There were heartwarming moments of triumph. There were head-scratching moments. There were fairytales. There were failures.
The storylines are endless, but we’ve selected 10 memorable moments from this year’s Games.
It’s fitting that No. 1 is the slew of firsts that occurred at the Games, not only for individuals, but entire nations as well.
Represented by eight athletes, Kosovo made its debut at the Olympics this summer after gaining membership from the International Olympic Committee in December 2014.
Kosovo’s best hope for a medal was on the shoulders of Majlinda Kelmendi in judo (52 kg). Not only did Kelmendi medal, she won gold.
‘I’m so happy,’ she said. ‘I’m so happy for me, for my coach, for all my country… It means a lot. People, especially kids in Kosovo, look to me as a hero. I just proved to them that even after the war, even after we survived the war, if they want something they can have it. If they want to be Olympic champions, they can be — even if we come from a small country, a poor country.’
Kelmendi wasn’t the only one to bring home the first gold medal for her country. Monica Puig (Puerto Rico) won gold in women’s tennis, Joseph Schooling (Singapore) won the 100m butterfly, Fehaid Al-Deehani (Independent Olympic Athletes) won men’s double trap and Hoang Xuan Vinh (Vietnam) won gold in the men’s 10m air pistol.
The Fiji men’s rugby sevens team won gold, the first Olympic medal ever for the island nation.
Everybody loves a good Cinderella story, right?
Surprisingly, Brazil, the most decorated nation when it comes to international soccer, had never won Olympic gold … that is until now.
Pressure was on the five-time FIFA World Cup champions on home soil again. Following a shocking and embarrassing 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, it was gold or bust for Brazil in Rio.
The tournament started off sluggishly with scoreless draws against South Africa and Iraq, but a 4-0 win against Denmark was all the momentum Brazil required.
As fate would have it, Brazil would meet Germany in the gold-medal match. And, of course, it would be the talisman, Neymar, who came through when Brazil needed it most. He scored the decisive goal in the shootout to give Brazil its first gold in men’s football and a bit of redemption from the 2014 World Cup.
Fate would not be as so kind to the Brazil women’s team. Equally under pressure, Marta and Co. couldn’t win their shootout against Sweden in the tournament’s semifinal. Sweden had previously knocked out defending World Cup champions USA via a shootout in the quarterfinal. Brazil had a chance to salvage a medal at least, but lost 2-1 to Canada in the third-place game.
The number of gold medals for Usain Bolt in Rio. Three. The number of consecutive Olympics that Bolt has won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. Three. The world’s fastest man couldn’t be caught again this summer, further solidifying his place in the record books. ‘I have proven to the world that I am the greatest (runner),’ Bolt said. ‘That is why I came here. That’s why it is my last Olympics. I can’t do anymore. I make people want to come and watch the sport and be involved in it. … I have worked hard to be the best. I have proven to the world I have done great things.’
Ledecky adds to tally
American swimmer Katie Ledecky is a Bruce Springsteen fan. Springsteen is a Ledecky fan — he now follows her on Twitter. If Ledecky continues her torrid pace in the pool, she might start being referred to as ‘The Boss’. The 19-year-old from Maryland swam her way to five medals (four gold, one silver) in record-shattering fashion in Rio. She demolished her own world record in the 800 freestyle (8:04.79) and waited a whopping 11 seconds before the next swimmer touched the final wall. Ledecky is the first woman to sweep the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in 48 years and the third American woman in history to win four gold medals in a single Olympics.
There was the Magnificent Seven. Then the Fierce Five. In Rio, it was the Final Five. Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez and Simone Biles comprised the United States women’s gymnastics team that took home nine medals — the most won by any women’s team since the Soviet Union claimed 10 in the 1972 Olympics. Biles, USA’s flag bearer during the closing ceremonies, led the way with four gold medals and one bronze. She also surpassed Shannon Miller as the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history with a combined 19 medals between the Olympics and World Championships.
Uniting Effect of Sports
To say tensions between warring North Korea and South Korea are high is a bit of an understatement.
Yet for one moment all was forgotten as gymnasts Lee Eun-ju of South Korea and Hong Un-jong of North Korea posed for a selfie during a training session before the start of the Games.
Sport is truly are a uniting factor.
Eaton does it again
Ashton Eaton (USA) won his second consecutive gold medal in the men’s decathlon to keep the label as the world’s greatest all-around athlete. Eaton, whose score of 8,893 points tied an Olympic record, joins USA’s Bob Mathias (1948, 1952) and Great Britain’s Daley Thompson (1980, 1984) as the only two-time decathlon winners in Olympic history. Eaton downplayed his accomplishment. ‘The decathlon is exclusive company,’ he said. ‘I’m happy to be part of the family, the decathlon family. To be with the other two-time gold medalists is great, but it’s great to just be a decathlete.’
A family affair
Qualifying for the Olympics is one thing. Doing so with a family member takes it to a whole other level. British brothers Alistair and Johnny Brownlee picked up gold and silver in the men’s triathlon. Lina, Lily and Leila Liuk of Estonia became the first triplets to compete in the Olympics together, with the self-proclaimed ‘Trio in Rio’ participated in the women’s marathon, wearing consecutive bib numbers 633, 634 and 635. Twins Anna and Lisa Hahner of Germany crossed the finish line of the women’s marathon together holding hands.
‘It was a magical moment that we could finish this marathon together,’ Lisa said. ‘We did not think about what we were doing.’
Siblings weren’t the only family members participating together in Rio. Nino Salukvadze and her son, Tsotne Machavariani, were on Georgia’s shooting team.
USA basketball dominates
There are no guarantees in life except death, taxes and the United States women’s basketball team winning at the Olympics. Team USA cruised to a sixth consecutive gold medal, defeating Spain 101-72 in the final. It was the 49th consecutive win at the Olympics for the U.S., who won all but one game by 20 or more points during these Games. The United States have a 65-3 Olympic record.
‘It’s pretty incredible,’ Diana Taurasi said. ‘We had a goal to win the gold medal but there’s something more to it than that. It’s not about one person, one coach — it’s about ‘How can we make this the best basketball team ever?’
Like the women’s team, the men’s basketball team continued its dominance in the Olympics, winning a third straight gold medal with a 96-66 defeat of Serbia in the final. Legendary Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski retired from the national team with a 59-1 mark. Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks) became Team USA’s all-time leading scorer and the first American player to win three gold medals.
Fitting finish for Phelps
It probably makes sense to save the best for last. United States swimmer Michael Phelps ended his Olympic career in style by adding to his gaudy medal tally. Phelps left Rio with five gold medals and one silver to bring his record medal count to 28, including 23 gold.
The 31-year-old, who is the greatest Olympian of all-time, ended his career atop the podium with teammates Ryan Murphy, Cody Miller and Nathan Adrian after winning the 400-meter medley relay. ‘I wanted to come back and finish my career how I wanted and this was the cherry on top of the cake,’ Phelps told TODAY. A big gold cherry.