Impressions of Rio With a Week Left

A week from now, the Olympic Flame over Rio will be extinguished. The games will be over. For many of the athletes, even the winners, they will retreat from the general public’s eye, and for some that will be it. For a select few others, they will begin the path to Tokyo. In American professional sports, there’s always next season. For Olympians, it’s four years away. That perspective adds a twist to the events we’re watching right now. I think it’s also why the Olympics are so fun to watch.

Here’s my thoughts with a week left:

  • For my money, I’ve never seen a more dominant athlete in any sport than Usain Bolt. Last night, he won his third consecutive 100 meter dash, which puts him in exclusive company- himself. Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens, Maurice Greene, Donovan Bailey- none of them pulled this off. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone to do that in any event, and it looks like Bolt may just be pulling off the feat in the 200 meters as well. In an Olympics full of major, major stars, I’d be hard pressed to find a male athlete that compares to Bolt. When you look at his performances, plus the competition that he has had to beat along the way, he stands alone.
  • Don’t take any of that Bolt talk as diminishing the amazing Michael Phelps in any way. At 31 years old, in what he says is his final games, Phelps won five golds and a silver in Rio, which for my money says that it’s not time to hang it up yet. If you’re a “real” swimming fan, you would dispute the notion that Phelps had no rival in his career, but the truth is that he didn’t. Sure, he lost a couple of races in the Olympics over the years. How many opponents consistently got the better of him though? Even in an era where the second best swimmer was there (at least in terms of Olympic medals won, it’s Ryan Lochte), you just always thought Phelps was going to win. He basically always did. The pure longevity needed to go to five games, and to win 28 medals, puts Phelps in the discussion for greatest athlete (and Olympian) ever.
  • Katie Ledecky’s performance was so overwhelmingly dominant that it’s hard to argue she isn’t the best female athlete in these games. Her 800 meter freestyle victory was so dominant that the other swimmers weren’t even on the screen. She was simply too good for the other Olympians.
  • Simone Biles is really amazing at what she does. She can make mistakes and still win individual events against the field, because she attempts more difficult routines. She may be the best individual female gymnast in years. With that said, one has to wonder if she’s not just great, but also extremely fortunate for her timing. With gymnastics moving away from artistry and subjective scoring, and more towards defined value tumbling patterns, her power and ability to flip in ways we’ve never seen before are a bigger advantage than they would have been, in say, 1996.
  • Wade Van Niekirk’s 400 meter win is about as impressive as it gets. LaShawn Merritt (2008 champion) and Kirani James (2012 champion) won the bronze and silver in the race, and ran great times. Van Niekirk won though, and broke a seventeen year old world record along the way. If that was it, and you factor in his South African heritage, his elderly coach, and his mother being denied the right to compete under apartheid, it would be amazing. Van Niekirk won from lane eight though. No one had ever won from lane eight. No one even thought you could. He overcame so much, beat two Olympic champions, and broke a seventeen year old world record, from arguably the worst lane on the track. I’m not sure anyone will match that performance in these games.
  • Tiny Jamaica produced both the fastest man and woman in the world, again, while seeing the 2012 female champion and male silver medalist finish in the bronze and fourth place positions in the 100 meters. Right now, both 4x100 meter teams are favored to win. There is an amazing amount of talent in that country.
  • Puerto Rico won it’s first gold medal ever. Monica Puig, ranked 34th in the world, won the gold medal in women’s tennis. I find it shocking they had never won a gold before, but this is a real honor for her, i’m sure.
  • Can everyone give Gabby Douglas a break? I get it, some people want to give her every problem they can. She was the third best gymnast in the world in qualifying at these games (which is pretty good), and was screwed by a stupid rule that only allows two women into the all-around from each country. While I get that people feel like she was disappointing, but she was not. Second off, I’m not sure why people are giving her an issue for not putting her hand over her heart during the national anthem after winning the team gold- is she somehow not patriotic now? We have to stop this stuff. Finally, please, don’t tell me she wasn’t cheering “hard enough” for her teammates. That’s fairly ridiculous.
  • Under any normal circumstances, the men’s 200 meter dash would be a major event. The 100 meter silver medalists in these games and the last will be there. The 400 meter bronze medalist and 2008 champ will be there. Usain Bolt will be there though. It’s almost inevitable that he will win.

More in a few days.

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