As we enter the final weekend of the Rio 2016 Olympics, it’s fair to say the most recent incarnation of the biggest sporting celebration of the year has been a triumph.
This time last month, there was a great deal of uncertainty about this year’s Olympics. Amidst controversy over doping scandals, austerity riots and the Zika virus, it was easy for casual observers to be cynical. It wasn’t even that long ago that rumours circulated about the games returning to London. However, with the closing ceremony on Monday forecast to be an exciting conclusion, it’s fair to say that even the most negative fans have been swayed by the outpouring of international co-operation that comes every four years.
Though I was naturally transfixed by the 2012 Olympics (lucky enough to see the football, unlucky enough to see Oscar Pistorius win a few weeks later); I feel almost exhausted from the amount of sport I’ve been able to watch across the BBC over the past fortnight, regardless of the obviously obstructive time difference. I don’t know about you, but there was a moment last weekend where I watched elements of at least six or seven sports in just over an hour. In my family, our favourite sports have probably been the cycling (track and road), gymnastics, swimming and equestrian – though I’ve also been savouring the fencing, table tennis and rowing.
Thanks in part to the BBC’s brilliant coverage (my sister in particular has continued her obsession with Claire Balding) as well as a fantastic performance from Team GB, I’m hoping to see many more promising athletes have a go at a new sport. When I start at UEA in the autumn, for instance, the fencing club has already caught my eye. It’s also interesting to note, particularly in the case of Team GB, how young many of the athletes are, so that we can hope for many more years of medals before these Olympians compete in Strictly Come Dancing or I’m a Celebrity.
From a British perspective, it’s fair to say that our (or rather their) performance this summer has been utterly exceptional. Eyebrows were raised when we were predicted 49 medals on the eve of the games (an away record), but our minds have now been blown to smithereens with a glance at the medal table showing how a country of some 65 million people, with 60 medals, is outperforming a nation of over a billion. Though there have been some disappointments, and a devastating number of 4th place finishes, the success stories coming out of these Olympics show no sign of stopping. Since Adam Peaty swam the three fastest times in world history to win the 100m breastroke (he’s only 21), God Save the Queen has been played to bemused athletes a further 23 times.
As a fan, some of the most memorable moments came, not from the stars of 2012 like Mo Farah, but from the surprise victories. Jack Laugher and Chris Mears won the synchronised diving; Max Whitlock won two unprecedented gold medals on the floor and pommel horse in front of 10 million viewers while, just yesterday, GB’s oldest competitor (58 year old Nick Skelton), won an individual gold medal in the equestrian events at the seventh time of asking.
Away from Team GB, there’s also been a lot to cheer for. Though the US’ swimming tournament has been overshadowed somewhat by the fake robbery controversy, Michael Phelps won another five gold medals to ensure he’s been more successful than 191 different countries in Olympic history. Simone Biles dominated the gymnastics while Usain Bolt completed the triple triple to ensure his place as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time.
As I approach my conclusion, I also have to applaud the atmosphere of these games. Though there have been issues, such as the disappointing attendances and the crowd’s treatment of Renaud Lavillenie, the vast majority of Brazilian fans appear to have thrown themselves into the fervour of the games (perhaps symbolised best by Maria de Cezar, the local bride-to-be who’s found fame after a brilliant interview with Dan Walker). I only hope that this carnival atmosphere continues for the Paralympics and, hopefully, even longer.
If you’re interested in finding a new sport, perhaps one you’ve seen in the Olympics, then feel free to use the BBC’s Get Inspired page (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/get-inspired)