To quote Charles Dickens from his book, Tale of Two Cities, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. But for the most part the 2016 Olympics in Rio was the very best of times for athletes, visitors and viewers alike.
Even before these 2016 Games began, there were many who thought these Olympics would be a disaster for several reasons. There were questions as to whether or not some of the venues would be completed in time; questions about the health of the Olympians and the large numbers of visitors due to the Zika virus problems and the pollution problems in the waters and beaches of Rio; questions that the high crime rate in Rio de Janeiro would be an embarrassment to that great Brazilian city.
But Rio did it! The Olympics were an unqualified success! All of the venues were successfully completed and everybody, athletes and visitors alike, were very impressed with the fun-loving and kind Brazilian hosts and Rio citizens and also with the majestic beauty of the local landscapes and vistas.
Yes, there were a few minor glitches. Some of the aquatics pools’ water turned a weird color of green for a few days but the pools’ conditions were quickly returned to their beautiful shade of sparkling blue.
There were no reported incidents of problems with people becoming infected with the Zika virus, although any infections will probably not be detected for several months. But most of the NBC broadcasters noted that not once were they bitten by any mosquitoes so hopefully that was true for everyone else at all of the Rio Olympic venues.
And it was the United States, not Rio, who were greatly embarrassed by the juvenile and immature behavior by some members of its swimming teams who falsely claimed that they were robbed at a gas station.
Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger’s drunken antics, and their subsequently stupid attempts to cover their actions up, put an inexcusable black mark against the United States and their other innocent and well-behaved swimming team members. Those four were thankfully not representative of the spirit and good sportsmanship of the vast majority of the 2016 Olympians.
But other than those incidents, the 2016 Olympics have been seen around the entire globe as being very successful with many tales of wonderful athletic feats, determination and human compassion.
Who can forget the stirring sight of the two runners during the 5,000 meters race helping each other up after they collided? American runner Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand tumbled down together and Abbey, instead of selfishly continuing on, reached down to help Nikki back up, urging her to finish the race. When Abbey later fell down due to her injuries from the collision, it was Nikki who helped her back up in return.
Neither runner had met before that 5,000 meter race but their mutual concern for each other has made them vow to keep in touch after the Olympics. Both Nikki and Abbey have been justifiably hailed as each having the right Olympic spirit.
I will admit I am biased because I was born in Flint, MI and spent over 20 years of my life living within its city limits, but I am so proud of history-making Claressa Shields, who was born, raised and trained in Flint. She is the first American boxer, male or female, who has won back-to-back Olympic gold medals. She won all 12 of her middle-weight fights in Rio, eventually winning her gold medal by defeating the Netherlands’ boxer, Nouchka Fontijn, on the last afternoon of the Olympics’ events. She had won her first Olympic Gold Medal at the 2012 London Games and she definitely exemplifies her nickname of T-Rex.
And how about the great American women’s gymnastics team, who called themselves “The Final Five” in honor of their retiring coach, Martha Karolyi? Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian won a gold medal for their team and then racked up many other individual event medals. With four gold medals and a bronze, Simone Biles proved that, even though she may be tiny, she is tough and she is a fantastic gymnast and may be one of the best yet.
How about Brazil’s first Olympic gold medal in soccer against Germany in a nail-biting overtime shoot-out match? To have won their first Olympic gold medal in soccer as hosts for the first time sent millions of Brazilians into frenzied joy and it was a joy to see their country’s collective happiness and a joy to cheer along with them.
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, did not disappoint his legions of fans world-wide with each race he ran and he ran for the gold every time, winning 3 gold medals in his 3 races. His trademark Bolt arrow stance after each race was cheered by everybody in the stadium and all across the globe.
Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Lilly King, Nathan Adrian and all of the other members of the United States Olympic swimming team decimated their rivals by winning 33 medals. Phelps, who has won a lifetime grand total of an astonishing 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, added to his collection with 5 gold medals and 1 silver at these 2016 Olympics.
The United States won an impressive total of 121 medals: 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze. The swimming teams won 33 of those medals while the track teams won 32. I am proud of each and every American Olympic participant, except for the four that I mentioned earlier.
There were many disappointments when some athletes, for a variety of reasons, failed to medal as they had anticipated. In track, there were a couple of athletes who were automatically disqualified for jumping the starter gun and some were also disqualified for stepping out of the boundaries of the track, even if was for just the tiniest infraction. There were many tears when the realization hit them that they would have to wait another long, four years to try again to win a medal. Their agonies exemplified the worst of times.
But there were also 10 countries who finally won their first Olympic medals of any kind during the history of the modern Olympics. Fiji’s men’s rugby sevens team won a gold medal, and despite their participation in the Olympics since 1956, that was their first medal ever won. All of those first-time medal winners and their countries’ happiness and joy exemplified the best of times.
At the Closing Ceremony, Roberta Sa, a Brazilian samba singer dressed in a Carmen Miranda costume, sang as the flag bearers of all of the world’s participating countries came marching into the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Poor little Simone Biles, who carried the American Flag that was so much larger than her tiny self, was constantly mobbed by many athletes wanting to take pictures with her.
In what is always one of my favorite parts of the Closing Ceremony, the 11,000 athletes then came pouring all together into the stadium, ready to party but not quite ready yet to say goodbye.
They mingled together and danced together as one big group, happy and smiling, even though only 1,500 of them won medals, but still individually happy to have joined that exclusive club known as Olympic athletes. That Closing Ceremony tradition was begun in 1956 to symbolize that all of the athletes and their feats outweigh national associations because they are all now Olympians forever.
There were many beautiful parts to the Closing Ceremony. The Olympic Flame was moved back to the Maracana Stadium from its temporary spot in downtown Rio where it was taken after the Opening Ceremony. It once again presided over the last traditions of these Olympics with its glittering and swirling mirrored rays that formed its reflecting backdrop.
There were several dancing spectacles that further explained parts of Brazil’s history. There were people costumed as the colorful rain forest birds, the macaws, who danced into silhouettes of many of Rio’s iconic sites, including the enormous Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain, complete with a cable car ascending to its top.
But the most beautiful sequence was when many black women, descended from long-ago African captives, portrayed the lace-making traditions of those female slaves in Brazilian history. Many of those traditional lace patterns were in the lovely costumes worn by the dancers and different lace patterns were also shown on the big floor screen under their feet.
Next was the traditional part when the Rio 2016 Olympics are symbolically turned over to the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Tokyo’s newly-elected first female governor, Yuriko Koike, accepted the Olympic flag after it was waved first by the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo da Costa Paes, and then by the President of the I.O.C., Thomas Bach.
Then there were a series of videos and dance sequences that showcased Tokyo and introduced its 2020 Olympics logo, including a very humorous part where the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, was afraid he was going to be late for the Closing Ceremony in Rio. So he turned himself into Super Mario, jumped into a drain pipe in Tokyo, tunneled through the middle of the earth, and popped out of a similar drain pipe in the middle of the floor in the Maracana Stadium, complete with Super Mario Nintendo sound effects.
After the I.O.C. President, Thomas Bach, declared the Rio 2016 Olympics officially over then came the always saddest part for me: the ceasing of the Olympic Flame.
Rain had begun to fall inside the stadium shortly before all of the athletes entered the stadium and it continued for most of the Closing Ceremony until it stopped shortly before the Games were declared over.
But under the Olympic Flame blazing bright above her, a Brazilian singer stood underneath a man-made rain forest drenching downpour. And as she sang a plaintive song, the Olympic Flame was slowly doused until it finally went out. And I cried. The 2016 Olympics were now truly over and finished.
Thomas Bach said that there was much friendship, respect and harmony throughout all of these Rio Olympics: from the country of Brazil, from the citizens of Rio de Janeiro and amongst the 11,000 athletes who lived together for 17 glorious days in the Olympic Village.
The Olympic Torch may be out for now but that friendship, respect and harmony will live on and will burst into flame again in four more years.
And I look forward to thoroughly enjoying another wonderful 17 days of Olympics glory in Tokyo 2020.