After years of controversy about the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, the day is finally here. With the host city 17 hours behind New Zealand, by the time you read this, the first events will be just a couple hours away from starting. New Zealand has sent a significant team to Rio de Janeiro and the number of athletes at the moment who are at or near peak form. As we look towards the start of competition at Rio it is a good time to look back at some of the highlights from past Olympics.
But before we turn to the New Zealand competitors, there is one team that has already won – simply by turning up. This is the Refugee Team who come from countries that are too unstable to live in – wracked by famine, civil war, drought – but who continue to do so, and who despite not having any assistance from their country, have still managed to make it to Rio. Huge ups to them for this.
There will be many memorable moments at the Olympics not involving New Zealanders, which bring out the humanity and gamesmanship of the whole Olympic concept – the best athletes in the world competing against their biggest rivals for the glory, for their countries, the families and their friends. My favourite from the past Olympics would be Eric the Eel, an Equatorial Guinean swimmer at the 2000 Sydney Olympics whose record slow time was the source of amusement for many. He is now coach of the swimming squad for Equatorial Guinea. Another would be Cathy Freeman’s 400 metre race also at Sydney, as much because she draped herself in an Aboriginal flag for her victory lap – a reminder to the world of her heritage.
Of the New Zealanders at the Olympics, there are too many favourite moments to count for me, but the highlights of the Olympiads I have watched would be:
- Sarah Ulmer’s 2004 Gold Medal race in the womens 3k Individual Pursuit at Athens
- The ever so unstoppable mens pair Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, who won the mens Coxless Pair Gold at the 2012 London Olympics and have not been beaten since
- Danyon Loaders double Gold haul at Atlanta in 1996
- Valerie Adams shot put gold medal at Beijing in 2008
- Lisa Carrington’s K-1 200m gold medal race at London in 2012 – I didn’t even know she was there until the race
As great as it is to win at the Olympics, there will be a significant number of athletes for whom just getting there was an achievement. For others whose countries might not be so strong in the disciplines they represent, the expectations of medals might not be realistic, but being there with the best and learning from them is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
So, if we can put aside the rampant corruption, the drug cheats, the rumour mill in overdrive about planning and logistical failures of Brazilian officials here is hoping Rio can put on a show Brazil can be proud of. Let the Games begin!