By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published on August 28, 2016
Several athletes returned astonishing performances at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Here are a few of the memorable ones.
Indisputably, Jamaicans were the toast of the 2016 Olympics with Usain St. Leo Bolt and Elaine Thompson being dubbed respectively ‘the fastest man and woman in the world’. Bolt’s triple-triple, as many have called it, was the expectation before the Games and he did not disappoint. Similarly, Elaine’s double in the 100m and 200m, as forecasted, has propelled her to superstar status. Nonetheless, several non-Jamaicans had otherworldly performances at the Olympics that gave the fans goosebumps.
WAYDE VAN NIEKERK – Athletics
Wayde van Niekerk, the South African gazelle, created history on the track at the 2016 Rio Olympics over the 400m. In one clean swish across the finish line out of lane eight, van Niekerk erased the 20-year old Olympic record, 43.49s, and the 17-year-old world record, 43.18s on his gallop to a new world record of 43.03s.
Michael Johnson, whose Olympic and world records van Niekerk smashed proffered congratulations to van Niekerk and said, “Well done and deserved”. He further stated,“Usain Bolt will be retiring soon, this (van Niekerk) could be the next star (of athletics).
Interestingly, van Niekerk admitted that – like Bolt – he is not a fan of the 400m. “I hate the 400m but look how far it’s brought me […] Once you’ve been blessed with something you need to use it as best as possible. I’m not going to waste it”, he remarked.
Next on van Niekerk’s list should be breaking 43 seconds over the 400m and challenging Bolt’s record over 200m.
MICHAEL PHELPS – Swimming
Nicknamed the ‘Flying Fish’, Michael Phelps ended a prodigious Olympic career after his fifth and final Olympic games. In Rio de Janeiro, Phelps won an amazing five golds and one silver to end his decorated Olympic career with 23 golds, three silvers, and two bronze medals.
“This is how I wanted to finish my career. I’ve lived a dream come true. Being able to cap it off with these Games is just the perfect way to finish,” he declared.
In all, over the Olympic games, World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships, he has won 83 medals, including 66 golds, 14 silvers, and three bronze medals.
ALMAZ AYANA – Athletics
Almaz Ayana, the reigning world champion and second fastest woman over the 5000m, stepped up to the 10,000m and set alive the first morning of athletics at the 2016 Olympics. In her second recorded run over the distance, Ethiopian Ayana obliterated her rivals and the world record by over 14 seconds. She also won a bronze medal in the 5000m seven days later; however, it is her 10,000m performance, which will be spoken of for years to come.
After the storied run, other athletes in the race hinted at possible doping being the root of Ayana’s spellbinding 10,000m performance. Ayana replied when asked about doping, “My doping is Jesus”.
KATIE LEDECKY – Swimming
Katie Ledecky, the darling of world swimming and the female version of Michael Phelps, won four golds and a silver in Rio. Her four gold medals came in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 4x200m relay freestyle events, with the solitary silver coming in the 4x100m freestyle relay. Unsurprisingly, she won the 400m and 800m freestyle events in Olympic-record and world-record times, beating her own records.
After one of her world record performances in Rio, she remarked, “We set our goals for the week. And to finally hit one of them feels really good. Everyone wants to swim their best at the Olympics. I was just trying to set a personal best time, and for me, that just happens to be a world record.”
Astoundingly, her nearest opponents lost by almost five and 14 seconds respectively in the 400m and 800 m event, such is her unearthly dominance in the pool. At this stage of her career, interestingly, she is ahead of Phelps, with 19 golds and one silver in major international competitions. The shocking part is that this 13-time world record holder is only 19 years old.
MO FARAH – Athletics
If Usain Bolt did the triple-triple, Mo Farah did the double-double when he defended his Olympic titles in the 5,000m and 10,000m. Farah, the propagator of the ‘Mobot’ signature pose, saw off unrelenting challenges from his opponents and though he tumbled midway during the 10,000m, his indomitable spirit drove him to a rousing Olympic victory.
With the 5000m victory a week after the 10,000m, Farah joined Finland’s Lasse Viren as the only men to win both long distance events in consecutive Olympics. Of winning a gold medal, Farah admitted, “It’s every athlete’s dream.” After the 5,000m race, Farah declared, “I just want to go home now and see my beautiful kids and hang my medals around their necks.”
SIMONE BILES – Gymnastics
Four-feet-eight-inch Simone Biles, the heartthrob of the Gymnastics world, won an impressive four golds and a bronze in Rio at her first Olympic games. With her flips, tumbles and lunges, she copped the gold in the floor exercise, vault, individual all-around events along with the team event. Her bronze medal came somewhat predictably on the balance beam.
Interestingly, with her multiple medal performance at the Rio Olympics, many have compared her to exiting Olympic megastars such as Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. When asked about these comparisons, the artistic and acrobatic Biles responded, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.” And rightfully so.
ANITA WŁODARCZYK – Athletics
The queen of the hammer throw, Anita Wlodarczyk, won her first Olympic gold medal to go with two World Championship gold medals in this event. In the process, the hammer throw queen broke the world record for a remarkable sixth-time. This marked the second time a Polish woman has won the hammer throw at the Olympics, after Kamila Skolimowska at 2000 Olympic Games.
Interestingly, Wlodarczyk was wearing Skolimowska’s glove when she broke the world record and won Olympic gold. Wlodarczyk remarked, “I still throw with this glove. I still have memories of her. It was 16 years ago that she won in Sydney and I’m very happy that I continued this tradition.”
NICK SKELTON – Equestrian
Who says you cannot have individual Olympic success at age 58? No one told Nick Skelton and even if someone did, he would not have listened. Skelton won gold in the Equestrian jumping individual event with his horse Big Star to become the oldest medallist in Equestrian history.
“For me to win this now at my age is amazing”, Skelton said. After receiving his medal on the podium, an emotive Skelton remarked, “I was just emotional because it has been a long, long career and to do it now is unbelievable. I have always wanted to do this.”
It goes to show, age is just a number.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is a freelance sportswriter and sports columnist.