Olympians of the Moment

(I’ll be adding to this as new Olympians bubble up into the headlines….)

(Update 1, 7/28. Update 2, 7/31. Update 3, 8/2. Update 4, 8/5)

Seems that whenever the Olympics come around, the sports media here quickly develops a story line that will utterly dominate their coverage. This time, it’s the Simone Biles Olympics. Only things that happen to her deserve detailed coverage. If someone else manages to win a medal, everyone rushes to her to get her reaction. It gets annoying after a while – especially when there are so many other great athletes with real interesting stories to tell.

When you just barely qualify for the finals in the 400m Men’s Freestyle, you get stuck in Lane 8. Against the side of the pool, where you have to deal with waves reflecting off the concrete wall. In a contest that comes down to hundredths of a second, that stuff matters. Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui wasn’t going to let that bother him….

There’s been a lot of complaints this year about the outfits that female athletes are being required to wear, and the “sexualization” of female athletes in general. Germany’s Womens Gymnastics Team decided to protest that by wearing full-length unitards (which are actually allowed for their sport) instead of the typical bikini-cut leotards.


It was her fourth Olympics. With an Olympic record 224 kilograms (the total in two lifts), Hidilyn Diaz not only finally won her gold, but also earned the first gold medal ever in nearly a century of Olympic competition for her home country of the Philippines.

OF COURSE the US is going to win a ton of medals – we’re sending the most athletes to Tokyo.

OF COURSE China is going to win a ton of medals – they’re the largest country by population.

OF COURSE Japan is going to win a ton of medals. The IOC tweaks the rules to let the host country send more athletes and compete in more events than they otherwise would be allowed (it’s kind of a “thank you” for being the host).

So let’s give it up for triathlete Flora Duffy of Bermuda (population 64,000), the first gold medal winner ever from that island country.

You could fit everyone from Bermuda in the Olympic Stadium – and have plenty of seats left over….

This was Rayssa Leal six years ago:

The thirteen-year-old now has all of Brazil believing in fairies, thanks to a silver medal in street skateboarding.

It’s kind of easy to earn a hatful of medals when your sport has a number of different events – different distances, different styles – each Olympics. But when your sport has only one or two events per Olympics, to win a hatful of medals means you’ve dominated for decades. Like Germany’s Isabell Werth, who just earned her seventh equestrian gold medal in six Olympics. A tip of the hat to the reporters who take the time to mention her horse, Bella Rose 2. Do the horses get anything when they win?

Virtually all of the media attention is focused on the actual or likely winners. But there are plenty of fine athletes at the other end of the scale, with great stories to tell – if you take the time to look for them.

Born in Somalia, Ramla Ali’s family fled to England after her older brother was killed by a grenade that exploded outside their home. Her mother wasn’t allowed to attend school in Somalia, or even be taught to read, but in England she made sure her children knew the importance of an education – and that they were Somali.

Mom encouraged Ramla to get a gym membership so she’d be able to exercise regularly. Ramla took up boxing, even though she felt her mother would not approve – it wasn’t something girls did. She managed to keep it a secret for years. When her mother found out about it and expressed her disapproval, Ramla quit – for a few months. The ring called her back. She got better at boxing – good enough to think of competing for Somalia’s national team. Her uncle, her mother’s brother, saw an interview she did with a Somali news channel, and said he’d talk to her mother. Mom gave in, and let Ramla keep at it.

Mom still hasn’t learned to read, but she’s got to be darned proud of her kids.

One is a doctor. Two are nurses. One works in artificial intelligence, one in sports nutrition.

And one has a law degree and carried the flag for Somalia at the Tokyo Opening Ceremonies.


Let’s have a toast to Jessica Fox, Mallory Franklin, and Andrea Herzog – medalists in the first Women’s C1 Canoe Slalom event. Without making a fuss over it, the IOC has been working towards gender parity in the events. This year, nearly 49% of the participating athletes are women – up from 44.2% at London in 2012.

For a long time, the women’s C1 wasn’t even a world championship event. That only came into place in 2010 after a lot of lobbying, pushing, [saying] it’s about gender equality, gender parity at the Olympics,” said Fox, who owns 15 International Canoe Federation world championship titles. “So there was a lot of lobbying to get us into the Olympics.” The IOC had to drop a few men’s events from the schedule to make room, but no one seems to have complained.

With parity at the Games comes exposure, awareness, participation, and then funding – which is vital for these niche sports. And when the IOC can pressure countries like Saudi Arabia to let women compete in the Olympics, it’s good for women everywhere.

(For the record, Jane Nicholas from the Cook Islands led off the contest, becoming the first woman to compete in an Olympic canoe slalom event.)


L to R: Franklin (Great Britain), Fox (Australia), Herzog (Germany).

It’s always fun to see how people celebrate their victories:

Daniel Stahl, discus:

New Zealand’s Rugby Sevens team, led by captain Sarah Hirini:

In almost every competition at the Olympics, outcomes are decided by the most minute amounts. Centimeters. Hundredths of a second. So it’s almost impossible for there to be a tie. In those rare cases when there is, it’s standard procedure to have a playoff of some type.

Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi first met competing in the high jump at a World Junior Championship meet over a decade ago. They hit it off, and kept running into each other at meets around the world. Of course they became close friends, commiserating over similar major injuries, and Tamberi being invited to Barshim’s wedding.

At Tokyo, the high jump finals lasted some two hours. Tamberi and Barshim were the only two jumpers left standing, having easily cleared a height of 2.37 meters without a missed jump between them, but unable to match the Olympic record of 2.39. Barshim had earned bronze and silver medals at previous Olympics; Tamberi had yet to get a medal of any type. An official asked them if they’d like to have a “jump off” to decide which one of them would take home the gold.



The term “GOAT” (i.e. “Greatest of All Time”) gets bandied about a lot during the Olympics. It’s usually in reference to a particular media darling of the moment, and never has any data to back it up.

What, then, would you say of someone who has eighteen of the top twenty best scores ever recorded in their chosen contest, and only five other people have ever cracked the Top 50? (reference)

That’s Anita Włodarczyk, the Queen of the Hammer Throw, who just bagged her third Olympic gold.

BERMUDA: We’re the smallest nation (pop. 63,900) to ever win an Olympic medal!
SAN MARINO: (pop. 33,900)…Hold my beer.

Alessandra Perilli wins Bronze in Women’s Trap Shooting.

SAN MARINO: What was that again?
BERMUDA: ……Ours is Gold.

Perilli and Gian Marco Berti win Silver in Mixed Team Trap Shooting.

Myles Amine wins a Bronze in Men’s Freestyle Wrestling (86kg division)

SAN MARINO: How many medals do you have?
BERMUDA: Just these Olympics, or overall?
SAN MARINO: (smiles) Overall.
BERMUDA: (checks)….Two.
SAN MARINO: We have three.
BERMUDA: We still have a Gold….
LIECHTENSTEIN You’re including the Winter Olympics, right? (smiles)
BERMUDA: ….Bite me.

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