AFTER nearly two-and-a-half weeks of sporting excellence, the curtains on the Rio 2016 Olympics were lowered on Sunday night with a resplendent carnival-style ceremony and the official handover to the next host city, Tokyo.
The almost three-hour extravaganza saw a rich display of Brazil’s art, music and dance at the Maracana Stadium. It was a more celebratory affair, as exuberant athletes, dancers and musicians got into the party spirit on a wet and windy night.
Though there were thousands of empty seat as a result, that could not douse the night’s energy and zeal of performers as multiple firework displays lit up the city of Rio.
The Olympic flag was officially handed over to the Mayor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, with organisers briefly showcasing the 2020 Games. Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, may have stolen the night away as he staged a rare appearance dressed as Super Mario (computer game character), emerging from a huge green culvert.
The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, lauded Brazil for hosting a “marvellous Olympics” before bidding farewell to the multi-sport festival, the first to be staged in South America.
More than 11,000 athletes from 206 nations and 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), a maiden refugee team including first-time entrants Kosovo and South Sudan, were part of the games with USA sweeping away an incredible 121 medals (46 gold) to top the medals table.
Hosts Brazil amassed 19 medals (7 gold) and finished 13th, its best Olympic showing ever. Overall, Brazilians were really satisfied with their medal tow. But their biggest joy was winning their maiden football men gold at the Olympics. It was one medal that had eluded them many times after grand final defeats in 1984, 1988 and 2012. And, guess who they defeated last Saturday night – Germany.
Two years ago, the Germans did something terrible to Brazilian football on their own soil, demolishing their revered senior national team 7-1 in the FIFA World Cup tournament. And, even though the Neymar-led Brazil Olympic team could not poke home as many goals as their European rivals (won on penalties after 1-1 draw in 120 minutes) did the last time, for them, it was still revenge served cold.
The celebrations in the streets of Rio de Janeiro after the nail-biting game was as crazy as thrilling, and it may have added some sweet punch to the closing ceremony. Indeed, the crowd at Maracana Stadium roared in excitement when Neymar’s image came on the giant screen.
As it is no news now, Ghana’s 16-man contingent made up of 11 track and field athletes, a boxer, two swimmers, a judoka player and weightlifter, failed to win any medal. Though all the athletes were making their maiden appearance, they may have felt the weight of rubbing shoulders with the ‘big names’ in the business a little too much.
In spite of the slump, however, some of the athletes like javelin thrower John Amponsah and 15-year-old swimmer Kaya Forson, demonstrated great potential – strongly offering Ghanaians lots of hope going into the Tokyo 2020 Games.
The grandest name at the games, was Jamaica’s super legend, Usain Bolt, who confirmed his ‘immortality’ in athletics’ history with the famous ‘Triple-Triple’ as he completed an unimaginable 100m, 200m and 4x100m gold medals from Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016. Indeed, his name will continue to be on the lips of generations even yet unborn.
Another athlete whose name cannot go without mention is USA’s swimming legend Michael Phelps. This man should have been born as one big ‘fish’ – not as human! In Rio, Phelps underlined his status as the King of the Olympic Games. He won five more gold medals to bring his total to 23, more than any other athlete in history. No one else is even in double figures. He won a silver, too, meaning he has won 28 medals over the five Olympics in which he has competed. After those stellar feats, he has finally hanged his swimming suits.
We cannot also forget Britain’s Mo Farah who carved his own piece of history with a “double-double.” Farah defended both his 5,000m and 10,000m Olympic titles in Rio – with victory in the shorter distance coming at the weekend. Farah’s triumph means he becomes just the second man after Finland’s Lasse Viren to win both long-distance events at successive Olympics. This superb performance all added to Britain’s stunning medal pull of 67 (27 gold) to finish second.
For many experts of athletics, US sprint athlete Justin Gatlin, was the biggest disappointment at the games, having been tipped to either upstage Bolt or give him some good run for his money. Neither of them happened. Gatlin was ‘whipped’ convincingly by the Jamaican sprinting wizard in the 100m, settling for silver. Now, when many were gearing up for what they thought was going to ‘revenge time’ for Gatlin in the 200m, the guy could only finish third in the semis and thus failing to make it to the 200m final.
There was even further disappointment to come for Gatlin’s supporters as he failed to anchor the US relay team to a medal position. First, the US finished third in the race, but were later disqualified for passing the baton around illegally.
Albeit the games were generally well organised, there were a catalogue of reported robberies at the Games Village and some parts of Rio; a media bus too was attacked, that almost gave the multi-sports festival a blood-shot eye.
While most of the robberies were confirmed by the police, bizarrely, and unfortunately, it also emerged that some of the athletes were cooking stories just to embarrass the hosts.
Four US swimmers, including gold medallist Ryan Lochte, fabricated a widely-publicised story in which they claimed to have been victims of an armed robbery in Rio de Janeiro. Lochte said in a series of interviews that he and his swimming mates James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were robbed at gunpoint by criminals posing as cops in the wee hours of Sunday (August 14) as they returned to the athletes’ village after a night out. Their account was a setback for Brazilian authorities, who are carrying out the biggest security operation in the country’s history for the Olympic Games.
Yet police said security cameras installed in the gas station where the swimmers claimed to have been robbed told a different story. The police explained that the swimmers were detained by security guards after they broke property at the gas station and refused to pay for the damage.
The US Olympic Committee has since apologised for the behaviour of four of its athletes, including Lochte, who was deported before the end of the games.
Indeed, the security has also had a hell of a time trying to deal with protestors before and during the opening ceremony.
Hours before the ceremony got underway, about 3,000 protestors stormed some major streets here, giving the combined force of military and police officers hectic time in their bid to bring the situation under control. The police had to shoot tear gas at the group of anti-Olympic protesters who massed up in a neighbourhood about a half-mile from the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
But, truth be told, the games have gone relatively smoothly compared with the horror stories that preceded them. Ahead of the Olympics, there were lots of worry and scores of headlines about things going bad in Rio. Disturbingly, the most horrifying was the report of mutilated human body parts washing up on the shore near the Olympic beach volleyball venue, Zika virus among others.
Indeed, Brazil has been a wonderful host. The warmth and hospitality of its people is almost next to none.
From: John Vigah, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil