Sadly, the Summer Olympics are over and are on break for another four years. On the bright side, this year’s Olympics were nothing short of excellent. Despite pre-Olympic controversy surrounding the host city, Rio de Janeiro, the Games provided tons of moments that made me proud to be an American, or even more, a Marylander (14 gold medals, which would rank 6th in the world if Maryland was its own country). Before moving on to the regular MLB and NFL coverage, here’s my ranking of my favorite five sports to watch from these Olympics and my favorite moment from each.
- Track and Field
Yes, as a track athlete, I’m a bit biased, but this was by far number one. As usual, track and field didn’t start until the second week, and when it came, it was loaded with record-breaking, dramatic races and finishes. In his final Olympic Games, sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica won gold medals in the 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash, and 4×100 meter relay, a trifecta he’s completed in each of the last three Olympics. The performances boosted Bolt’s medal count to nine gold medals and solidified his claim as the fastest man in history. The world’s greatest athlete was also crowned. USA’s Ashton Eaton won the decathlon for the second straight Olympics and set a new Olympic record in the process. But the most stunning performance of all was South Africa’s Wayne Van Niekerk. Van Nierkerk set a new world record in the 400 meters in a field full of previous gold medalists. Even more impressive, he won first place from the outermost lane, an unprecedented feat for Olympic track and field.
Favorite Moment: Matthew Centrowitz’s Gold Medal Performance in Mens 1500 Run
As a mid-distance track runner and Marylander, I was interested to see how Annapolis native Matthew Centrowitz would perform in the Olympics. He ran better than I could, or even he could, imagine. Centrowitz stayed in the lead for the whole race, expertly setting the pace and starting his kick at the perfect time. The strategy enabled him to hold on to first place and win the first gold medal for an American man in the 1500 since 1908, 108 years ago. Wow.
The newest addition to the Olympics, rugby wasn’t a high priority on my viewing schedule, but as it turns out, I loved watching the fast-paced sport. Watching Olympic rugby was like watching the NFL in August, but with fewer players per side and nonstop action. The games also lasted about 20 minutes, so I could see a ton of them and not take up too much time. Fiji, a rugby-crazy nation that had never won a gold medal, ran over Great Britain in the final, demolishing them in a 43-7 rout. I also saw some of the women’s tourney, in which Australia edged out New Zealand.
Favorite Moment: USA’s elimination match against Fiji
While I was running on the treadmill at the Y, the US team’s match against Fiji was on the TV and I was treated to a classic. Though the Americans were eliminated by the eventual champion, they staged a massive comeback, with the highlight coming on a thrilling breakaway by New England Patriots safety and Team USA member Nate Ebner.
Just like track and field, but in water. Michael Phelps had a grand finale, winning five gold medals and one silver. The most accomplished Olympian of all time, Phelps retires with an astonishing 23 gold medals and 28 total medals. While Phelps is stepping out of the pool, Katie Ledecky put together a run for the ages. At the age of 19, Ledecky won four golds and one silver, thrashing competition along the way. But the swimmer who stole the show from these two greats was Ryan Lochte, but had little to do with the pool.
Favorite Moment: Katie Ledecky’s 200 meter freestyle
For Ledecky, the greatest long distance swimmer ever on the ladies’ side, the 200 meter freestyle was no guaranteed victory. Her racing the 200 was the equivalent of me running the 200 or 400 meter race- not ideal at all. But Ledecky, who admitted she almost threw up during the race, raced a slim lead and held on to win by hundredths of a second.
We all knew who would win before the events in Rio even started, but it was still spectacular to see the dominance of the American women. The USA’s quintet pummeled the competition, beating second place Russia by a monstrous 8 points. In the individual events, Simone Biles established herself as perhaps the greatest gymnast ever by winning the individual all-around, the vault, and the floor exercise in addition to a bronze medal in the balance beam.
Favorite Moment: Hard to pick one, but the best was at the end of the team competition. USA built such a big lead that they made the final event, the floor exercise, a formality. Afterwards, they saluted their retiring coach, Marta Karolyi, and jubilantly declared that they were the Final Five. Another wow moment.
- Beach Volleyball
One of the most compelling storylines of the Olympics was the career of beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh-Jennings. A gold medalist at each of the past three Olympics, Walsh-Jennings entered Rio with a new challenge- adapting to playing with a new partner, April Ross. Though the Brazilians ultimately handed Walsh-Jennings her first loss of her Olympic career and the American duo fell short of their goal, the bronze medal was a fine consolation prize.
Favorite Moment: USA v. Switzerland in Group Play Match
Walsh-Jennings and Ross overcame a loss in their second set to pull off an impressive comeback in this nail-biting match against the Swiss. After taking the first set easily, the Americans fell behind Switzerland and the set swung the way of the Swiss, 24-22. In the tie-breaking set, the American duo took a slim lead and clinched victory on an epic final point.