There were a few moments of breathtaking brilliance and anxiety at the Rio Olympics that caused a spike in the heart rate of spectators worldwide. The Track and field segment had its fair share of excitement and drama both on and off the track. The rare sight of a 110m hurdles rerun due to the inability of the athletes to perform at their optimum in persistent rain, along with shocking first round exits, lane violations and relay disqualifications and some subsequent readmissions added to the fascination.
However, there were a few standout moments which generated a lot of discussions right up to the games closing ceremony. Here is a look at five of the most memorable events at the Rio Olympics.
Men’s 400m final
South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk was just seven years old when American legend Michael Johnson set the 400m world record of 43.18 seconds. Niekerk, who won the world championship title in Beijing, was extremely confident of winning gold in Rio. One thing that was not clear was whether Niekerk had the world record as one of his goals.
Running out of lane eight Niekerk produced a blistering run to record one of the most stunning victories witnessed in track and field. The world record time on the stadium clock (43.03) at first seemed like a malfunctioning error. The time was certainly legit and Niekerk, who at the 2013 Moscow world championship had failed to advance from the 400m heats, was now among the greatest quarter-milers of all-time.
Women’s 10,000m final
The women’s 10,000m final was the first athletics event of the Rio Olympics. Despite it not being an event that attracts a lot of Caribbean competitors and fans, the final was a magnificent spectacle on every level as several records and milestones were achieved. It produced the first world record of the games 29:17.45 produced by the outstanding Ethiopian Almaz Ayana. The 24-year-old Ethiopian star broke one of the longest long distance records 29:31.78 by China’s Junxia Wang set back on September 8, 1993.
The records didn’t stop there. There were 8 national records and 18 personal bests. Ayana won the event by a whopping 15 seconds over 10000m world champion Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot. The victory for Ayana was more remarkable because this was only her second 10,000m ever – she ran her first earlier this year. Ayana is more renown for the 5,000m which she won at the 2015 Beijing world championship.
Women’s 400m final
The women’s 400m was perhaps the most fiercely contested sprint event with the closest finish. Eventual winner Shaunae Miller and runner-up Allyson Felix were almost inseparable until the last five metres. Then it happened in a flash.
Miller’s joints seemed to have suddenly gotten stiff and she lost her footing which caused her to fall on all fours going over the finish line. It proved enough as she edged the distraught American Felix in her final individual Olympic race. The manner of victory dominated discussions thereafter throughout the track and field world.
Women’s 200m Final
After winning the women’s 100m final by daylight Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson locked horns with 2015 world champion and the third fastest woman all-time over 200m – Dafne Schippers. Only three women (Tori Bowie, Thompson and Schippers) had dipped below 22 seconds all season. Thompson prior to the Rio Olympics had never beaten Schippers over the half-lap distance.
However, in one of the greatest races at the games which went down to the wire, Thompson (21.78) turned the tables and scored a stunning win to become the first Jamaican woman to win the sprint double at the Olympics. Thompson was so focused during and after the race that she seemed to be in a 5-minute trance afterwards.
Schippers, on the other hand who tried valiantly to the end, took a tumble going over the line and was visibly annoyed that she lost the race. Schippers perhaps thought it was her race to lose – and she did. She nevertheless ran a season’s best of 21.88 seconds for the silver medal with Tori Bowie claiming the bronze in 22.15.
Team USA Women’s 4x100m bizarre journey
The United States completing a sprint relay (male or female) at the Olympics without drama would have been an anticlimax. The women stayed true to form in their heats when they seemed to have botched their second exchange. Allyson Felix, the second leg runner, while passing to outgoing runner English Gardner lost her footing which subsequently led to the baton falling to the track.
The Americans were out or so it seemed until a few hours later. Team USA appealed their disqualification and it was deemed that Felix was impeded and a rerun was necessary. Hold on a minute… The rerun decision was bizarre as Team USA were required to compete alone and beat a time of 42.70 seconds to relegate China (who protested the decision) out of a final spot.
The Americans got the time comfortably as they ran almost a second faster in 41.77 seconds. The Americans drawn in lane one and feeling pumped from that lifeline went on to win the final ahead of Jamaica in 41.01 the second fastest time ever only behind their London games world record of 40.82 seconds.