Normally I’m not that much into sports. Sure, I’ll pay attention to Hockey or Baseball if a team I like is doing well, but that’s about it. As soon as all of Canada’s teams were guaranteed out of last year’s playoffs, I completely ignored the NHL. There’s something different about the Olympics though. There’s something special about so many countries from around the world coming together not only to compete, but to show that we can get along. With so many special moments in Rio this year, I felt inspired to write my own post about 2016’s Summer Olympics. So here are Rio’s most special moments from what I’ve seen.
This post will not talk about any of the controversies. If you want that, there are plenty of places to look. Also, as much as I’d love to, I can’t really post video clips since most of them can only be viewed in one country thanks to broadcasting rights. Also as a Canadian, there’s going to be a bit of bias, but I’m going to start with the special moments for other countries first. What better place to start off with than the host country itself, Brazil.
After a humiliating defeat against Germany in the World Cup 2 years ago, Brazil’s soccer fanatic culture was shattered. In the Olympic tournament, they got their shot at a rematch. In regulation, both teams scored one goal, leading to a glorious shootout that Brazil won 5-4. For Brazil, that was the only event that truly mattered. Even those not happy with the Olympics being in Brazil couldn’t help but cheer for their victory. Brazil won an impressive 6 other golds throughout this year’s Olympics, including pole vaulting and volleyball, but the entire country cheered when their soccer goalie blocked the only non-goal in that shootout.
I cheer for my home country first, but I cheer for Britain and Australia pretty much equally as a second favourite. As a whole, Britain did very well this year at the Olympics with 27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze. That put them 2nd place in the medal standings, the second best they’ve ever done in Olympic History (they only performed better in the 1908 London games). It’s hard to even pick a highlight among their victories. Among them is a gold in the first Olympic golf tournament in more than 100 years. Since golf is big in Scotland though, I can’t say I’m too surprised about that.
Before Usain Bolt came along, nobody thought that anyone could successfully defend a gold in a sprinting event twice. It’s rare for anyone to even be able to compete in both the 100m and 200m run on an international stage. Almost everyone tries to run fast at least once in their life, which is what makes this sprint so unique and captivating – everyone can relate on some level. Yet here comes the tall Jamaican, not only winning his triple gold in sprinting, but winning his triple triple. Beijing, London and Rio: gold in 100m, gold in 200m and gold in 4x100m.
He’s not just a runner for Jamaica – he’s a runner for the entire world. His charismatic personality is hard not to have fun watching. He clearly loves the sport of running and wants to share that love, both with his competitors and with the world. This is made perfectly clear when he pats others on the back after a run, gives advice to newcomers in post-race interviews, and in his entertaining friendship with Canada’s Andre De Grasse (more on him later). It’s entirely possible that nobody will ever top what Usain Bolt has accomplished.
The other major Olympic story coming to a likely end is that of who might be the greatest swimmer in history. This year, Michel Phelps increased his record medal count to 28, including 23 gold. Not only that, his last individual gold tied him with an Olympic record held since the ancient Olympics, for most individual event wins at 13. I don’t necessarily respect Phelps as a person – it’s hard for me to respect someone who’s had 2 DUI’s, but Phelps is undeniably entertaining to watch in the pool. He’s usually in the middle of the pack about half-way through the race, but by the end, he surges forward and leaves everyone else in his wake. He will be missed by many.
Another big story came out if swimming this year. For the first time in history, a black person earned an individual swimming medal at the Olympics. Simone Manuel tied for gold and an Olympic record in the 100m freestyle (more on that when I talk about Canada later). This is such a historic medal for not only the United States, but the world. For decades, swimming pools in the United States were segregated – black people weren’t allowed to swim in the same pools as white people, under the superstition that they’d contaminate the pools … somehow. Even after that segregation ended, a lot of swim clubs turned exclusive, making it difficult for public swim clubs to even stay alive. Even now, black people around the world are much less likely to know how to swim than anyone else. Hopefully, Manuel’s gold will start to change that, not just for the United States, but for every country in the world.
Of all the special moments for other countries, Fiji takes the cake.
Fiji, a country with a total population of less than 1 million, has been competing in the Olympics for more than 50 years, both in the summer and winter Olympics. Before this year, they’ve never won any Olympic medal period. That changed this year. They didn’t just beat Great Britain in the gold medal match for men’s Rugby 7’s; they crushed them 43-7. If it’s the least bit possible, make sure you watch that match if you haven’t already, even if you don’t usually care about sports. Half-way through the game, some of their players were so overwhelmed with emotion they sat at the bench, unable to open their eyes. The British were great sports about it too. None of them looked upset, and they congratulated Fiji with smiles after the game ended.
And now, it’s time to talk about Canada.
It’s no secret that Canada isn’t usually that great at the Summer Olympics. Although we do have summertime, unlike what a lot of southern American’s think, we tend to specialize with the Winter Olympics, usually finishing somewhere in the top 7 countries (the last time we finished worse than 7th was in 1992). In the summer Olympics however, we rarely crack the top 10 in total medal count or the top 20 in medal points. Going by numeric medal total, we aimed for 19 medals and a top 12 finish. This year, we got 22 and a top 10 finish in terms of the number of medals. And that’s while doing terrible with rowing, which we’re usually good at (only one medal, a silver). The funny thing is, almost all of those medals, including 3 of the four gold, were won by women. We didn’t earn a single men’s medal in the entire first week.Rosie MacLenna defends individual trampoline gold
Rosie MacLennan won Canada’s only gold medal in 2012’s London games, in Trampoline. In defending that gold this year, she became the first Canadian to successfully defend gold in an individual summer games event.
Andre De Grasse was Canada’s story during the second week of the Olympics. It wasn’t just his little brother-like friendship with Usain Bolt that captivated us. It’s that he’s the first ever Canadian who can run sub 10s in the 100m and sub 20s in the 200m. He’s the first Canadian to ever medal in the 100m (bronze), 200m (silver) and the 100m relay (bronze after US’s disqualification) in a single Olympic games. At 21, he only started running seriously in the last couple of years, and only turned pro within the last few months. He could very well be the world’s next fastest man. That’s exciting for us. Of course a lot can happen in 4 years, but it’s hard not to get our hopes up.Evan Dunfee’s sportsmanship
There were a number of great showings of sportsmanship throughout the olympics. American Abbey D’Agnostino and New Zealander Nikki Hamblin helping each other finish a race after tripping over each other is a great example. This might be biased, but the one that stand out for me is Evan Dunfee. He performed the best race-walk in the history of our country. Although he finished 4th, just short of a medal, that’s not what made this special.
Toward the end of the race, Dunfee and the Japanese man who earned Bronze had a minor collision that seemed to knock Dunfee off balance. Canada protested the bump, and for a couple of hours, they disqualified the Japanese man and awarded Dunfee the bronze. After they re-instated the Japanese the bronze after a counter protest, Dunfee showed a lot of sport. He didn’t seem the least bit upset in interviews, and talked about how these bumps happen a lot early in these races, and that the Japanese man seemed to be swaying back and forth a lot toward the end of the race. There was another moment in the race where the defending champion from France looked injured. Dunfee patted him on the back and encouraged him to continue. More so than any other Canadian this year, Dunfee showed the true Olympic spirit both during and after his race.
As exciting as Andre De Grasse is, and respectful as Evan was, one Canadian athlete stood out above the rest. Before I get into this, let’s talk background. Canada’s never had one Summer Olympian earn more than 3 medals in a single Olympic games in the past. The last time we earned gold in swimming was in 1992. In the last 4 Olympics, we’ve earned a total of 4 swimming medals. That all changed this year with 6 swimming medals, led by Penny Oleksiak of Toronto.
On the first day of the Olympics, the Canadian women earned a bronze in the 4×100 freestyle relay, our first medal in that event in 40 years. Oleksiak anchored that race, successfully holding off the reigning world champion in the individual 100m freestyle race. The second day, she earned a silver in the 100m butterfly, a very physically demanding swim, and only Canada’s second ever medal in that event. Her 2 medals in 2 days really kicked things off for Team Canada. On day 3 we earned our third swimming medal – a bronze.
Day 5 is when Penny really started getting people’s attention though. In the semi-final race for the individual 100m freestyle, current World Record Holder, Cate Campbell of Australia, set a new Olympic record of 52.71. After spending most of the race well behind Campbell, Oleksiak surged forward and touched the wall exactly 0.01 seconds behind, also beating the previous Olympic record. Less than 2 hours later, she anchored the 4x200m freestyle relay. Canada’s never medaled in that event before. They not only won bronze, but Oleksiak almost caught up to the Australians for silver, swimming the 4th best leg out of everyone (only behind the medalists in the individual event). Having not qualified for the individual 200m freestyle four months prior, she hadn’t even trained much for that event. For all we know, she might have been a medal contender in this race if she did qualify.
The next evening was the big race – the final 100m freestyle, in what is probably the most competitive and unpredictable swimming competition in the Olympics (for both men and women). At the start, Campbell shot well ahead of everyone else, touching the wall at the 50m mark almost half a body length ahead of second. Penny was in 7th at the time. In the second half, Campbell started running out of juice, having went out too fast (she’s had problems with nerves her entire career). Meanwhile, Simone Manuel of the United States took first place. Oleksiak started catching up fast, and at the 15m mark, she kicked furiously and put everything she had left. She touched the wall at 52.7, an exact tie with Manuel for the gold.
She’s the first Canadian to ever win 4 medals in a single Summer Olympics, and our first gold in swimming since 1992. She’s the first Canadian woman to win a swimming gold since 1984. Here’s the kicker – the night she won gold, she was only 16 years and 59 days old. She only started swimming competitively a few years ago. She was only 15 when she qualified for the Olympics, setting both multiple national records and multiple world junior records in the process. At the qualification for the Butterfly, she beat the Canadian record and world junior record by swimming 56.99 (fifth fastest time in the world). In the four months since, she shaved more than half a second off that time for a 56.46 finish in her silver medal race. 16 and already an Olympic record holder, and with that rate of improvement, one can only wonder what she’ll have in store for us in 2020 Tokyo.
For comparison, Michael Phelps first went to the Olympics at 15. He reached one final, where he finished 5th. The next year, he earned one gold in the World Championship, and that’s it. As impressive as that is, Oleksiak is so far on track to beating his Olympic medal count should her career last as long. Like I said with Andre De Grasse, a lot can happen in 4 years, let alone 16, but Canada could be looking at our own swimming superstar.
She’s not only an incredible swimmer for her age, but she’s mature, humble and seems to have a level head. She talks about regular teenaged things, like listening to Drake (a Canadian rapper) before a race, or how she’s looking forward to getting home to hang out with her friends. She’s adamant in giving credit to her fellow relay racers, even though she earned the best times out of the team by far. In a post medal ceremony interview, she took off her bronze medal and placed it around Michelle William’s neck (who raced in the heats and semi-final but not in the final). She hugs fellow racers after races, like Cate Campbell and co-gold medalist Manuel.
She’s also showing leadership. When Canada’s team only finished 5th in the 4x100m medley (still a national record), she talked about how she wasn’t too proud of her performance, even if her best butterfly time still wouldn’t have earned Canada the bronze.
It’s hard for Canadians not to get excited about Oleksiak’s future. Although Evan Dunfee would have been a great choice for the flag bearer for the closing ceremony, Oleksiak was both the obvious and the best choice. I hope that, with all her newfound fame and four Olympic medals, she can keep a level head and a balanced life. Like Jamie Oleksiak (Penny’s NHL Defensemen older brother) said, I’m now a swimming fan.