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Basketball remained under American rule after Team USA’s win by 30 points – in large part thanks to the amazing Kevin Durant – over Serbia (96-66) in the final. As in 2008 and 2012 Spain finished on the podium, but this time with the bronze medal. With this third consecutive gold medal, the 15th in 19 Olympic tournaments, the Athens Games, which saw the US domination shattered, seemed no more than a distant memory. But the score in the final was somewhat deceptive, as the NBA team had not previously been so dominant. Against most of the other top basketball nations, Spain in the semi-finals (+6), France (+3), Australia (+10) and Serbia (+3) in the group stage, the US team’s margins had not been huge. But nor did the team ever look to be in danger. In the final, the Serbs lasted just 10 minutes. A fantastic performance by Durant (18 points in the second quarter alone), tougher defence and the omnipresence of DeMarcus Cousins (13 points and 15 rebounds) ended all suspense before the break, as the score reached 52-29…
In the second period, the Americans dominated the court in the Carioca Arena. They brought on almost all their players in the last quarter, before performing a victory dance with “Coach K”, Mike Krzyzewski, who became the US team coach after the Athens 2004 defeat – the only US defeat at the Olympic Games (bronze medal) since the arrival of NBA players – and who was retiring after these Games. For his part, team captain Carmelo Anthony Anthony became the first-ever three-time Olympic basketball champion and four-time medallist, as he was already there in 2004! “I know this is the end. This is it for me. I committed to something … I committed to this in ’04. I've seen the worst and I've seen the best. I'm here today three gold medals later. We fought, it wasn't always pretty,” he said.
For his part, Pau Gasol kept Spain on the Games podium after a nail-biting match against Australia, who lost 89-88 in the suspense-filled bronze medal match. The 36-year-old seven-foot centre scored 31 points in an almost flawless performance (12 out of 15 successful shots). He also totalled 11 rebounds to give his country its fourth Olympic medal, after silvers in 1984, 2008 and 2012. With five seconds to go before the end of this thriller, point guard Sergio Rodriguez kept his nerve to score the last two points from free throws. The Australians had one last chance to win their first-ever basketball medal, but failed even to attempt a shot.
Denmark upset all the predictions by ending the Olympic reign of France’s handball players, the big favourites, with a full-time score of 28-26 in the final. The Danes thus won their first-ever men’s title. Cheered on by the spectators in the Future Arena, the Scandinavian team took the initiative by attacking, varying their approach and relying on their world-class star Mikkel Hansen (eight goals). Goalkeeper Niklas Landin, excellent at times but fragile at others, also made a vital contribution. While he made only seven saves, these came at crucial moments in the match. Overall, France were unable to create enough meaningful attacks, while they were increasingly guilty of defensive lapses after a great first period for goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer (nine saves). Taking over from Hansen, forward Kasper Sondergaard scored three goals in six minutes to extend the lead to five goals (20-25), the biggest in the match, 15 minutes before the end. The French fought back to make the score 25-26, but the Danes produced a final burst and a shock result. It was the end of the line for France, Olympic champions in 2008 and 2012, world champions in 2009, 2011 and 2015, and European champions in 2010 and 2014. “Winning the gold medal against a team like this is the best feeling in the world. a big achievement for us,” exclaimed Hansen. “It’s very satisfying, as we lost the last two finals we played against France by a big margin. So everyone is very happy and very proud. It’s incredible,” he added. Germany took the bronze medal by beating Poland 31- 25, a third Olympic medal, after a silver in 2004 and gold in 1936, for the reinvigorated Mannschaft.
Twice in London, plus Berlin, Chicago and Rotterdam: Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, winner of the world’s biggest marathons, added the Olympic title in this most legendary of Olympic events. “My career has been fantastic. Getting the Olympic title was always something in the back of my mind,” said the 31-year-old Kenyan. Kipchoge could savour this gold medal after a remarkable track career: 5,000m world champion in 2003 in Paris, Olympic silver medallist in 2008 and Olympic bronze medallist in 2004. The race heated up when runners began to drop off around the 30-kilometre mark. A group of around a dozen runners stayed ahead, but without the defending Olympic champion, Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich. The pace increased, and a group of four runners composed of Kipchoge, America’s Galen Rupp and Ethiopians Feyisa Lilesa and Lemi Berhanu broke away at the 32nd kilometre mark. Berhanu quickly fell back, leaving the other three men ahead. Then Rupp was next to fall back around the 35th kilometre mark, and Kipchoge took advantage of this to produce a spurt which was too much for Lilesa. The Kenyan’s solo performance then began, with the high point coming as he passed the Museum of Tomorrow in Guanabara Bay, near the finish line, for a postcard image to match the beauty of Rio and the achievements of Kipchoge, whose time of 2:08.44 put him ahead of Lilesa (2:09.54.) and Rupp (2:10.55). “It’s the greatest medal of my life,” the Olympic champion concluded.
Brazil’s volleyball players delighted their 12,000 supporters at the Maracanãzinho by winning the gold medal against Italy, 3-0 (25-22, 28-26, 26-24). This title was one of the most hoped-for in this country where volleyball ranks second only to football as the most popular sport. This marked a return to form for Brazilian volleyball, which was without a major competition win since the World Championships in 2010 or the Olympic Games since 2004. Several players gained revenge after the Games in Beijing and London, where the Brazilians, despite being favourites as reigning world champions, lost in the final to the USA and then Russia. Feeling the pressure from the spectators, for whom nothing less than gold would do, the Brazilians almost suffered a disaster in the first round. After losing two matches against the Americans and the Italians (1-3), they absolutely had to win against France (3-1) in order to scrape through. Having overcome this scare, the team returned to normal inspired by its superb opposite Wallace, the top scorer in the final with 20 points. Neither the Argentineans in the quarter-finals (3-1), nor the Russians in the semi-finals (3-0), nor even the Italians in the final could hold them back. “Our best quality is resistance. That’s what got us the gold,” explained Brazilian setter Bruno Rezende.
The USA took the bronze medal. They beat Russia 3-2, coming back from two sets down (23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 15-13) to win the bronze medal match in the tie-break thanks to an ace by one of their best players, Matt Anderson. This very young team, with eight players making their first Olympic appearance, had gone to Rio hoping to offer their country a fourth gold medal in volleyball, but lost their semi-final to Italy (3-2). “This wasn’t what we’d planned and hoped for, but it’s a huge honour to go home with an Olympic medal and we’ll wear them with pride, said American player Micah Christenson after the match.
The young players in the Chinese team managed to overcome their fired-up Serbian counterparts, winning the final in four sets to land the country’s third gold medal in this discipline after 1984 and 2004. This was the first time Serbia had got this far in volleyball, having never previously reached the medal stage at the Games, and they thrashed China 3-0 in the first round in pool B on 12 August. But the Asian team won the final 3-1 (19-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23). Chinese team coach Lang Ping, who was in the winning team in 1984 in Los Angeles, observed: “Before the 2016 tournament we never thought we could win gold. I think we were lucky. Our young players weren’t very good at the beginning but they knew how to raise their game in the key moments.” As in the men’s competition, the US won the bronze medal match by beating the Netherlands 3-1, even if this was a meagre consolation for the team ranked number one in the world, who had won silver medals in 2008 and 2012 and been world champions in 2014, and who are still seeking Olympic gold.
Like Great Britain’s track cycling couple Jason Kenny and Laura Trott,Estelle Mossely and Tony Yoka were France’s golden boxing couple. The day after his girlfriend’s win in the women’s lightweight category, Yoka was crowned Olympic super-heavyweight champion. He thus brought the total of France’s exceptional medal harvest in the ring in the Riocentro Pavilion 6 to six medals (two gold, two silver and two bronze), by beating Britain’s Joe Joyce 2-1. “After her win, Estelle just told me to win, as she had done her job and got her medal. It was my turn, and I couldn’t fail. You have to believe in your dreams, go all the way and achieve them. A real champion’s strength is not reaching the top, but staying there. When I became world champion, I had to achieve that status,” Yoka explained. In this category, the bronze went to Croatia’s Filip Hrgović and Ivan Dychko of Kazakhstan .
America’s Claressa Shields arrived in Rio with the goal of defending the Olympic title she had won in 2012 in London, inspired by boxing legend Mohamed Ali, who died aged 74 on 3 June 2016, and keen to honour his memory in the best possible way. And she achieved this, first by winning all her bouts with unanimous decisions from the judges, and then by retaining her middleweight (-75kg) title (3-0 again) in uncompromising fashion, beating the Netherlands’ Nouchka Fontijn in the final – a rematch of the May 2016 World Championships final in Astana (Kazakhstan), which Shields won. She thus became the first US boxer to win two Olympic gold medals in 112 years. “I've worked so hard to be here. You know not everybody can be an Olympic gold medallist. I'm a two-time Olympic gold medallist,” said the American, brandishing her two gold trophies on the podium! Shields and Fontijn were accompanied on the podium by Kazakhstan’s Dariga Shakimova and Li Qian of China.
Uzbekistan reached the pinnacle of boxing at the Rio 2016 Games (three gold, two silver and two bronze medals), ending on a high for its men: Fazliddin Gaibnazarov was the surprise gold medal-winner in the super-lightweight final. He got the better of Cuban-born Azerbaijani Lorenzo Sotomayor Collazo with a 2-1 split decision. “I can't express in words how happy I am. I can't express the feelings – I think it is the happiest day of my life,” said Gaibnazarov. “I think that the fight went the way I planned it and I took my chances.” Cuba’s Lázaro Álvarez and Mongolia’s Dorjnyambuu Otgondalai shared the third step of the podium. This was the third gold medal for the Uzbek boxers in Rio, an Olympic record for the country.
Triumphing with a free-flowing acrobatic display with hoops and clubs, Russia’s gymnasts won their fifth consecutive gold medal in the group all-around competition, ahead of their Spanish counterparts. Vera Biriukova, Anastasia Bliznyuk, Anastasiia Maksimova, Anastasiia Tatareva et Maria Tolkacheva, without individual competition winners Margarita Mamun and Yana Kudryavtseva, produced a particularly dynamic performance in their second routine, to move ahead of Spain’s gymnasts, who had been leading at the halfway point. “We were concerned after the first rotation when everything did not go smoothly,” explained Tatareva. “There was a collision and one of the ribbons ended up on the floor. That hiccup forced us to pull ourselves together and do our best to beat our rivals.” The Russians returned for their routine with two hoops and six clubs. Diving through the hoop and using their feet to catapult it to fellow gymnasts were popular moves. They drew rapturous applause from the audience in the Rio Olympic Arena when they performed a synchronised fast-paced Biellmann spin (a movement frequently used in figure skating) to clinch victory.
Switzerland's Nino Schurter, the reigning world champion, finally secured an Olympic mountain bike victory on the Deodoro cross-country course. Five-time world champion, bronze medallist in Beijing in 2008, then silver medallist in London in 2012, Schurter this time clearly outperformed the defending champion, the Czech Jaroslav Kulhavy. The bronze medal went to Spain’s Carlos Coloma. Schurter moved inexorably ahead of Kulhavy in the sixth and penultimate lap of the course. Both riders were at the front at the end of the first lap, alongside Coloma, who was then joined by Frenchman Maxime Marotte. But the Swiss champion could savour his victory alone, crossing the finish line 50 seconds ahead of the man who beat him at the Games in London. For the bronze, Marotte and Coloma were neck and neck, with the Spaniard finally taking the medal 1 minute 23 seconds behind the winner. “It’s a dream come true, I can’t believe it. I’ve worked for four years for this gold medal. I’m so pleased that things worked out so well this time. Looking back, I think I needed to win that silver in London in order to come back stronger here. Things turned out perfectly. Bronze in Beijing, silver in London and now gold in Rio. It’s perfect!” exclaimed a delighted Schurter.
America’s Kyle Snyder beat Azerbaijan’s Khetag Gazyumov to take the gold medal in the men’s 97kg freestyle wrestling category, while in the 65kg event, the title went to Russia’s Soslan Ramonov, who beat another Azerbaijani, Toghrul Asgarov. Snyder won the 97kg title thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over his opponent. Romania’s Albert Saritov and Uzbek Magomed Ibragimov both won the bronze medal. “I’m really grateful to be able to get to compete. My whole family is here, a lot of my friends and family, so it’s just an awesome opportunity. Gazyumov beat me a month ago so any time you can keep improving, it’s good stuff.” For his part, Gazyumov acknowledged that he had been beaten by the stronger man on the night. “It was very hard. The American too strong. I wanted to win, but today he was the strongest.”
In the men’s 65kg final, Russia’s Soslan Ramonov beat the title-holder, Azeri Toghrul Asgarov, 11-0 on technical points. The bronze medals went to Uzbek Ikhtiyor Navruzov and Italy’s Frank Marquez. But Ramonov revealed that the fight had actually been much harder than it looked. “Actually Asgarov is very strong. The most important thing is to be focused in the right way, then everything falls into place,” he explained.
The very last of the 306 events of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad was the men’s basketball final. The Closing Ceremony followed at the Maracanã, with the Brazilians offering the world a magnificent farewell show. On this moving occasion, the athletes from all the countries mingled in the middle of this legendary stadium, celebrating together with a joy and enthusiasm undampened by the Rio rain. Various exciting and colourful dances evoking Brazil’s culture were performed for the audience and the athletes. Spectacular images of action, joy and heartbreak from the sports events contested over the previous 16 days were shown on giant screens.
In keeping with tradition, the medals for the men’s marathon were presented on a podium in the middle of the stadium. Eliud Kipchoge, Feyisa Lilesa and Galen Rupp received their medals from IOC President Thomas Bach and IAAF President Sebastian Coe, and were given an ovation by the whole Maracanã Stadium. The athletes freshly elected to the IOC Athletes’ Commission were introduced to the audience: Germany’s Britta Heidemann (fencing), Korea’s Seug-min Ryu (table tennis), Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta (swimming) and Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva (athletics). Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes handed the Olympic flag to President Bach, who passed it to the Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, in traditional Japanese dress. A spectacular 2020 Games presentation sequence then followed.
“These were marvellous Olympic Games in the cidade maravilhosa!” President Bach declared. “After 16 glorious days, I now have to perform my last official task here in Rio de Janeiro. I declare the Games of the XXXI Olympiad closed. In accordance with tradition, I call upon the youth of the world to assemble in four years’ time in Tokyo, Japan to celebrate the Games of the XXXII Olympiad.” And the flame was extinguished to music at 10.27 p.m. local time, before a huge firework display lit up the Carioca sky and a giant carnival brought the Ceremony to an end. “See you in four years’ time!” was the thought shared by all the athletes. Obrigado Rio!