For an Olympic Games that has had more than the usual share of controversy to deal with, Rio 2016 has provided moments that will live long in the memory.
Yes, there have been issues. Doping, ticketing concerns, corruption and sectors of public opinion have all tried their best to overshadow the Games. Yet this is an Olympics that will be remembered for the feats of those competing, not of those removed from the field of play.
From a Stirling point of view, the headline act heading into the opening ceremony was expected to be Ross Murdoch, the face of Scottish swimming ever since his storming debut at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. In Rio, however, it was the turn of university team-mate Duncan Scott to show his mettle on the biggest stage. Two silver medals as part of the 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay squads, coupled with a fifth place finish in the individual 100m freestyle, means Scott’s debut Olympics was an unqualified success. Robbie Renwick and Stephen Milne also claimed a silver medal from the 4x200m freestyle relay, making it a silver-tinted Games for Scotland’s university for sporting excellence.
A brace of Andys also provided the local area with reason to cheer. Flag-bearer at the opening ceremony, Andy Murray was in Rio to defend his Olympic title and nothing else would suffice in the mind of the Wimbledon champion. In one of the all-time great Olympic tennis finals, Murray produced an epic display to overcome the challenge of Juan Martin del Potro, the big Argentine’s forehand – and vocal support – not enough to deny Murray a second gold medal of his career.
Meanwhile, Andrew Butchart gave us a tantalising glimpse of what might lie ahead in his career. The Central Athletics Club member had already exceeded expectations by qualifying for the 5,000m final, where many observers expected him to be overshadowed by his illustrious team-mate Mo Farah. However, Butchart ran the race of his life. Whilst unable to keep in touch with Farah, Ethiopia’s Hegos Gebrihewet and Bernard Lagat of the USA when it came to deciding the medal positions, a fourth place finish is a remarkable achievement for the 24-year-old Butchart, and hints at a bright future.
After London 2012, many pundits doubted if Great Britain could ever exceed the medal tally accumulated at a home Olympics. Just four years later, and those self-same pundits are shaking their heads in disbelief. Second in the medal table, 67 medals in total and above sporting powerhouses Australia, Russia – albeit weakened by suspensions – and China must be far in excess of what the British Olympic Association had dreamt prior to touching down in Rio.
Every time you turned on the TV, or read the newspaper, or looked online, there was another Olympic medal to celebrate. Who can forget Jason Kenny joining Sir Chris Hoy as the most decorated British Olympian of all time by winning his sixth gold medal? Or Laura Trott becoming Britain’s most successful female Olympian when winning the omnium, fourth gold medal of her career? The smile on the face and the power in the fists of Nicola Adams ensured her place in history is assured after retaining her flyweight boxing title, whilst Adam Peaty underlined his credentials with a world record to go alongside his Olympic title.
But it wasn’t just the household names who stood out. Witness Nick Skelton – in his seventh Olympic Games, he took gold in the individual show-jumping despite having retired in 2000 with a broken neck. Great Britain’s women’s hockey team took home a first ever gold medal after a wonderful final against the Netherlands, prevailing thanks to Maddie Hinch’s heroics in the shootout. The unheralded Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge took home a much-deserved bronze medal in the badminton men’s doubles, whilst Bryony Page came out of nowhere to win a silver in trampolining.
Of course, British athletes weren’t the only ones with a reason to celebrate. The big names came out to play in Rio, with none bigger than Usain Bolt. Three more golds to add to his collection, and you never really expected any other outcome. Michael Phelps extended his lead at the top of the all-time medal chart, whilst Simone Biles took home four gold medals from the gymnastics arena.
This, though, was a Games in which new faces made their mark. Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa smashed Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record in the 400m in taking the gold medal. Singapore’s Joseph Schooling beat childhood hero Phelps to gold in the pool, and was welcomed home as a hero. And Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam showed the heptathlon world what life after Jessica Ennis-Hill could look like, producing a terrific display over two days to beat the Briton into second place.
And finally, the ‘smaller nations’. If anyone was in any doubt as to the importance of the Olympics, look no further than Fiji’s rugby sevens team. The undisputed kings of the sport, the Fijian government granted a national holiday after the side thrashed Britain to win the gold medal. Majlinda Kelmendi gave Kosovo a first ever Olympic medal by winning gold in the judo, to the delight of the fans in the arena, whilst Monica Puig did the same for Puerto Rico when she became the first unseeded tennis player ever to win the Olympic title.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect. But then again, when has there ever been a perfect Olympic Games? The sporting achievements of the past fortnight will be remembered long after the Olympic flame is extinguished – as they should.