The 2016 Rio Olympics had some amazing, nail-biting, hair-raising and tear-jerking moments. List after list circulates the media in attempts to capture “The Seven Most,” “The Ten Best,” etc., etc.
For my attempt at this, I tried to pull some of the moments that struck me and stuck with me even after the closing ceremonies have passed and I’ve unglued myself from my TV. I didn’t try to stick with a magic number but instead included the ones that rose above the others for me.
I hope I help you add to your list of “unforgettables.”
Men’s Relay Test
Entering this race, it was made clear the Americans were going to be mightily tested to re-take this 4 by 100 Freestyle Relay Gold Medal. But this team was determined. You might say that Russia, Australia and France had more of a chance for Gold than the Americans. Everyone was pumped for this race including Caleb Dressel who got the team rolling with a great first split.
But then the moment came. And it took place deep underwater. Michael Phelps dazzled the world with his turn and underwater streamline so fast and so strong that no one else in the world can match it. Phelps’ move will be talked about for years. This moves that is his and his alone, is incredibly physically and psychologically intimidating to opponents.
Phelps emerged from the water substantially ahead of the second place team and made it clear who was going to win the race and the Gold Medal. Phelps is a rarity.
Biles Steals All Hearts
Simone Biles emerged as the World’s Sweetheart during the Olympic Games. Drawn to her genuineness, enthusiasm, loyalty to teammates, selflessness and humility – and vibrant smile – the world was mesmerized as the 19 year old who barely missed qualifying (by age) for the 2012 London Olympics did routines of unprecedented difficulty with ease. She won 4 gold medals plus a bronze in her 1st Olympics and she’s just getting started. With all of this, what made Simone blush and nervous was meeting her star crush, Zac Efron, who showed up to meet her, get his picture made with her and give her a kiss on the cheek.
The Dirado Stunner
After swiping the Gold Medal in the 200 meter backstroke from the superwoman favorite Katina Housszu, U.S. swimmer Maya Dirado first words were “I can’t believe that just happened.” No one could including Housszu, who had already won two Gold Medals over Dirado earlier in the meet. Dirado came from behind to chase Housszu down in the last 25 meters and then did the most important thing – she got her hand on the wall first.
Dirado’s comeback victory that showed her grit and her surprise at winning the race. No one questioned her genuineness when she said “I can’t believe that just happened.”
There may nothing more exhilarating in sports than not expecting to win, giving your maximum effort, and shocking yourself and the world by coming in first.
Discovery of the Human Emoji
What energy and effervescence Laurie Hernandez has. Emotion and personality overflow when she flashes her eyes and smile. At 16, she’s the team baby for sure but she had the judges eating out of her hand. Not that she doesn’t have the talent to deserve the accolades…
Because of her age, many were skeptical that she could handle the Olympic spotlight, but the team’s beloved Martha knew that this little dynamo was consistent and poised and depended on Laurie to deliver in every competition. And boy did she! At 16 she won 1 each gold and silver medal. Who knows what 2020 and Tokyo will bring.
Laurie also got her own Simone-type surprise while being interviewed on Ryan Seacrest’s show. Her crush – Adam Levine showed up!
Cody Miller’s Bronze Medal
After taking Gold in the 100 meter breaststroke, the long-haired and relatively short guy – rare among swimmers — was pumped up like no other American swimmer who won a medal. It was impossible not to notice that this guy was more excited to win a third place Bronze Medal than the vast majority of Olympic athletes.
“I’m so happy,” Miller told NBC News. “I’ve been thinking about this since I was a little kid. You never know it can happen until it happens. I have a lot of people to thank.”
Miller was joyous, real, pumped and grateful. And he celebrated his triumph with class and utter joy.
Men’s Team Bright Spot
Danell Leyva brought home the USA Men’s Gymnastics Team’s only 2 medals. Our men had their struggles but competed gallantly with the never-give-up attitude of the red, white and blue. It must have been difficult to win and watch your teammates place outside of medal contention. Danell engaged victory graciously and his team supported him with passion. Yay! Danell for grabbing two medals. Stage a 2020 Tokyo comeback!
Freestyle Gold for Manuel
Simone Manuel pretty much robbed her opponents in the 100 meter freestyle. As with her teammate, Dirado, no one – not even Simone herself – Manuel to be the name in first place. But regardless of her position during the race, she got her fingers on the wall before everybody else and became the first African American to win an individual Gold Medal in Olympic Swimming. The event was even more momentous because of the humbleness with which she conducted her post-race interviews. Her amazement at her accomplishment made her initial race reaction and interview one that will have a place in history.
Not Old – Experienced
You could never call someone who can do what Aly Raisman did in the Olympics “old,” but that is exactly what some did when they asked her if she was coming back for another Olympics. Aly’s poise, grace, team spirit and sheer joy of winning was heart-melting. Especially if you remember how close she was to medaling in London…
She was an amazing team captain because she embodies team, support, perfection – and love and respect for her Final Five girls. She wouldn’t even listen to those who said that if Simone Biles hadn’t been there, she would have won 3 golds. Maybe so, but she may not have won her silver without the help and support of her teammates. These girls know that they wouldn’t have accomplished what they did – as a team or individually – without the others. Aly and her Final Five truly love each other – sharing some disappointments and lots of glory along their training and competing journey together.
Tears of Joy for Held
Ryan Held was not the only swimmer to shed tears on the Gold Medal stand but he is one that we will remember. Held’s absolute joy and pride showed itself in his uncontrollable crying. He was completely overwhelmed by the impact of his contribution to the men’s 4 by 100 meter freestyle relay team as they won this all-important Olympic race. His bowed head and facial expression bursting with joy so intense that it couldn’t be controlled. We’ll likely not see such a spontaneous and genuine display of tears again anytime soon on the Gold Medal stand.
Anthony Ervin’s Unlikely Victory
After winning a gold medal in the men’s 50 meter freestyle in Rio, Anthony Ervin looked back 16 years to remember winning his first gold medal in the very same event in Sydney. He had never imagined that he would have this experience again. His victory wasn’t predicted by analysts. Anthony himself didn’t expect it – or for that matter think it was possible – not at his age.
Especially since so much had happened in the 16 years between the two golds. There were lots of ups and downs. Confusion, depression, drinking, drugs, a suicide attempt, jobs found and lost, a period of homelessness – and even a stint in a rock band. But there also came a time when something inside told Anthony he could come back. And those thoughts were supported by brother, his graduate school advisor and his friends – many of whom were there to cheer him on from the stands in Rio.
“These are the people that made the course of my life possible,” Ervin said. “When I touched the wall, I saw a 1. Kind of the absurdity, the surrealness of it all … I smiled and laughed. It just seems so unlikely.”
Ledecky’s Run Away 800
Everyone knew that Katie Ledecky was the favorite to win gold in the 800 meter freestyle. But no one expected the race to unfold the way that it did. Katie smoked everyone: like really smoked them. She won the race and set a World Record. She had a full 12 seconds on her closest competitor. Katie is setting off on what is almost assured to be an amazing swimming career – perhaps she’s even pacing herself to be the female Phelps.
Gold Medal, Historic Milestone Attained by Swimming Foursome
U.S. women’s 400-meter medley relay team of Kathleen Baker, Lilly King, Simone Manuel and Dana Vollmer today made history by securing the 1,000th gold medal for Team USA at the Olympic Games in summer competition. The milestone highlights Team USA’s sustained competitive excellence, dating back to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Team USA came into the 2016 Olympics with 977 golds so everyone thought that the milestone would be reached in Rio. 246 of the 1000 gold medals have come from swimming. And – on by the way – 61% of the U.S.’s Gold Medal were won by women.
Michael Phelps competed in his final race (which he won) on August 13. He said that he is “Done. Done. Done.” It’s real this time. He finished these Games with a different outlook than the 2012 London Games and he’s comfortable with it this time. Things are different. He is happy with life – with his fiancée and son. Boomer was really the star of the show. He got almost as much camera time as his famous dad.
There is one moment that is neither gymnastics nor swim but is deserving of inclusion in any list of unforgettable Olympic moments: the collision of the two runners. This moment is the embodiment of unparalleled sportsmanship and is what the Olympics is really all about: countries coming together to help each other finish!
Crashed Olympic Runners Cross Finish Line Together
“Get up, get up! We have to finish! This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.” That was Abbey D’Agostino’s cry after she and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin collided during the first round of the women’s 5,000m race. I’m sure everyone expected that the runners would individually collect themselves and continue their own races to the finish line. But that isn’t what happened. Actually what happened was magical. It was like a tutorial on good sportsmanship. D’Agostino first got up and tried to help Hamblin to her feet. This is when she exclaimed her now famous cry. But D’Agostino collapsed in pain and it was then Hamblin who was helping D’Agostino to her feet so the two could arm-in-arm cross the finish line. One wasn’t going to go without the other.
The Olympic Committee gave them spots in the finals but with D’Agostino’s torn ACL, she couldn’t participate. Thankfully, the Committee decided to award both runners medals for their awesome sportsmanship. It’s the Pierre de Coubertin Medal, which has only been awarded 17 times in Olympic history. This medal is also known as the International Fair Play Committee Award and is reserved for athletes that have demonstrated the Olympic spirit.
“I’m so grateful for Abbey for doing that for me. That girl is the Olympic spirit right there. I’ve never met her before. I’ve never met this girl before, and isn’t that just so amazing?” Hamblin later said, per the Los Angeles Times. “Regardless of the race and the result on the board, that’s a moment that you’re never, ever going to forget for the rest of your life, that girl shaking my shoulder like, ‘Come on, get up.'”
Sources: Freelance writer, Charles Hartley, US Weekly, Yahoo News