What the Rest of the World Did in Rio While You Were Watching NBC

Wait, there were other countries competing at the Olympics too?!


Although NBC would like you to believe otherwise, Team USA actually did not win every single event at the Rio Olympics. Simone Biles and Michael Phelps are really great but they actually did not sweep the badminton and canoeing events. And no, Usain Bolt didn’t win all the rest either.

It turns out, the rest of the world was actually competing in Rio too — and some of them even won! Like, a lot of of them! Unfortunately we were too busy watching an hour-long prime time Ryan Lochte interview to notice.

New Zealand and Serbia and Nigeria did their nations proud. And a good handful of athletes accomplished something no one in their country had ever done before, many of them winning their nation’s first gold medal!

Let’s take a trip around the world and see what else happened in Rio…


Brazil won just 7 golds — but made them count

The host nation almost always sees a boost in performance, and though Brazil was never atop the medal count, they were no exception. Brazil had its most golds and most silvers ever and its most medals ever with 19 in Rio.

And regardless of medal count, any good Brazilian would’ve longed only for top finishes in its two favorite sports, soccer and volleyball — and its dreams came to fruition. Alison and Bruno started the party with gold in men’s beach volleyball Thursday. Then Neymar knocked in the winning penalty to win men’s soccer gold Saturday, the first soccer gold ever for a nation so seeped in winning tradition. The men’s indoor volleyball team completed the trifecta with a gold medal victory over Italy on the final day.

For Brazil those three medals — and let’s be honest, that one soccer gold — made everything worth it.

Brazil’s Neymar overcome with emotion after his gold-medal winning penalty kick

Team USA women carried the day in Rio with 27 gold medals

For the second straight Olympics, American women outpaced the men with 27 gold medals to just 18 from the men. Led by outstanding efforts from Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles with 4 gold medals each, American women did more than just beat the men.

In fact American women could’ve left the men at home and still finished atop the entire gold medal count with their 27 tying Great Britain for first and one ahead of China in second. Half of those came in swimming and track while the women also added dominant team golds basketball, gymnastics, water polo, and rowing eights. Team USA women won each of those team events in London and were barely challenged in Rio.

American women were not the only dynasty in Rio

Some events are wide open; others are dominated by just one nation.

Team USA was a swimming dynasty, winning 16 of the 35 golds. The next highest was Hungary with just three, all from Katinka Hosszu. Both Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky won more swimming golds than any other nation.

China nearly swept the diving golds with 7 golds in 8 events plus a couple silver and a bronze. They did sweep all four table tennis golds and managed to finish first and second in both singles events. Japan grabbed a medal in 12 of the 14 judo events, and South Korea swept all four archery golds.

Uzebekistan came to Rio with only 21 total medals and five golds, but they’re becoming a boxing dynasty. They racked up seven medals and three golds.

Some countries went gold-heavy while others just grabbed any medal they could get their hands on

Hungary’s swimming superstar Katinka Hosszu

Thanks to a monster effort from swimmer Katinka Hosszu (and not her husband, as NBC would love to have us believe), Hungary racked up 8 golds among their 15 medals at the Rio Olympics.

Hungary was one of a few nations to see more than half their medals colored gold in Rio. Jamaica (6 of 11), Kenya (6 of 13), and South Korea (9 of 21) were also very gold-heavy.

Azerbaijan would rather we focus on the total medal count. They tallied 18 medals in Rio, 14th most of any nation, but managed to land just one gold. All but one of their medals was in combative sports (wrestling, judo, boxing, or taekwondo). Azerbaijan almost doubled its previous high of 10 medals, which they just did in London 2012. Look out world.

Denmark was in similar shape before a big upset over France Sunday gave them men’s handball gold to tally two golds in 15 medals. Other nations that would prefer a total medal count focus include Czech Republic (1 gold in 10 medals), Belarus (1 in 9), Turkey (1 in 8), and Ethiopia (1 in 8).

Recent Olympic hosts had mixed results

The host nation boom at the Olympics usually carries over to subsequent games. 2012 host Great Britain finished second in the medal table for the first time in 108 years, the only host nation to increase their total the following cycle. 2008 host China was top three in the medal count as well.

2010 host Canada had its best Summer Olympics ever outside of North America. They left with 22 medals, their highest in 32 years and most ever in a non-US summer games.

2014 host Russia was not so fortunate. They still finished 4th in the medal count with 56 but had their fewest golds, silvers, and total medals ever at a Summer Olympics. Obviously their many missing and disqualified athletes would likely have added to the count, but hey, maybe don’t cheat next time.

New Zealand, Serbia, and Croatia had an Olympics to remember — even if you didn’t hear much about them

New Zealand had its most medals ever with 18, five higher than any previous Olympics. That’s a pretty impressive total for a nation of just 4.47 million and it put the Kiwis atop the per-capita medal count (other than tiny Grenada). About 1 in every 250,000 Kiwis won an Olympic medal. For perspective, Team USA would have had to win 1,056 medals to keep pace.

Serbia’s men’s water polo champions

Serbia’s teams struggled out of the gates but peaked at the right time. The men’s and women’s basketball teams were the last to qualify into knockout play, but both won medals after big runs. The men’s water polo team was also the last to qualify into knockout and did one better, winning gold. In case that wasn’t enough, Serbia’s men knocked out heated national rival Croatia en route to both medals. The women’s volleyball team also medaled after a surprise win over Team USA. All four teams Serbia sent to the Olympics came home with a medal.

Croatia had five golds and ten total medals, both their most ever. All five golds were in different events. Of course Croatia’s Olympics could’ve been even better — if they hadn’t lost a couple key matches to Serbia.

Some of the usual contenders had an Olympics to forget

It’s been quite a fall from grace for Romania, a nation that used to rack up armloads of medals in gymnastics alone but struggled to just one gold in Rio. They won only 5 total medals after coming in with over 300 all time.

Norway has a whopping 481 Olympic medals historically but came away with just 4 bronzes in Rio. It was their first Olympics since 1988 without gold. Fellow Scandinavian nation Finland used to be a world athletics power, placing in the top-15 in the medal count in seventeen straight Olympics at one point. They had a solitary boxing bronze in Rio.

Nigeria won only one medal but did it against all odds

The nation of Nigeria is the seventh most populous in the world and sent 77 competitors to the Olympics but finished just 77th in the medal count. They walked away with only a bronze, one of Rio’s most unlikely.

When the men’s soccer team awoke August 4th, they were still in Atlanta almost 5,000 miles from where they’d be playing their first match later that day. Flight issues and a botched payment had stranded the team stateside, and they flew out just 14 hours before their opener, a 5–4 win over Japan. A win over Colombia sealed Nigeria’s place in the knockout rounds a week later.

But the problems weren’t done. The day of their first knockout game, a dispute over stipends left the Nigerian players threatening to boycott the games. The dispute was eventually resolved and Nigeria advanced over Denmark before a loss sent them to the bronze medal match where they finally knocked off Honduras for the nation’s one Rio medal.

Taekwondo is the way to go for a wide-open medal

The nation of Jordan won its first ever medal in Rio behind Ahmad Abughaush in taekwondo, and it was gold. Niger’s Issifou Abdoulrazak Alfaga won his country’s second medal ever, a silver.

Ivory Coast’s CheickSallah Cisse’s stunning last second taekwondo kick

Ivory Coast added one of Rio’s most memorable moments. With Cheick Sallah Cisse trailing 6–5 in his gold medal taekwondo match, he scored a head kick with just a second remaining to steal the gold 8–6, the first ever for his nation.

Even Azerbaijan’s one gold in their 18 medals was in taekwondo!

10 other athletes did something better than anyone in their nation’s Olympic history too

Fiji is probably still celebrating after winning their first ever medal, gold in the debut of men’s rugby sevens. Vietnam’s Hoang Xuan Vinh doubled his country’s medal total with two pistol shooting wins including Vietnam’s first gold. Bahrain too saw its first gold, its strategy of nationalizing citizens from other nations beginning to pay off as Kenyan-born Ruth Jebet took home gold in the steeplechase.

Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig

Fehaid Al-Deehani became the first independent Olympic athlete to win gold. He is an officer from Kuwait, a nation banned by the IOC. Tajikistan won its first gold on Dilshod Nazarov’s hammer throw, a sweet victory in his fourth appearance in the event. Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig became the first unseeded female to win gold in tennis, winning the first ever gold medal for Puerto Rico — and no, that one doesn’t count for us.

Majlinda Kelmendi was born in Yugoslavia in 1991 before it was disbanded. She lives in Kosovo, though she competed under the Albanian flag in 2012 when the IOC did not allow Kosovo to compete. This year Kosovo competed officially for the first time and Kelmendi won its first ever medal, a judo gold.

Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim was the best ever for Qatar with a silver in the high jump, but you’ll forgive him if he leaves a bit disappointed. He’s won gold in 11 of his last 20 competitions but came up just short with a bronze in London and now a silver in Rio. Maybe Tokyo’s the charm?

India’s P.V. Sindhu

P.V. Sindhu may be back in Tokyo with unfinished business as well after finishing with a silver in the women’s badminton singles for India. Amazingly for a nation of well over a billion people, India won just two medals in Rio and has won only 28 ever. But there’s more to the story — Sindhu’s silver is already the greatest Olympic performance by a woman in India’s history. Just four other Indian women have won a medal, all bronze.

And the 10th and final story… Singapore’s Joseph Schooling

Last but not least was the story of a young Singapore kid who stole the show in a race not meant for him. Joseph Schooling’s granduncle Lloyd Valberg was the first ever Olympian for Singapore, competing in the 1948 high jump, and Schooling has dreamed of swimming at the Olympics since a young age. In 2008, he met his idol Michael Phelps just before the Beijing Olympics.

13-year-old Joseph Schooling meeting his idol Michael Phelps just before the 2008 Olympics

Eight years later Schooling was something of an afterthought in the 100m butterfly, a race featuring Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh and South Africa’s Chad le Clos trying to chase down Michael Phelps in his final race. You may remember how this one turned out — Cseh, le Clos, and Phelps all tied with identical times for silver, but it was the youngster Schooling who won gold with an Olympic record time.

Schooling’s win was only Singapore’s 5th medal ever and their first gold. He won the largest prize of any Olympian for his incredible race, awarded S$1 million (about US$740,000) by the Singapore National Olympic Council for his win. Schooling is actually in schooling himself at the University of Texas where he’s not allowed to accept compensation under NCAA rules — thankfully there’s an exception for national prizes.

In October 2013, Schooling was enlisted for the Singapore National Service but was granted deference until after these Olympics. Maybe they’ll give him another four years and a shot at doing a few more things Michael Phelps did.


If you enjoyed this, please recommend it by clicking the so others can enjoy it too. Follow Brandon on Medium or @wheatonbrando for more sports, humor, pop culture, and life musings. Visit the rest of Brandon’s writing archives here.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.