11 Best Moments of the 2016 Rio Olympics
Every four years the best of the best meet to compete. And this year, we were once again incredibly inspired by Olympic athletes. The games featured champions from every walk of life and economic background. Both young and old competed -- including a 58-year-old gold medalist. There were legends ending their careers on very high notes (Phelps, Bolt and Farah, we're looking at you). Others were just beginning and already overachieving, like Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky and Claressa Shields. Here are the ultimate "dig deep" moments from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
1. Michael Phelps Earns His 28th Olympic Medal
Most were expecting Phelps' 5th Olympic games to be a polite victory lap for the greatest swimmer to ever hit the pool. Instead, at 31, the first-time father added four golds and a silver, raising his career total to a mind-blowing 28 total medals, 23 of them gold. He captained the U.S. swim team with a combination of joyfulness and intensity. (The latter lead to #PhelpsFace, the pre-race death stare that's tied with Usain Bolt for Rio's best meme.) But the stat that impressed us most is that, according to the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Phelps swam 8,535 miles training for the Olympics. That's roughly the equivalent of swimming from Miami to London and back again.
2. Older Olympians Steal the Spotlight
In most Olympic sports, you're retired by 30. But this year, Anthony Ervin became the oldest swimmer to ever win gold at 35 years old, taking home two. At 58, Great Britain's Nick Skelton shocked the equestrian wold by winning a gold in individual jumping, while the U.S.'s Phillip Dutton, 52, took bronze in a separate equestrian event. Argentinian Santiago Lange, a 54-year-old lung cancer survivor, won a gold medal in the mixed multihull crew race. And at 41, Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina became the oldest woman to compete in women’s gymnastics, a sport dominated by teenagers. What does that mean for future Olympics? Well, by the time of the Tokyo Olympics, Michael Phelps will be the same age as Ervin was this year (hint, hint).
3. Brazil Takes Gold in Two Men's Team Sports
The host country had been painted in a not-so-flattering light leading up to the Games. So when Brazil's soccer star Neymar, who had already scored the team's first goal on a free kick that scraped the bottom of the crossbar, made the gold-winning goal during a shoot-out against Germany, the response went well beyond a sigh of relief. It was an explosive, joyous celebration: Not only was it Brazil's first Olympic gold in soccer -- the country's national sport -- but they beat the same German team that beat them two years earlier at the World Cup. The positive energy spilled into the next day, when the Brazilian men took home gold in team volleyball.
4. Simone Biles Dominates Women's Gymnastics
Even before the Games began, we knew the 19-year-old Houston native, raised by her maternal grandfather and his wife, was a great gymnast. After Rio, where she scored three individual golds and led the U.S. to their team gold, we now know her to be the greatest gymnast to ever live. But almost equally impressive as her vault and floor performances was the way she carried herself while doing it. Biles never lost her cool -- not on the medal stand, not when NBC flew in her celebrity crush Zac Efron to congratulate her and not when she held the flag to lead the U.S. in the closing ceremony, the first female gymnast to be so honored -- and probably the shortest.
5. Hamblin and D'Agostino Exemplify the Olympic Spirit
Doing your best doesn't always mean finishing first. That was made profoundly clear during the women's 5000m race when New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin tangled with American Abbey D'Agostino, and they both fell to the track. D'Agostino helped Hamblin up, and when it became clear that D'Agostino was the more injured runner, Hamblin stayed with her until she could get help. The women, strangers before the event, are now forever linked. The show of sportsmanship and Olympic spirit was moving and rewarded: The pair were awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal, a sportsmanship medal that had only been awarded 17 times before in the history of the Olympics.
Related: The 25 Best Summer Olympic Moments
6. Usain Bolt Dazzles the Crowds
The question coming into this year's Olympics was less about whether Jamaica's Usain Bolt would defend his gold medals and more about whether he would do it with the panache he's known for. He answered that question with a meme for the ages. The moment after coming first in the 100m, he turned toward the photographers with a huge grin and the moment was immortalized. That was the first of his three for three: three gold medals in three events at three Olympics. But what made it so memorable was the joyful selfie-snapping, fan-hugging way he pulled it off. He is not only the fastest man alive; he may also be the happiest.
7. Mo Farah's Double Double
As far as distance runners go (both figuratively and literally), Great Britain's Mo Farah's double double was wildly impressive, in no small part because of the manner in which he did it. Farah, who won gold in London in the 5000m and 10,000m, fell halfway through the 10,000m race this year but popped back up and somehow managed to edge out Kenya's Paul Tanui. "It's every athlete's dream," said the 33 year old after becoming the first distance runner to pull off twin golds in these two events in two Olympics (and yes, he plans to return for Tokyo).
8. Van Niekerk Crushes Michael Johnson's 400m Record
Michael Johnson's 400m record stood for 17 years before this summer's Olympics. Then South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk bested the world record and took home Olympic gold in staggering fashion. But he gave all the credit to Anna Sophia Botha, who's not just his coach and trainer; she's also his great-grandmother. After his stunning feat, the 24-year-old van Niekerk and 74-year-old Botha held each other in silence. “It wasn’t necessary to say anything," she said of the moment. "We knew in our hearts and in our minds what we had thought and what we had achieved.”
9. Ledecky's Impressive World Record Swim
The Maryland-raised 19-year-old was one of the most dominant overall competitors at this year's games. It wasn't just the number of medals she netted -- four gold and a silver -- but the fact that she won the 800m freestyle by a mind-blowing 12 seconds, besting her own world record by more than two seconds. "It feels like gold that I'm after her," said Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, who lost to Ledecky in the 200m. She could've also earned gold as a teammate, cheering her lungs out for her roommate Simone Manuel as she won the 100m freestyle, becoming the first African American woman to win gold in an individual swimming event.
10. American Women Take Home the Most Medals
Despite numerous incidents of "casual sexism" from some of the Olympic commentators and news outlets, women showed the world what they're made of. Though the entire American squad -- both men and women -- won the most medals overall, the U.S. women captured most of those medals (just as they did in London four years ago). Of the U.S.'s 121 medals, women won 61 of those, including 27 of the 46 golds. The "Final Five" won gold in the women's gymnastics team competition, the women's swim team (lead by Ledecky) dominated in the pool and sprinter Allyson Felix took home two golds and a silver, boosting here career medal count to nine. The U.S. also won team gold medals in women's basketball, rowing and water polo.
11. Back-to-Back Wins for Claressa Shields
Ali didn't do. Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard -- those guys didn't do it. No, Claressa Shields, the 21-year-old Flint, MI, middleweight, stands alone. Shields successfully defended her gold from London, the first Olympics to include women's boxing. When she won that one, the world barely noticed. “My gold medal didn’t really mean a lot to the media and the boxing world either,” Shields said. “But I have a great story to tell -- I’ve been through a lot.” A lot, indeed. Her father was in prison and her mother had drug problems so she grew up with her aunt and grandmother. And soon, we may all know her better: The film rights to her life story have been optioned by Universal.
What Do YOU Think?
Did you watch this year's Olympic Games? Which sports were your favorite to watch? Which sports caught your attention for the first time? Which athletes did you enjoy watching? What were some of your favorite moments? Did they make the list? Or would you add one? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below!
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