Athletics is going through arguably the toughest period in its history. Doping scandals, corruption within the IAAF and even controversy surrounding the gender of athletes continue to mar the sport. Luckily the performances of the track and field stars in Rio reminded us of what makes athletics so appealing. In no particular order, here are just some of the fine displays of athletic brilliance from Rio.
Was there ever any doubt that Usain Bolt wouldn’t set the Olympics alight once again? The Jamaican confirmed his status as the greatest track and field Olympian of all time by achieving the seemingly impossible “triple triple.” This became a reality after Bolt successfully defended his 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay titles.
There were no world records this time around, but Bolt leaves behind an Olympic legacy that is unlikely ever to be matched.
Long distance delight
Events had barely begun in the Olympic Stadium when, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, a world record was smashed. Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana shattered the 23-year-old women’s 10,000m world record by 14 seconds, running a time of 29 minutes, 17.45 seconds. Ayana destroyed the rest of the field and ran from the front for the majority of the race.
The race produced eight national records, 18 personal bests and saw four athletes break the 30 minute mark – something that had only been done four times previously. Ayana also became the first women to ever break the 10,000m world record at an Olympic Games.
Vault to glory
Thiago Braz da Silva, in front of his home crowd, did the seemingly impossible when he produced a new national and Olympic record of 6.03m in the pole vault. World record holder and reigning champion Renaud Lavillenie was left stunned after he could only manage silver.
The Frenchman looked to have the gold medal sewn up after clearing 5.98m. However the young Brazilian somehow found it within him to add 11cm to his previous best to take home the gold in front of an extremely partisan crowd. He became only the fourth Brazilian track and field gold medalist in history.
The Brazilian’s victory was slightly overshadowed as a visibly upset Lavillenie was booed by the home crowd whilst receiving his silver medal.
Hammer world record
There’s nothing more impressive than breaking a world record. How about breaking the world record six times? That’s exactly what Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk has done so far in her career, and her most recent record breaking mark came at Rio 2016. She bettered her own world record of 81.08m when it mattered most, producing a huge throw of 82.29m in the women’s hammer final.
The moment was extra special for Wlodarczyk, who had won World Championship gold twice, but before Rio had never managed to capture Olympic gold.
Johnson’s record decimated
There are some world records that you never believe will be broken. Jonathan Edwards’ 18.29m leap in the triple jump is one and Michael Johnson’s 43.18 seconds in the 400m is another. However, those inside the Maracanã Stadium witnessed something truly special in the men’s 400m. South African, Wayde van Niekerk not only broke Johnson’s record, he decimated it.
He obliterated the rest of the field, running an unbelievable 43.03 seconds. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, van Niekerk did all of this from lane eight. His victory made him the first person to ever win an Olympic 400m from the outside lane.
With Usain Bolt’s imminent departure from athletics, van Niekerk could be just the kind of star the sport needs right now.
New kid on the block
The build up to Rio 2016 focused on whether Jessica Ennis-Hill could retain her Olympic heptathlon title. Her main threats appeared to be the Canadian, Brianne Theisen-Eaton and fellow Brit, Katarina Johnson-Thomson. However it was another athlete who emerged to shock the world and take heptathlon gold.
Beligum’s Nafissatou Thiam, 21, produced five personal bests in the seven events to take the crown. This is just the beginning of what could be Thiam’s complete domination of the event in the years to come.
After a glorious long distance double at London 2012, all eyes were on Team GB’s Mo Farah in Rio. Unlike his teammates Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford, Farah was able to replicate his performance from “Super Saturday” four years ago to retain his Olympic 10,000m crown. Despite falling early on in the race, Farah’s victory was never in doubt.
Farah etched himself further into the history books by becoming only the second man to retain both the 10,000m and 5000m titles. The Brit clinched his “double double” in scintillating fashion, running the last of his 50 laps in the 5000m in 52 seconds.
With plans to end his track career after 2017, to concentrate on the marathon, Farah ensured he finished his Olympic track career on a high.
Felix cements her legacy
Allyson Felix suffered massive disappointment in the 400m when a photo finish prevented her from retaining the title she won in 2012. However, being a model professional Felix dusted herself off and came back for more. She helped the USA win gold medals in both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays, bringing her personal gold medal tally to six – this is more than any other female in athletics history.
Whether she features at Tokyo 2020 is yet to be seen, but Felix cemented her legacy as one of the best and most consistent female sprinters ever.
Kenya’s David Rudisha continued his dominance on the track when he became the first man since 1964 to successfully defend the Olympic 800m title. There were doubts heading into Rio as Rudisha had been defeated in the Kenyan trials by 19-year-old Alfred Kipketer.
Despite the youngster taking the race out hard, it was Rudisha who showed his championship credentials by leaving him with 300m to go as he powered to victory.
The new queen of sprinting
For the best part of the last decade Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has dominated women’s sprinting. In Rio a Jamaican woman did take home the 100m and 200m gold, but it was Fraser-Pryce’s compatriot, Elaine Thompson.
At 24-years-old, Thompson established herself as the new star of female sprinting by becoming the first women in 28 years to win the Olympic sprint double. This was a feat last accomplished by Florence Griffith-Joyner in Seoul in 1988.