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Pedals, medals … and Pokémon: the 10 great Rio Olympic moments

The Guardian logo The Guardian 22-08-2016 Alex Clark
Laura Trott kisses fiance Jason Kenny after he won the men’s keirin moments after she triumphed in the women’s omnium at the Rio Olympic velodrome. © AP Laura Trott kisses fiance Jason Kenny after he won the men’s keirin moments after she triumphed in the women’s omnium at the Rio Olympic velodrome.


A dive or a desperate attempt to limit the damage of an ungainly fall? That’s usually a talking point following a display of acrobatics in football’s Premier League, but this time it was prompted by the dramatic finish to the women’s 400m final.

As Allyson Felix, America’s most successful female track Olympian, sought to add another gold medal to her collection, Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller flung herself at the line, edging Felix into silver. The move is entirely legal – as long as your torso crosses the line first, rather than an arm – if unorthodox.

Miller described it as an unplanned fall, saying her mind went blank – all of which made sense to Michael Johnson, the BBC analyst and former 400m world record holder, who reminded everyone that a “well-timed lean” was the most efficient way to cross the line.


There’s not taking “defeat” lying down, and there’s complaining to Russian president Vladimir Putin about it on Twitter.

“Hey Vlad,” wrote Michael Conlan, the Irish bantamweight boxer – whose quarter-final bout against Vladimir Nikitin had been awarded to his Russian opponent to the amazement of all who had actually seen it – “how much did they charge you bro?” And that was restrained compared with Conlan’s post-bout rant on live TV in which, in a stream of swearing, he pronounced the sport of amateur boxing to be corrupt, stinking “from the core right to the top”.

The International Boxing Association’s reaction – a warning to those who question Aiba’s integrity, but a swift dismissal for several judges – spoke volumes. The subsequent withdrawal of an apparently injured Nikitin added further to the imbroglio.


Much as Rio’s opening ceremony, with its acid house flashing lights and psychedelic, flower-strewn bicycles, made us all wonder whether we were on a particularly fruity trip, so the increasingly vivid greenness of the diving pool had us checking the colour contrast on our TVs.

It was actually rather pretty, but had I been about to somersault from on high, I would probably have wanted to see where I was going. Apparently it was all about hydrogen peroxide and algae, and after being drained and refilled, the pool went back to blue.

In better news, those big bathtubs the competitors jumped into between dives looked perfect for a luxury spa weekend.


They do things differently in Skibbereen, as Gary and Paul O’Donovan, Ireland’s first-ever rowing medal winners, demonstrated in their post-victory interviews.

The lightweight double scullers, thrilled as they might have been, were not about to go overboard; rather, they explained in Cork’s distinctive sing-song accent, they had had some Nutella, done “the podium thing” and peed in a cup.

Back home, the duo rather wistfully explained on Irish broadcaster RTE, “it’s mad excitement altogether”, and Skibbereen was “after closing everything down and having a national holiday and we’re missing it all”.

Don’t worry, lads: the craic will still be 90 when you get home.


It is not uncommon to see twins competing in the Olympics – around 200 sets have taken part in the history of the Games – but until the “Trio to Rio” there had been no record of triplets. Enter Lily, Leila and Liina Luik, three identical sisters from Estonia who lined up for the women’s marathon, challenging commentators to tell one from the other.

In the end, Lily came home first, in 97th place, with Leila 114th. Liina, alas, did not finish. But given that the 30-year-olds hadn’t taken up running until six years ago, it was no mean feat.


If Lasse Virén was watching the men’s 10,000m final, he would have been well-placed to reassure Mo Farah that you can still win after taking a mid-race tumble: exactly the same thing happened to the Finn at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

For the rest of us, though, it was a shock that made Farah’s victory all the sweeter and more impressive – even when after the finish Farah himself seemed discombobulated, as if he couldn’t quite believe what had just happened.

But if there is much more graceful a sight than watching him float with seeming ease from the back of the field to its head, I haven’t seen it.


For those inured to sitting through football’s nil-nil draws, a characteristic of a sport in which goals are so hard to come by, handball is a revelation.

The ball hits the back of the next about every two minutes, the teams rack up huge scores – and it doesn’t even seem to be because they have leaky defences.

Women’s handball is especially fast and furious – and the group match between Argentina and the Netherlands was the highlight, with players on both sides appearing to relish the chance to get stuck in. At one point, so many competitors were on penalty time-outs that you wondered whether the game could continue, but victory, in the end, went to the Dutch handballers, by 26-18.


All hail Simone Manuel, the first African American woman to win a swimming gold medal in an individual event (she bagged another as part of the relay team). And what a race – so close that gold for the 100m freestyle was also awarded to the Canadian Penny Oleksiak, who turned 16 in June.

A delighted Manuel was keen to acknowledge what her victory meant for a country in the midst of social turbulence that has taken its toll on the black community. Meanwhile, you wouldn’t take bets on Manuel and her namesake Biles causing a spike in babies called Simone.


We all know that athletes have to relax (hence the mind-boggling number of free condoms issued to them in Rio; how would they even get time to compete?), but “King Kohei” Uchimura, Japanese gymnast par excellence, hadn’t quite got his head around mobile phone roaming charges as he chilled out with a bit of Pokémon Go. A £3,700 bill later, he was probably getting the idea.

Luckily, his achievements are so prodigious – six-time world champion and much-decorated Olympian – that his phone company relented. Warning: they may not do the same for you, Pikachu-hunters.


Even the most unromantic among us couldn’t fail to be charmed by cyclists Laura Trott and Jason Kenny, who took omnium and keirin gold medals respectively on an exhilarating night at the velodrome.

So cute was their delight in each other’s success that it was almost too much for the BBC, which focused on athletes’ personal stories so consistently that the Games seemed to resemble The X Factor with a bit of jumping.

But, in truth, wow – two people, 10 gold medals, and just an awful lot of pedalling. If they don’t arrive at their forthcoming wedding on a tandem, the country will probably implode.

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