The 2016 Summer Olympics have concluded. I realize that some of you had little, if any, interest in the Games, but I, for one, enjoyed them immensely. Although the Olympics are always replete with outstanding athletic performances, one of my favorite aspects is the human interest stories.
This year, my favorite such story was “The Girl From Ipanema.” Most of us are familiar with the tune and lyrics. It was a huge hit in the 1960s, winning a Grammy as Record of the Year in 1965. It still can be heard occasionally on the radio. In fact, it is one of the most recorded “pop” songs ever.
NBC managed to locate the actual girl from Ipanema about whom the song was written. Her name is Helo Pinheiro, and her interview with Mary Carillo was a real highlight. Apparently, the Brazilian songwriters spotted her on Ipanema beach, and she was so phenomenally beautiful that they were inspired to write the famous song. Pinheiro is now in her early 70s and still very attractive.
These games featured many performance highlights. In some instances the winners were favorites, but they won in an overwhelming fashion; in other cases, they came out of nowhere to shock and surprise us. Below, in no particular order, please find my favorites:
- Usain Bolt – Bolt, the world record holder in both the 100 and 200 meter dashes, won both as well as anchoring the 4X100 relay. Normally, these races are very close, but what set his performances apart was that he won by convincing margins. In addition, he completed the so-called “triple-triple” by earning a Gold medal in all three events for an unprecedented third straight Olympiad. Furthermore, after he wins he entertains us further by striking his famous “lightening bolt” pose.
- Allyson Felix – Her specialties are the 200 and 400 meter dashes. She won gold in both. Combined with her gold medals from 2012 and various relays in both Olympiads she has now won the most gold medals of any female track and field athlete (6) and shares the record for the most medals overall (9).
- Michael Phelps – What else can I say? His five gold medals ran his total to 23 over four Olympiads, 28 overall, (not counting 2000 when he went “medal-less”). The medal count plus his versatility in both distance and strokes re-affirm that he is the best swimmer not only currently, but ever.
- Katie Ladecky – She is the current world record holder in the 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle. She won four golds and one silver, which made her the most decorated female swimmer in any single Olympics. Furthermore, she became the first swimmer to win the 200, 400 and 800 meter freestyle events in the same Games since 1968.
- Matthew Centrowitz, Jr. – Matt is the son of a two-time Olympian, who also trains him. He had suffered heartbreak in the 2012 Games, finishing fourth in the 1500 by .04 seconds. Many athletes will tell you that fourth is the worst place, because of the frustration of just missing a medal. Nevertheless, Matt continued to train for four more years to attain his goal, and this time he won the gold. In doing so, he became the first American to win this event since 1908.
- Biles, Raisman and the Final Five – Simone Biles is the best female gymnast in the world and, arguably, the best ever, but in order to validate that status she had to win multiple gold medals, and she did. She won five medals, including four gold. Moreover, she did so by huge margins. Raisman won three medals, including one gold, and was clearly the second best gymnast at the Games. Her combined total of six medals in 2012 and 2016 makes her the second most decorated American female gymnast. Furthermore, as the team captain and leader, she was the glue that held the team together. The Final Five won the team all-around by a wide margin. They were so deep that the team’s third best gymnast, Gabby Douglas, might very well have won an individual medal in the all-around had she been allowed to compete under the rules. With its outstanding performances both individually and as a team, the Final Five gave their all-time coach, Marta Karolyi, a perfect retirement present.
- Women’s Water Polo – Few Americans follow this sport, but this team’s outstanding performance deserves a mention. Not only did they win gold, but they won their six matches by a combined score of 73-32, and they have now won 22 consecutive matches.
- Men’s and Women’s Basketball – Both teams were widely expected to win gold. After all, they had the best players, by far. Both went undefeated and won their final matches by 30 points or so. The women were more dominant than the men, who had to survive a couple of close games. Carmelo Anthony became the first man to win four medals, including three gold. Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, and Diana Taurasi became the first women to win four.
- Claressa Shields (Boxing) – Undoubtedly, most of you have not heard of her, since amateur boxing flies way under the radar in the US. But, not only has she been the best in the world in her weight class for the last several years, she also won her second consecutive gold medal, the first American ever to do so. In addition she won the Val Barker trophy awarded to the outstanding boxer in the tournament.
- Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) – Amateur wrestling is real wrestling, not the phony stuff many Americans watch on tv. Snyder, who in 2015 became, at 19, the youngest wrestling world champion in US history, became, at 20, the youngest Olympic champion in US history. What is his secret to success? Snyder says “I listen to my coaches. I train as hard as I possibly can.” Such modesty is rare in an athlete so outstanding at such a young age.
- Brazilian Men’s Soccer and Volleyball – These are Brazil’s two biggest sports, and the two teams were under significant pressure to win gold. Playing before the hometown fans provided strong support, but, at the same time, it increased expectations and the pressure. Both teams came through in dramatic fashion. The volleyball games were close and tense, and the soccer final was decided by penalty kicks.
Well, those are my choices. What are yours? Please let me know.