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South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk had already made history as the first athlete to run sub-10 seconds for the 100m, sub-20 seconds for the 200m and sub-44 seconds for the 400m. And on the blue track of Rio’s Olympic Stadium on 14 August, the 24-year-old took his reputation to another level, when he smashed Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record in the final of the 400m, running a phenomenal 43.03 seconds, to leave two previous Olympic champions trailing in his wake.
Two days earlier, on the same track, another of the longest-standing world records had fallen to another 24-year-old, this time in the women’s 10,000m, as Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana clocked 29 minutes 17.46 seconds, obliterating the 29:31.79 mark that had been set by China’s Wang Junxia back in September 1993. Meanwhile, on 15 August, Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk, already the only woman in history to throw over 80m, produced a throw of 82.29m to break her own world record in the women’s hammer.
Five new Olympic records were set in Rio. Brazil’s Thiago Braz da Silva raised the bar in the men’s pole vault to 6.03m; Kenya’s Conselsus Kipruto broke the record for the men’s 3,000m steeplechase (8:03.28), while his compatriot Vivan Cheruiyot won the women’s 5,000m in a record time of 14:26.17. In the men’s shot put, the USA’s Ryan Crouser set a new record of 22.52m, while his fellow American Ashton Eaton won the decathlon with a previously unseen 8,893 points.
There were also a number of new world records set in the Olympic pool in Barra de Tijuca. The USA’s Katie Ledecky, who added four gold medals in Rio, secured two of them in record times, clocking 3 minutes 56.46 seconds in the women’s 400m freestyle and 8:04.79 in the 800m freestyle. Meanwhile, Great Britain’s Adam Peaty improved the men’s 100m breaststroke record twice, lowering the bar to 57.55 seconds in the heats and then again to 57.13 seconds in the final.
Swimming the first leg of the men’s 4x100m medley relay, the USA’s Ryan Murphy, who had already won double gold in the men’s 100m and 200m backstroke, set a new world record time of 51.85 seconds for the men’s 100m backstroke. Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu established a new world record of 4:26.36 in the women’s individual 400m medley, and Sweden’s Sarah Sjöstöm did the same in the women’s 100m butterfly (55.48). Lastly, in the women’s 4x100m medley relay, Australian quartet of Bronte Campbell, Brittany Elmslie, Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell won the final in a new record time of 3:30.65.
Over in the velodrome, track cycling records were sent tumbling, largely thanks to the efforts of the British team. In the men’s team pursuit, Great Britain’s quartet of Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Owain Doull and Sir Bradley Wiggins set a new world best of 3:30.265, while their female team-mates Katie Archibald, Laura Trott, Elinor Barker and Joanna Rowsell lowered the record to 4:13.260 in the women’s event. Meanwhile, Chinese duo Gong Jinjie and Zhong Tianshi set the fastest time ever seen in the women’s team sprint, clocking 31.298 seconds in the heats, before going on to claim the gold.
In weightlifting there were three new men’s world records and one women’s. In the men’s 77kg Kazakhstan's Nijat Rahimov (379kg), Iran’s Kianoush Rostami (396kg), and Georgia’s Lasha Talakkhaze (473kg) set new records with their combined totals in the 77kg, 85kg and +105kg respectively. In the women’s 63kg category, China’s Deng Wei set a new world record of 262kg. Meanwhile, in the men’s archery competition, the Republic of Korea’s Kim Woojin set a new world record of 700 points.
For the very first time, a refugee team took part in the Olympic Games. The Refugee Olympic Team comprised 10 athletes hailing from Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. Taking part in the track, swimming and judo events, they received huge encouragement and support from their fellow athletes and the Rio public.
No less than seven NOCs celebrated their first ever Olympic gold medal in Rio. Xuan Vinh Hoang of Vietnam won the men’s 10m pistol; Monica Puig of Puerto Rico produced a stunning victory in the women’s tennis singles; Kosovo’s Majlinda Kelmendi was an impressive victor in the women’s -52kg judo, as was Cheick Cisse of Cote d’Ivoire in the men’s -82kg taekwondo. Dilshod Nazarov clinched gold for Tadjikistan in the men’s hammer, while teenage sensation Joseph Schooling of Singapore pipped Michael Phelps to the wall in the men’s 100m butterfly. Lastly, Fiji’s sevens team made history winning their country’s first ever Olympic title as rugby returned to the Olympic programme after a 92-year gap.
The Fijians, already established as the world number ones, produced a stunning display of sevens rugby over three days in Rio, and were welcomed home as heroes following their 43-7 demolition of Great Britain in the final. In the inaugural women’s rugby sevens final, meanwhile, the honours went to Australia, who defeated their Antipodean neighbours New Zealand by a scoreline of 24-17.
The other sport returning to the Olympic fold after an extended absence was golf, which had last featured at the Games in 1904. It marked its return in spectacular fashion, as eventual champion Justin Rose of Great Britain, hit the headlines with a brilliant hole-in-one at the fourth hole. Rose was locked in an epic duel with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson which saw the title decided on the very last hole of the four-day competition.