RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, Aug 22 – What went right and what went wrong at the 2016 Rio Games, the first Olympics to be held in South America:
Big names, big performances
– Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt didn’t put a foot wrong in Rio, unlike other members of the swimming and athletics fraternity. Phelps took his gold medal haul to 23; Bolt to nine with a ‘triple triple’ of 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles for the third Olympics. Both men have now retired as Olympians, leaving potentially gaping gaps in the Games portfolio.
Zika, no fear
– Leading tennis players, the world’s top four golfers never made it to Rio, fearing the health consequences of the mosquito-borne disease. As it turned out, the stories proved more dramatic than the facts.
– For the first time, a team of refugees took part at the Games. IOC president Thomas Bach said they were treated like “rock stars” in the athletes village with competitors asking for selfies.
It was 10-strong and included Congo’s Popole Misenga who won over the judo arena crowd by making the second round where it took a world champion to beat him.
The team also featured Yusra Mardini, a teenage swimmer from Syria who braved a Mediterranean crossing in a leaky dinghy, and compatriot Rami Anis who fled the war-ravaged nation in 2011 to avoid being enlisted into the army.
Kosovo appeared at its first Olympics and took only two days to get its first gold — Majlinda Kelmendi in the judo. Fiji got their first medal by winning the rugby sevens.
Tennis player Monica Puig gave Puerto Rico their first gold at a Games; hammer thrower Dilshod Nazarov did the same for Tajikistan as did Cheick Sallah Cisse for Ivory Coast in taekwondo.
– The United States and Australia sent teams to Rio that had more women than men. The US had 292 women in their squad and 263 men while Australia had a 212/207 split.
Safe and sound?
– There was little escape from the daily, grim tally of shootings and robberies in the crime-plagued city.
On the night of the opening ceremony, two people were fatally shot near the Maracana stadium.
An Australian photographer lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in an Ipanema coffee shop and then saw the thief two days later wearing his Olympic jacket with accreditation number. AFP also lost a lot of equipment.
Chinese 110m hurdler Shi Dongpeng lost his laptop computer to another well-planned thief. The man vomited on Shi and was chased by a Chinese journalist who was with Shi who went to the restroom. When he returned his belongings had disappeared.
Portugal’s Education Minister Tiago Brandao Rodrigues was held up at knifepoint.
Is there anybody there?
– Swathes of empty seats were a major source of embarrassment for organisers, particularly with some events seemingly sold out and no tickets available to buy on the official website.
Track and field was hit with the 60,000-seat stadium appearing no more than a third full on some occasions.
The behaviour of Brazilian fans also caused concern.
French pole vault star Renaud Lavillenie was booed during competition and on the podium when he took silver behind Brazil’s Thiago Braz.
Brazilians also jeered opposing teams at the gymnastics and chanted “Zika” at US and Swedish women’s football team goalkeepers during games.
Brazilian and Argentinian fans even fought at the tennis.
Brazilian experts said it was a question of culture and that their sports fans are the same in domestic competition.
Men behaving badly
– Ryan Lochte was condemned as the ultimate ‘ugly American abroad’ for his made-up story that he and three teammates were robbed at gunpoint. In fact the four swimmers had only been stopped by security and made to pay compensation for drunkenly vandalising a gas station bathroom.
European Olympic chief Patrick Hickey was arrested at his luxury hotel and then detained in a high security prison, facing charges of involvement in a ticket scam, ambush marketing and conspiracy over the sale of Rio Olympics tickets at inflated prices.
Boxers Hassan Saada of Morocco and Namibia’s Jonas Junias Jonas were arrested on charges of “sexual assault” on cleaners working in the Athletes Village.
Not the best kept village
– Rio’s image was battered even before the Games started when cost-cutting led to economies in the village. The Australian team at first refused to stay in the sprawling complex, claiming it was unsafe and unclean.
The British team employed their own plumber while Japanese athletes were reported to be carrying out their own household repairs. A lot of teams said though that, while basic, the village was just fine.
STARTED WRONG…ENDED RIGHT
– Brazil set the target of being in the top 10 in the medals table and did not make it. Judoka Rafaela Silva got the hosts only gold in the first week. They ended with six. But thank goodness for Neymar. The football team started with lacklustre 0-0 draws against South Africa and Iraq and were roundly lambasted by their diehard fans.
But Brazil got it right on the night when, superstar Neymar scored the winning penalty in a shootout victory over Germany.
It was the hosts’ first football gold and was also sweet revenge for the humiliation of their 7-1 World Cup semi-final loss to the same opponents two years ago on home soil.