Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 21, 2016

The Best And The Worst Of Rio 2016

With the closing ceremony Sunday evening the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, officially the Games of the Thirty-first Olympiad of the modern era, reach their conclusion. After a celebration of Brazilian culture the Olympic flag, with its familiar five rings on a white field will be lowered, the flame will be extinguished, and the youth of the world will be asked to reconvene four years hence in Tokyo.

For sixteen days we have watched those young men and women compete in a wide range of events, ever mindful of the Olympic Creed. It states “the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing is life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

For those same sixteen days, during the occasional programming breaks between commercials, NBC has provided coverage that has focused heavily on the medal count, which with Russia largely absent tilted heavily in favor of the Unites States. Winning may not be the most important thing, but it clearly helps if one wants to get on TV.

Of course both summaries of these Games are correct. More than 11,000 athletes from over 200 countries participated in the Rio Games. Including multiple medals given in team events a total of 2,102 gold, silver and bronze medallions were awarded, with a number of stars winning multiple times. Medals went to 87 different countries, but nearly one-quarter of those won just a single prize.  For the vast majority of not just athletes but entire national delegations, the Olympics truly are about the opportunity to do one’s best against fellow competitors from around the globe.

No moment in Rio so exemplified the Olympic spirit at the one that came during the second women’s 5,000 meter qualifying heat on Tuesday. Abbey D’Agostino, a native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, became the first Dartmouth College female distance runner to win an NCAA title in 2012. Nikki Hamblin was born in England and moved to New Zealand in 2006. While her best events are the 800 and 1,500 meters, she was running for her adopted country in the 5,000. With 2,000 meters to go the packed field came onto the front stretch and D’Agostino clipped Hamblin’s heels. Both runners went down hard onto the abrasive track. As the rest of the runners raced away, the American was the first to get up.

Her coach Mark Coogan later told USA Today that he had always advised D’Agostino in the event of a fall “to get up, dust herself off, have a quick look around and then get right back to running. Obviously she did pretty much the opposite of that, and the world got to see the kind of person she is. She did the right thing.” What D’Agostino did was immediately notice that Hamblin remained on the ground, seemingly dazed. Rather than run off she bent down and helped her competitor to her feet, saying to her “Get up. We have to finish this.” With D’Agostino’s help Hamblin got up and the two resumed running. It quickly became apparent though that D’Agostino was seriously injured. Hamblin stayed with her for a while and in turned helped the American up when her knee gave out. Finally, at D’Agostino’s urging, Hamblin left her behind and started chasing the distant pack.

What no one knew, though surely the pain must have told D’Agostino, was that in the collision and fall she had suffered a complete tear of her ACL, a strained MCL, and a torn meniscus. Somehow, against all probability, she limped through the final laps to finish the race without assistance. When she finally crossed the finish line Hamblin was there, waiting to embrace the fellow competitor whom she had never met until they tumbled together at the head of the stretch.

If the story of the two women middle distance runners is a reminder of what is best about the Olympics, then its dark counterpart is surely the deceitful saga of American swimmer Ryan Lochte. As an 11-time medalist at the three previous Summer Games, Lochte was the focus of much of NBC’s attention during the swimming competition, which was given prominent play in prime time during the first week. He won his 12th overall medal and 6th gold when he swam the third leg of the men’s 4×200 freestyle relay, adding to the medal count graphic for NBC.

But with swimming having wrapped up the network’s cameras had moved on. Perhaps the 32-year old Lochte felt some need to recapture attention, because last Sunday morning he appeared in an interview on NBC claiming that he and three fellow American swimmers had been robbed at gunpoint while returning to the Olympic Village the previous night. The network did itself no favors in handling the story. The original interview was conducted by Billy Bush, whose day job is hosting “Access Hollywood.” Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bush asked Lochte no probing questions, but NBC used the interview for hard news stories on both “Nightly News” and “Today.”

The story was questionable on its face. In Lochte’s account he was cast as the hero, refusing to go to the ground when ordered by the supposed gunmen. He also noted that only some money had been taken, and not either the wallets, smart phones or credentials of the athletes. In the reality of street crime in Rio and around the world, the former would likely earn one a bullet and the latter just doesn’t happen.

The world quickly learned that it was all a Lochte lie, a self-aggrandizing tale by a narcissistic punk who made sure to quickly fly out of Brazil before the fabrication became apparent. The swimmer and his “team” have moved into damage control mode now, in what one can only hope is a vain attempt to retain his sponsors.

No matter the sport, be it one that is a part of the Olympic Games or not, there will always be participants who may be heroes to some, but in truth are little more than self-indulgent and entitled cretins like Ryan Lochte. But the good news, as Rio 2016 has reminded us, is that in all of our games there will also always be participants like Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin. Maybe they should be the ones who get a Wheaties box to call their own.


  1. […] image of solitude is so set in our minds that when real life paints a different picture, it is worthy of note. So it was at last year’s Rio Olympics, when Nicki Hamblin of New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino […]

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