So that’s it. Four more years until we next get to see the world’s greatest athletes competing on the biggest stage of all. To help pass a very small amount of the time until Tokyo 2020, here’s a list of ‘alternative’ awards based on the past fortnight’s sporting endeavours.
A close-run contest. Max Whitlock’s floor routine was of the highest quality, Jack Laugher and Chris Mears produced their finest ever set of dives to take gold, Katinka Hosszu’s world record in the 400m individual medley sparked the swimming into life and the Fijian men’s sevens team were head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.
However, Almaz Ayana takes this one. To break a 10,000m world record that had been the benchmark for 23 years was extraordinary enough. To do it by 14 seconds? Stunning.
The ‘Local Hero’ award
No Olympic Games is complete without success for the host nation. Neymar guided Brazil to their first ever, and much-coveted, football gold medal, whilst Isaquias Quieroz dos Santos’s celebrations saw him leap into the hearts of the nation after his silver and bronze medals in the sprint kayaking.
There can only be one winner, though. For pure joy, relief and the scenes inside the arena, Rafaela Silva takes the award for her gold medal in the judo – Brazil’s first of the Games. The sheer noise inside the venue was almost unparalleled in Rio, as Silva, born in one of Rio’s favelas, fought her way to the title.
Several worthy contenders here. David Katoatau danced his way to becoming a viral star of the Games, with the Kiribati weightlifter celebrating each successful lift like he’d won the gold medal. Bryony Page almost stole this award based on the sheer shock, joy and emotion she displayed when claiming Great Britain’s first ever trampolining medal, laughing and crying her way throughout the interviews and medal presentation.
When an entire country is given a national holiday, though, it’s hard to beat. Fiji had never won an Olympic medal before Rio 2016. With the introduction of rugby sevens, however, that changed. The Fijian men’s side romped their way to glory, beating Great Britain 43-7 in the final. The scenes in Rio amongst the team were matched by those back in Fiji, with people dancing in the street and singing their hearts out. The Fijian government declared a national holiday, and the team were given a hero’s welcome on their return.
Most fitting send-off
Rio 2016 marked what will probably be the final time we see some of our favourite athletes compete at an Olympic Games. Mind you, it was said that Michael Phelps would retire after London, and he still found the time to add to his medal collection in Rio. Usain Bolt, the third leg of his ‘triple-triple’ complete, isn’t expected to defend his titles in Tokyo, whilst it would be a surprise to see Sir Bradley Wiggins return four years from now.
For Kate Richardson-Walsh, though, Rio 2016 marked the end of her international career. You would have struggled, therefore, to find anyone that begrudged her the well-deserved Olympic gold medal that came the way of her Great Britain side. Having made her international debut in 1999, Richardson-Walsh has been an unwavering servant to British hockey, and deserves every accolade that comes her way in future.
There will almost certainly be athletes who emerge into the sporting spotlight in the four years between now and Tokyo 2020. However, they will have to jostle for our attention with those who made their name in Brazil over the past fortnight. Callum Skinner showed his potential, with a gold and silver medal in the velodrome, whilst Adam Peaty demonstrated his dominance of the 100m breaststroke. Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson illustrated the conveyor belt of sprinters from the Caribbean nation shows no sign of stopping and Simone Biles of the USA took home four gold medals from her debut Olympics.
However, with Bolt likely to retire, athletics may need a new global face. That face could belong to Wayde van Niekerk. Winning Olympic gold from lane eight in the 400m is notoriously difficult, but he blew the rest of the field away with an astonishing world record. Breaking Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old time in an Olympic final was so significant, it nearly overshadowed Bolt’s achievements on the same evening. Still young, it’ll be a major surprise if we don’t see him in Tokyo.
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