Michael Phelps won more medals than anyone else, again. And then he said farewell, also again.
Usain Bolt kissed the finish line good-bye after enhancing his Olympic legacy. Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky delivered under the burden of enormous expectations. Two strangers went from rivals to forever linked by a display of kindness, an entire nation seemed to celebrate a tennis match, and a gold medalist scampered home to avoid legal issues after a robbery story unraveled.
The Rio de Janeiro Olympics were not perfect.
But there were moments — some great, some dreadful and some downright ugly — that will not, and should not, be forgotten.
Here’s a look:
The U.S. dominated the medal count, a rare romp in a non-boycotted games (there’s still more medals to win Sunday, but the margin of overall victory could be the most in a fully attended games in 68 years). Phelps won six medals, five of them gold, to increase his career haul to 23 Olympic titles and 28 medals overall. Ledecky and Biles each won five medals, Biles gets to carry the U.S. flag into the closing ceremony, and U.S. shooter Kim Rhode has now won a medal in six consecutive Olympiads — and might not be done, either.
Bolt kissing the finish line after his ninth and final Olympic gold — in nine final races — was a perfect ending. He ran the anchor leg of the 4×100-meter relay for Jamaica, won emphatically to become the third athlete ever with nine golds in track and field, and insists that this will be the end of his Olympic career.
“Nothing left to prove,” Bolt said.
“I am the greatest,” he added.
BEST ACT OF SPORTSMANSHIP
An easy pick.
In the women’s 5,000-meter heat, Abbey D’Agostino of the U.S. and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin — strangers before that day — were involved in a tumble. D’Agostino helped Hamblin up, encouraging her to finish the race. D’Agostino tore a knee ligament in the fall and obviously couldn’t finish. Hamblin wound up finishing last of 17 in the 5,000 final, so neither left with a medal.
Instead, they got so much more.
“That girl is the Olympic spirit right there,” Hamblin said of D’Agostino. “I’ve never met her before. Like I never met this girl before. And isn’t that just so amazing?”
Yes, it is.
Another easy pick, even in a games where an Egyptian was sent home after failing to shake an Israeli judo opponent’s hand.
Ryan Lochte is a 12-time Olympic medalist, and the odds that he’ll have a chance to ever swim for a 13th are as murky as some of the pools were in these Rio Games. Lochte’s story that a robber put a gun to his head quickly unraveled, his three teammates who were companions that night all were left to answer legal questions after he scurried home, and more repercussions from the U.S. Olympic Committee are likely coming.
“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier,” read part of the apology that Lochte released on social media Friday.
Maybe so, but it bears noting that language barrier or no language barrier, the incident occurred after Lochte left a night out at … Club France. So it would seem like not all foreign atmospheres struck him as traumatic before now.
We asked. You voted.
Narrowing the list of potential candidates to four — Simone Manuel (four swimming medals), Joseph Schooling (beat Phelps for a gold in the pool), Monica Puig (whose tennis gold was Puerto Rico’s first Olympic title in any sport) and Ibtihaj Muhammad (the barrier-breaking fencing medalist) — AP asked its Twitter followers to have a say in deciding this one.
The response was overwhelming, and one-sided: Puig is the breakout star of these games.
Reduced to tears many times after draping the Puerto Rican flag across her body after the gold-medal match, Puig beat two of the world’s best five players to win the title.
“To do this for my country is everything,” Puig said.
The Olympic ideal, personified.
Due respect to Mike Krzyzewski, Geno Auriemma, Martha Karolyi and the Japanese wrestling coach who found himself getting bodyslammed twice in celebration by women’s gold medalist Risako Kawai, this one goes to Ans Botha — the 74-year-old great-grandmother who guided South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk to Olympic gold and a world record in the men’s 400.
Her style is simple. When the smile goes away and the voice gets stern, it’s time to get serious. In other words, sort of like most great-grandmothers.
“She’s an amazing woman,” Van Niekerk said. “Her work … I think it speaks for itself.”
Decathlon champion Ashton Eaton of the U.S. and his wife, heptathlon bronze medalist Brianne Thiesen-Eaton of Canada, would be a very easy selection here.
But what Kate Richardson-Walsh and Helen Richardson-Walsh did was even more rare.
They’re married, and played for the same gold-medal winning British women’s field hockey team. In a games that had more openly gay athletes than ever before, theirs was a moment that surely resonated with many around the world who don’t know the first thing about field hockey.
“To win an Olympic medal is special. To win an Olympic medal with your wife standing next to you … we will cherish this for the rest of our lives,” Kate Richardson-Walsh said.
When the U.S. women’s soccer team was ousted by Sweden (and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage), American goalkeeper Hope Solo raised eyebrows with her assessment of the match.
But her former coach had the perfect rebuttal.
“We lost to a bunch of cowards,” Solo said.
“It’s OK to be cowards if you win,” Sundhage countered.
BIGGEST OFF-FIELD STAR
A tough category, especially after Leslie Jones of “Saturday Night Live” parlayed hilarious Twitter commentary into an invite to Rio. Matthew McConaughey hung out with everyone from the U.S. women’s rugby team to Phelps, and Gisele Bundchen‘s catwalk in the opening ceremony was one not to forget.
But the pick here is Zac Efron, who flew to Rio just to surprise the U.S. women’s gymnastics team — particularly Biles, who doesn’t hide her enormous crush on the actor.
He also saw Bolt and the U.S. men’s basketball team, but let’s face it, no one is going to ignore invites to hang with Biles and the U.S. gymnasts right now.
No one might have been better at their job during the Olympics than Mario Andrada, the spokesman for the Rio Games organizing committee.
When something went wrong it was his job to explain it — and do so with the world watching and listening. He and International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams held daily hourlong briefings with reporters, and Andrada offered up some quote gems. So we’ll go ahead and award his head-scratching statements their own set of medals.
The bronze: “Numbers mislead,” he said, as part of an answer about ticket sales and poor crowds.
The silver: “Let’s give these kids a break,” he said of 32-year-old Ryan Lochte and his U.S. swimming teammates, after their incident.
The gold: “Chemistry is not an exact science,” he said, talking about why the water at a diving pool went from blue to green.
BEST BRAZILIAN MOMENT
Stand up and cheer, City of God.
One of your own is now an Olympic champion.
Slums, or favelas, are everywhere in Rio — none more infamous than the City of God, which rose to fame through the 2002 movie of the same name that depicted life in the slum. Rafaela Silva grew up there, and she won gold in judo at these Rio Games.
Now that’s a made-for-Hollywood story.
And with that, it’s time to start thinking about PyeongChang and the 2018 Winter Games. When the cauldron in Rio goes out Sunday night, those games will be only 536 days away.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.