The record books will show the United States as the biggest winner of the 2016 Olympics with a medal haul of 121, including 46 gold. How dominant were the Americans? If the U.S. women alone were a country, they’d have finished third in the gold medal standings.
But the true winners of these Games were the 6 million people of this vibrant photogenic city, the Cariocas as they are called. They are a gentle, fun-loving, flip-flop-wearing bunch who endured endless criticism of their beloved hometown from the international media leading into these Games. Tourists were scared away by alarmist stories of street crime, water pollution, government corruption and the Zika virus (which, it turns out, has been a bigger problem in Miami than here these past few weeks).
Through it all, the Cariocas kept smiling and doing their best to put on the world’s biggest sporting event in spite of their cash-strapped economy. They proved a scaled-down Opening Ceremonies can be as much fun as a super-sized spectacle. Security was tight and effective. The athletic venues were adequate — other than a few days of green water in the diving pool. The ambiance was festive in Copacabana, Olympic Boulevard and around Lagoa de Freitas. Was everything perfect? No. But it never is. Remember it was in Atlanta in 1996 that a bomb exploded in Olympic Park.
There is a motto here called Gambiarra, which means to make do, to improvise with what you have rather than stress about what you don’t. The Brazilians are masters of this, and all visitors should take that lesson home.
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As the Olympic flame is extinguished, and athletes set their sights on Tokyo 2020, let’s take a moment to review the winners and losers from the Rio Games:.
▪ Winner: Michael Phelps. The most decorated Olympian of all time. He won five gold medals here, bringing his total to 23 golds. And he makes it look so easy.
▪ Loser: Ryan Lochte. Was there any doubt he’d make this list? The 32-year-old U.S. swimmer trashed a bathroom in a drunken stupor, lied, and dumped on this city’s reputation. U.S. Swimming should punish him for his embarrassing behavior.
▪ Winner: 41-year-old gymnast Oksana Chusovitina of Uzebekistan, who competed in her seventh (yes, seventh) Olympics. Oldest female Olympic gymnast in history. Her first Olympics was Barcelona in 1992, five years before Simone Biles was born.
▪ Loser: Hope Solo. The U.S. goalkeeper should send Lochte a Thank You note, because before his saga, Solo was the Ugliest American at these Games. Calling the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” was unsportsmanslike and unacceptable from a veteran who should know better.
▪ Winner: Simone Biles. She stands only 4-8, but she shouldered a ton of pressure, entering these Games as the anointed Best Gymnast of All Time. She delivered with four golds and a sparkling personality to match.
▪ Loser: Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was sent home from the Rio Olympics after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson after their match. “His behavior at the end of the competition was contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic Values,” the International Olympic Committee said.
▪ Winner: Usain Bolt. Nine Olympic races in Beijing, London and Rio. Nine gold medals. Simply. The. Best.
▪ Loser(s): Top male golfers such as Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, who chose to skip their sport’s return to the Olympics after 112 years.
▪ Winner: Kiribati’s dancing weightlifter David Katoatua, who raises awareness for climate change and the coastal erosion of his Pacific island nation with his wiggling hips.
▪ Loser: Patrick Hickey, an IOC member from Ireland, who was arrested for ticket scalping,
▪ Winner: Tennis player Monica Puig of Miami, who won the first gold in any sport for her native Puerto Rico.
▪ Loser: Whoever was in charge of keeping the diving pool water blue.
▪ Winner(s): Simone Manuel and Miami’s Ashleigh Johnson, who proved that black women can not only swim and play water polo, they can win gold medals in those sports — a first for both.
▪ Loser: The Russian Olympic Committee, which overlooked widespread systemic doping in track and field and other sports, resulting in the banning of many top Russian Olympians from these Games.
▪ Winner: Swimmer Katie Ledecky. Won four golds, easily, and holds world records in the 400, 800 and 1,500.
Loser(s): Two Mongolian wrestling coaches, Tserenbaatar Tsogtbayar and Byambarenchin Bayaraa, stripped their clothes off Sunday in protest after their athlete, Ganzorigiin Mandakhnaran, lost the bronze medal match to Uzbekistan’s Ikhtiyor Navruzov when judges awarded a penalty point after the conclusion of the match.
▪ Winner(s): 5,000-meter runners Abbey D’Agostino (USA) and Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand), whose sportsmanship is a lesson to all (they helped each other up and finished the race together).
▪ Loser(s): Some overzealous Brazilian fans, who booed non-Brazilians when they were competing against Brazilians. While this is common practice in soccer, it is not the Olympic way, and several foreign athletes were offended.
▪ Winner: Neymar. The pride and pressure of his nation on his back, the soccer star delivered the gold-medal-winning penalty kick over Germany. The perfect ending.