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Photo: AP/PTI
Photo: AP/PTI

Rio 2016: A wall and some falls might say it all

Memories of Miller's desperate dive for glory and Hamblin and D'Agostino lending each other a helping hand will linger forever

The Olympics will come to an end tonight, no doubt in a spectacular show of fireworks. The sporting world’s gaze will turn swiftly to other events, and eventually to the next city that will host the Olympics, in 2020.

Naturally, memories of Rio will soon fade. Even though there’s plenty at the Olympics I didn’t see, this column is an attempt to keep a few of those memories alive, at least for myself and I hope for you.

In no particular order:

• Leading up to the Games, authorities in Rio de Janeiro did various things to their poorer citizens. For example, they erected walls along major thoroughfares so that visitors would not see Rio’s many slums, or favelas. In some cases, they even bulldozed favelas to build approach roads or other Games facilities.

These measures must have given at least some residents of New Delhi—if they were aware this had happened in Rio—a powerful feeling of déjà vu. For leading up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, New Delhi saw much the same happen. Many slums—those expanses of jhuggi-jhopris—were either bulldozed or hidden behind walls.

Though if Rio took a leaf out of New Delhi’s book, it also went an innovative step further. The walls did a good job hiding favelas, but where the thoroughfares swept past sights authorities did want visitors to see—museums and the like—the walls became transparent.

In that transparency, a lesson for next time, for New Delhi or any other Indian city.

• Halfway through the men’s 10,000m final, defending champion Mo Farah of Great Britain stumbled and fell. Now, this is always a danger when a race like this is run in a stadium (as opposed to on the road, where I have run a few of them, if a little slower than Farah). Why? Because the runners necessarily move towards the inner edge of the track to minimize the distance they have to run. When you have several runners doing that, running in a pack, you have accidents waiting to happen. So with Farah.

Seconds matter in every race. You would think that wouldn’t be the case in a race that takes close to half an hour, as the 10K does. (Farah won in 27:05). But with the best runners in the world, every second does indeed count.

Everyone in that race, Farah included, knew that as he went down, as the rest of the pack went over and past him. And yet, Farah picked himself up, resumed running, took the lead with less than 100m to go and won gold again.

By any standards, a remarkable feat from a remarkable athlete.

• Speaking of falls... there was the women’s 400m final. Favoured to win it was Allyson Felix of the US, the 200m champion from the London Games, easily one of the finest athletes of her generation. And she was the 2015 world champion in the 400m. Victory for her in this Rio rave, many track-watchers thought, was more or less assured.

They, and she, had not accounted for Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas.

The 400m is a famously difficult race to run right. Do you sprint from the start? Or do you run within yourself for the first half and then push the pedal to the floor?

Coming round the final turn, to this watcher, it looked like Miller had chosen the first strategy—running hard and in the lead all the way and now seeming to tire; and Felix the second—keeping in touch with Miller and just now turning on the turbojets. She caught Miller with 50m to go, even seeming to nose slightly ahead.

But Miller kept pounding. With just a few metres left, she confounded everyone by—of all things—diving for the finish. Incredibly, her outstretched fingertips crossed the line just 0.07 seconds before Felix did. They won her the gold medal.

• Speaking of falls again... halfway through a women’s 5,000m heat, the runners were in that dangerous bunched formation; more than a dozen runners jockeying for position as they ran.

Accident waiting to happen? Sure enough: New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin suddenly fell forward onto the track. It wasn’t clear to her what had happened, but of course the race was swiftly getting away from her as she lay there weeping.

Until she felt a hand on her shoulder, and a voice saying “Get up, get up! We have to finish this!"

That was the American Abbey D’Agostino. Running right behind Hamblin, she had been tripped up by her fall, her knee buckling as she fell in turn. But she got up, and instead of running on to try to catch the others, she stopped to help Hamblin to her feet.

“You are right," said Hamblin. “It’s the Olympic Games, we have to finish this."

Both women resumed running. Only, D’Agostino’s knee was seriously injured (an anterior cruciate ligament tear, it would turn out). A few steps later, she fell again. Now, Hamblin helped her up. They both kept running—or in D’Agostino’s case, hobbling. They finished well behind the field. They hugged each other. Then Hamblin helped D’Agostino into a wheelchair, their arms clasped lovingly.

I wonder how long it took for Hamblin and D’Agostino to realize that an entire stadium was roaring for them.

• And then there are three images that stayed.

Two Egyptian women, Nada Meawad and Doaa Elghobashy, face off against two Germans, Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst, in a beach volleyball pool match. The Germans are in skimpy bikinis, just the usual for beach volleyball.

In stunning contrast, the Egyptians are in green and black full-body suits with hijabs. All four are clearly superb athletes. The Germans win in straight sets, and the match produces some spectacular photographs. It also thumbs a firm nose at those who like to mock hijabs and women who wear them.

India’s Sakshi Malik won a bronze medal in wrestling. One photograph shows her smiling brightly enough to light up that stadium that roared for Hamblin and D’Agostino.

Says it all.

Vinesh Phogat twisted her leg badly in her wrestling quarter-final and had to concede the bout. One photograph shows her screaming in pain. She later tweets: “If I tel u that I m ok it wud b lying to myself n all of u. Right nw I m hurt; both physically and mentally. I ll recover soon. Thank u all."

Says it all, too.

A toast, then, to memories to come in 2020, in Tokyo.

Once a computer scientist, Dilip D’Souza now lives in Mumbai and writes for his dinners. His latest book is Final Test: Exit Sachin Tendulkar.

His Twitter handle is @DeathEndsFun

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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