Wayde Van Niekerk, Kirani James, LaShawn Merritt, 400 meters, Rio, photo by PhotoRun.net
Elliott Denman would not be much of an Olympic journalist without his top 25 list. Upon his return from Rio, Elliott gave us his list.
VAN NIEKERK’S 43.03
RANKS HIGHEST ON
GAMES’ TOP 25 LIST
BY ELLIOTT DENMAN
Despite all the well-publicized dismay over everything from A (Androgen Excesss) to Z (Zita), with an unfortunate layer of Lochte-lashing added to the mix, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad will go down in the books as a success.
OK, not as successful as once expected and widely-wished, but not the utter disaster others were continuing to predict just a few days before Opening Ceremonies.
Despite all this, too:
(A) No Russians at Estadio Olimpico. Not to worry, the big show went right on.
(B) NBC’s continuing relegation of the athletics (track and field) phase of the
Rio Games to something less than the absolute, no-questions-about-it flagship status of the whole five-ringed show, that track and field has enjoyed seemingly forever.
(C) Too many mornings and too many nights where too many swaths of unoccupied seats were to be seen at Estadio Olimpico. The only man who could (well almost) fill the house was the triply triply-dipping Mr. Usain Bolt.
The idea of planting at least one final or two finals on the morning slate (in the attempt to build A.M. session attendance) never did seem to work and further diluted evening session contents, too.
But it was what it was and an array of highlights from either session will nevertheless put Rio high on the “most memorable” list of this inveterate Games-goer.
This was my 12th Summer Games as a journalist and my 13th all told. I actually competed in the 1956 Melbourne Games and all the good things that have taken place as a result of that one episode of good fortune, all the doors that have since opened by virtue of that long-ago acquired Olympian status, have kept me going….and going….and going….to the Games ever since.
Now that I’m back home it’s time to review the events of Rio, work up a personal ranking list, and let you know just how high I put them on the old thrillometer.
Here are my top XXV from the XXXI Games:
1. Wayde van Niekerk, 43.03 out of lane eight, can you believe it? Michael Johnson may have been trapped into thinking his Seville 1999 43.18 would endure forever. Sorry, Michael. Nothing in this sport is forever. And you had the job of explaining 43.03 to your BBC audience. Can 42.76 or thereabouts be next, sometime quite soon perhaps? Well, why not?
2. Ashton Eaton, 8893 points, second consecutive deca-gold. You’re up there with deca-doublers Bob Mathias and Daley Thompson now, with a cool, calm, controlled 10-event series. No one has ever taken three straight Olympic decs. Why not you? Sorry, though, my lad, that dear wife Brianne was forced to settle for bronze. Now wouldn’t that have been utterly astounding/amazing/incredible – double gold out of the same household? Maybe next time. Stay tuned.
3. Matthew Centrowitz, first first for USA at 1500 meters in 108 years, all with the slowest winning time since Luigi Becalli in 1932. Three-fifty flat? Didn’t matter. They jogged two laps, then floored it. And you were clever enough to hug the rail, steer clear, and quick enough to get home in a 50.5 final lap. Mel Sheppard (the 1908 king) would have been proud. And prouder yet was Dad/ two-time Olympian Matt, whose own second Olympic trip was erased by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
4. Usain Bolt. Sure, my man, your are the face of the sport these days. But face it, too, you’re not getting any faster. You have not been close to your own world records, set in 2009, for a long time. Then again, 9.81, 19.78, 37.27, were far out of the reach of all other mere Rio mortals. Sure wish you’d give the 400 meters a serious try before you hang ’em up in late 2017.
5. Mo Farah. No ‘mo cynicism about your winning times. Your 13:41.66 at London wouldn’t have beaten Vladimir Kuts’ 13:39.6 in 1956. But your 13:03.30 and 27:05.17 this time were the real deals. And you had to get off the deck (as Lasse Viren did in 1972) to win the 10. Now, you’ve matched the fantastic Finn’s 5-10 double double. What’s next? The 42.2K at London?
6. Elaine Thompson. Just as Bolt did it, you dashed to double glory, too. 10.71 and 21.76. Move over, Fanny Blankers-Koen (1948), Marjorie Jackson (1952), Betty Cuthbert (1956), Wilma Rudolph (1960), Renata Stecher (1972), Flo-Jo Griffith (1988.)
7. Brianna Rollins-Nia Ali-Kristi Castlin, 1-2-3 100 hurdles, the clean sweep. Never done before. And even as world record-breaker Kendra Harrison watched it all from the distant sidelines.
8. Anita Wlodarczyk, with the world record, your 82.29 that hammered your own 81.08 of 2015 into itsy-bitsy pieces.
9. Almaz Ayana, 25 world-record laps in 29:17.45. A whole lot better than Junxia Wang’s still-debated 29:31.78 of 1993. Don’t you remember? On a diet of worms.
10. Michele Carter’s last-chance, last-gasp 20.63 world record shot put, stifling Valerie Adams’ bid for an historic threepeat. After Earlene Brown’s 1960 bronze, Team USA had gone medal-less through 13 frustrating Games. Dad Michael (of SMU and 49ers reknown) had taken the men’s silver in 1984. Now she’s one up in the family sweepstakes.
11. Thiago Braz da Silva’s 6.03 upset pole vault win over Renaud Lavillenie. The lone track and field gold for the home team. It came on a rainy night and drove all the Cariocas wild. “Incredible,” said da Silva.”This was my first time over six meters; my hometown wanted me to win.”
12. Christian Taylor and Will Claye going 1-2 in the triple jump for a second straight Games. London 2012, Rio 2016, why not Tokyo 2016? And while at it,
why not some overdue improvement on Jonathan Edwards’ 1995 world record?
13. Matej Toth. The 50K racewalk, let me remind you, is the longest, toughest event in the Games. After 31.1 miles in the steamy beach town of Pontal, Slovakia’s Toth led the way, but three others – after all that – were within 40 seconds, right behind him.
14. What a Games for Tianna Bartoletta – long jump gold, 4×100 gold, 100 semis.
15. The Consenslus Kipruto (8:03.28)- Evan Jager (8:04.28) steeplechase. Drama to the very end, in the Horace Ashefelter-Vladimir Kazantsev (1952) tradition.
16. Sandra Perkovic‘s second discus gold for Croatia – 69.11 London 2012, 69.21 Rio 2016. Call her Ms. Consistency.
17. Shaunae Miller (Bahamas) – was it an intentional dive over the 400-meter
finish line – or sheer desperation – that carried her past Allyson Felix, 49.44 to 49.51?
18. All in the family department. Christoph Harting (68.37) succeeds brother Robert (68.24 London) as king of the discus ring.
19. Derek Drouin (2.38) takes Canada’s first high jump gold since Duncan McNaughton at L.A. in 1932. And the Indianan’s innovative slow-down, then explosive approach promises to get all the event’s
technicians into a period of deep thinking.
20. Collegian Ryan Crouser‘s Olympic-record 22.52 upset shot put win over teammate Joe Kovacs (21.76) with two-time defender Tomasz Majewski just sixth. It’s the first 1-2 U.S. SP claim since Randy Barnes and John Godina at Atlanta in 1996.
21. Jeff Henderson’s 8.38 long jump win – by a single silly centimeter – over South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga. And Jumpin’ Jeff did it on his last jaunt down the runway, too.
22. Dilshod Nazarov’s hammer 78.68 win. Let’s hear it for Tajikstan – a newcomer nation to Olympic gold.
23. Nafissatou Thiam’s heptathlon win – by just 26 points – over Jessica Ennis-Hill. Futher proof that Team Belgium is a lot more than the Borlee Family.
24. Marathon titles a week apart by Eliud Kipchoge (2:08:44) and Jemima Sumgong (2:24.04), thus an historic sweep by Kenya. No nation’s 42.2K runners had ever claimed both golds at the same Games.
25. First Zhen Wang (1:19:14) and Zelin Cai (1:19.26) go 1-2 in the men’s race, then one week later, Hong Liu (1:26:35) and Xiuzhi Lu (1:28:42) go 1-3 in women’s event, giving China four of six possible 20K racewalk medals. Total haul by all the rest of the China athletics team, however – one silver, one bronze.
Obrigado, folks, for all these magical moments.
One of the finest and most prolific writers in our sport, Elliott Denman has written about our sport since 1956, when he represented the US in 1956 Olympic Games at the 50k race walk, the longest event on the Olympic schedule. A close observer of the sport, Elliott writes about all of our sport, combining the skills of a well honed writer with the style of ee Cummings. We are quite fortunate to have Elliott Denman as a friend and advisor.
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