I get excited at Olympic games time. They are always a great display of human achievement. Rio turned out to be no exception. It is the one occasion when I get to see the world’s elite sportspeople meet all in one place to demonstrate their prowess in their chosen sport. Delight clearly on faces as athletes push themselves to achieve personal bests and win a medal and bitter disappointment on those that missed out on their moment of glory on the podium.
Flag bearers of the New Zealand team at the opening of the games, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke had high hopes of winning gold following their silver medal in the men’s 49er class sailing at the 2012 London games. From race one they looked impressive and had built up an unassailable 34-point lead going into the final. Their tactics and crew work seemed immaculate to me. Commentators describe the pair as ‘epitomising the excellence required of Olympic champions’.
What did Burling and Tuke do to achieve gold during the four-year period since London? Veteran yachting expert and commentator, Peter Lester says that they took apart every small piece of their design and crew work, looked at it, and improved it. Nothing was too small to be overlooked. They tested every improvement during subsequent races. By making these incremental improvements, Burling and Tuke won 27 consecutive international titles including four world championships leading up the Rio games. It was these improvements made constantly over the four-year period that was the difference between silver and a gold winning performance.
Impressed with all those who won gold at Rio, I am in awe of those athletes who added to their gold medal tally by competing at Rio. To win gold once is one thing, but to sustain gold winning performances over consecutive Olympic games is truly an awesome achievement. The list of names from the recent games include swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt who have achieved gold over 3 successive games. These athletes are in a class of their own working up to be the world best and sustaining this level of performance over 12 years.
Pride not only surrounds individual human achievements but also those of the nations they represent. The United States has attained an impressive tally of 121 medals at Rio, almost double their nearest rival. However, the US ranks just 43rd for total medals per capita, with a medal for every 2.7m people. Top of this list is Granada with its single silver medal. New Zealand with its 18 medals scores a medal for every 247,000 inhabitants. New Zealand can be proud of its lift in performance from the London games where it achieved a medal for every 341,000 people with 13 medals.
It is hard to not reflect on the Rio Olympics without pondering about the immature behaviour of Ryan Lochte, contrasted with the selflessness displayed by Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino who helped each other to complete their race after falling 4 laps from the finish of their 5,000m heat. As a New Zealander I am proud that Olympics boss Thomas Bach referred to Hamblin in his closing speech, and that she received an "International Fair Play Committee Award".
For me it will not be the athletes of the 2016 Rio Olympic games that have been rewarded with medals for their amazing achievements that I will remember most. Instead it will be picture of Niki Hamlin bending over to help Abbey D’Agostino up, during their 5,000m heat. This image will leave its lasting impression on me.
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