But there was so much more drama during that race. Five out of the eight sprinters in that race had something to prove and demons to banish. Not all of them did. The final was, surely, part of Bolt’s three-part Olympics swan song. All this just goes to show that at the Olympics, victory and defeat mean many different things to many different people.

8. Dipa Karmakar’s moment

Dipa Karmakar’s path to the final looked tentative and she made it by a whisker, but in the finals the girl from Tripura soared. Photo: Reuters
Dipa Karmakar’s path to the final looked tentative and she made it by a whisker, but in the finals the girl from Tripura soared. Photo: Reuters

The gymnastics arena at Rio thrummed with narrative. Epke Zonderland’s fall. Max Whitlock’s superb double gold. Kohei Uchimura’s all-round excellence. And of course the rare genius that is Simone Biles. But Dipa Karmakar’s vault finals will be the moment I will always cherish. Her path to the final looked tentative, Karmakar made it by a whisker. But in the finals the girl from Tripura soared. Will it be a huge moment for Indian gymnastics? Time will tell. But for Karmakar, it was a performance for the ages. Indians will, and should, speak of it for generations to come.

9. Sakshi Malik will not give up

Sakshi Malik won her bronze medal via the most tortuous route possible. Photo: Reuters
Sakshi Malik won her bronze medal via the most tortuous route possible. Photo: Reuters

Talent is amazing. Strength is useful. But “never giving up" is something else. Sakshi Malik won her bronze medal via the most tortuous route possible. She came back from the brink of defeat time and time again. Right up to her bronze medal bout. It was nerve-wracking viewing for her fans. But Malik never seemed to doubt herself for a second. What a powerhouse!

10. Team GB’s miracle in Rio

The Great Britain squad blew past an original target of 48 medals with three days of competitions left. They then overtook their London 2012 tally of 65 medals with one day left. Photo: AFP
The Great Britain squad blew past an original target of 48 medals with three days of competitions left. They then overtook their London 2012 tally of 65 medals with one day left. Photo: AFP

Hosting the Olympics is usually considered a kiss of death for the host nation. Hosts usually do well at home, winning a record haul of medals, only to fade away afterwards. Greece is a case in point. Never in the history of the Modern Olympics has a host nation increased its medal tally in the next Olympics. All that changed in Rio. Great Britain has had a phenomenal outing. With plenty of expected and unexpected medals. The squad blew past an original target of 48 medals with three days of competitions left. They then overtook their London 2012 tally of 65 medals with one day left. At the time of writing this piece it looks like Team GB will finish above China. Phwoar!

Hope you’ve had a splendid Olympics. See you in Tokyo!

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