Handing out superlatives for the first half of Rio Olympics
- Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky have racked up the medals in Rio, and for their standout performances, they've also earned SI’s top honors through the first half of the Olympics.
RIO DE JANEIRO – It feels like just yesterday the world was mesmerized by the Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless flagbearer from Tonga during the opening ceremony. Yet here we are halfway through the Rio Olympics with many memories—thankfully, none of them have to do with Zika or political corruption. The first Olympics in South America have been a success in providing world records and moments that wow.
From the greatest Olympian at his final Games to sky-high volleyball plays, here are the best moments of the Rio Games so far:
Best U.S. male athlete – Michael Phelps (USA), Swimming
It’s hard to argue with the greatest and most decorated Olympian of all-time. With his 22nd medal on Thursday night from the men’s 200-meter individual medley, Phelps broke his tie with Leonidas of Rhodes for the most individual gold medals. The previous record stood for 2,168 years, and Phelps added to it with a silver in the 100-meter butterfly. He’s said that this is his last Olympics and he’s already made it one of his greatest.
Best international male athlete – Kohei Uchimura (Japan), Gymnastics
Uchimura has now won seven straight world titles in the men’s all-around and successfully defended his Olympic title—something no man has been able to do since 1972. In addition to his individual success, he also helped prevent a Chinese three-peat in the team race and delivered Japan’s first Olympic title since 2004. There’s not much left to accomplish for one that some gymnastics fans call “The King.”
Best U.S. female athlete – Katie Ledecky (USA), Swimming
There will be a lot of medals handed out by the end of the Games but the record-breaking and utterly dominant fashion in which Katie Ledecky is them winning is remarkable. On Friday, she added her fifth medal (fourth gold) by smashing her own world record in the 800-meter freestyle, finishing more than 11 seconds before the second-place swimmer. She’s 14-for-14 at global championships for individual gold medals and already owns the 400, 800 and 1,500-meter freestyle world records in her career. She is going to leave Rio as a household name, if she hasn’t already become one.
Author’s note: It was hard not to pick gymnast Simone Biles here but check back in at the end of the Olympics, when she’s earned several more gold medals.
Best international female athlete – Katinka Hosszú (Hungary), Swimming
The Hungarian star swimmer has won three gold medals in four days, and added one silver for good measure. It’s a remarkable haul considering she entered Rio with zero Olympic medals to her credit. She has been successful at the global level with nine world championship medals, four of which are gold. In Brazil, she has shattered the 400-meter individual medley world record and taken gold in the 100-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley in Olympic record fashion.
Most dominant team performance: USA gymnastics’ Final Five
The United States women’s gymnastics team won by more than a touchdown over Russia and China in the women’s all-around team final. They posted the highest score in all four disciplines and it wasn’t much of a contest after the first rotation. Simone Biles has already started the individual gold medal performances by winning the women’s all-around. She could win the floor, beam and vault with Madison Kocian possibly taking the uneven bars.
Best interview – Fu’s charisma shines on Chinese TV
Fu Yuanhui may have become the first Chinese Olympian to earn a medal in the backstroke but it was her post-race antics that made her an Internet star. From the facial expressions to admitting to using “mystic energy” in her win, Fu is nothing short of the ultimate sportswoman.
Most badass moment – Introducing the Skyball
Italy’s Adrian Carambula’s serve technique is the best thing to happen to volleyball since being placed at Copacabana for the Olympics. In addition to the height and air that the ball travels, there is spin on the serve to confuse opponents.
Most Heartwarming moment: Djokovic and Del Potro embrace after match
Entering Rio, an Olympic gold medal was all that was missing from Novak Djokovic’s storied career and unfortunately, it did not come in these Games. He lost to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets, 7–6, 7–6. His early exit was surprise as he took bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London and he won three of four Grand Slams in 2015. Despite the many tennis stars pulling out due to Zika, Djokovic showed up and his tears and embrace with del Potro after his loss show that Olympic gold still matters to tennis stars.
Biggest surprise: Thrasher stuns for first gold of the Games
Ginny Thrasher of the U.S. won the women’s 10-meter air rifle gold medal and captured the first gold medal in Rio. Thrasher was a surprise winner as she was not picked by SI to medal despite being the reigning NCAA champion out of West Virginia.
Oddest moment: There’s something in the water!
Andrew Sharp and I attended diving on one of the first days of the Olympics and things seemed fine. Initially the water turned green and it was believed a proliferation of algae due of heat caused the problem, but by Friday the pool reportedly began to smell, so it was closed. It was deemed safe enough for athletes to compete in but something needs to be cleaned up.
Most viral moment: Michael Phelps’s call room face is Internet gold
Phelps is the meme of the Olympics after sitting and staring down Olympic champion Chad Le Clos before the 200-meter butterfly Olympics semifinals. Le Clos appeared to be shadow boxing and Phelps remained unfazed.
Best feud: Mack Horton and Sun Yang duel in the pool and online
Australian swimmer Horton took issue with convicted doper and Chinese rival Yang competing at the Olympics. Horton let his actions speak as he won the 400-meter freestyle gold medal, and the followed up, deeming the race “a win for the good guys.” It’s believed that Horton’s statements were the catalyst for a suspected hack of Swimming Australia’s website, though
Australia’s chef de mission Kitty Chiller says they will not apologize for Horton’s comments. Stay tuned for more dramatics.
Heartbreaking moment: Mara Abbott misses cycling medal
U.S. cyclist Mara Abbott was leading into the closing kilometers of the women’s road race but a trio of racers chipped away at her lead before passing her at the end, leaving Abbott in fourth place. Gold, bronze or silver would’ve been nice for the 30-year-old who sometimes works in a farmer’s market in Colorado when she's not training. With 200 meters remaining in the race, she could not believe that she would actually be overtaken and miss the podium.
Best quote: Lily King throws shade at Russian drug cheat
"You're shaking your finger No. 1, and you've been caught for drug cheating...I'm just not a fan," Lily King told reporters after watching Russia’s Yulia Efimova’s semifinal win, where she gestured that she was No. 1. King went on to beat out Efimova for gold in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke final.
Cringe worthy: French gymnast and Armenian weightlifter suffer big injuries
Injuries are no joke and we will not show any photos of the following gruesome ones that took place early in the Games. French gymnast Samir Ait Said shattered the tibia and fibula in his left leg during gymnastics qualifying on the first day. He suffered an injury that kept him from competing in London but has already shown some signs of progress in his recovery.
Armenian weightlifter Andranik Karapetyan’s elbow injury still gives chills. In the 77-kilogram weightlifting final, an event in which he could have medaled, he attempted to clean and jerk 195kg (429 pounds). He tried to extend his elbow but his arm to bent the wrong way and he was rushed to the hospital immediately.