Olympics: Phelps, Biles and Bolt all have case as most dominiant athlete
1:34 | Olympics
Olympics: Phelps, Biles and Bolt all have case as most dominiant athlete
Monday August 15th, 2016

Last weekend, I took notes in Rio throughout opening Weekend as an Olympic rookie. This weekend, with a full eight more days of experience under my belt, I convinced editors to let me explore the field for two more days. 

Here's how it went.

Saturday Afternoon

Andrew Sharp

2:30 p.m.: Starting the day off at Carioca 1 with Argentina-Brazil in basketball. It's a must-win game for both teams, and it'll feature both the loudest fans at the Olympics (Brazilians) and the wildest fans at the Olympics (Argentinians). Also, these two fanbases have deeply resented each other for the past 100 years. HERE WE GO.     

2:35 p.m.: Because of a late bus, I missed the beginning of this. Another writer tells me that before tip-off, Luis Scola and Marcelo Huertas addressed the crowd in two languages to plead for sportsmanship and peace among the fans. 

2:40 p.m.: The best crowd I've seen in Rio came at an Argentina basketball game. It was against Croatia and it didn't finish until midnight, but the fans stood almost the entire game, shouting soccer fight songs. Last night, I met an Olympic volunteer from Madison, Wisc. He was telling more stories about the Argentinian fans, who had crowded into a restricted area during the previous game. "They took over the area," he said. "We're not gonna, like, stop them. We had to go to the national guard, and they didn't want to deal with them either. They said, 'Unless there's a fight, just leave them alone.'" This is going to be a good day.

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2:55 p.m.: Andres Nocioni went nuts in the first quarter—he's got five threes already—but Brazil leads 52–44 at halftime. Fans are chanting in Portuguese at the Argentinian fans, and all of this is perfect.

3:20 p.m.: I'm trying to understand how Argentina's still in this game.

3:25 p.m: Nocioni is hitting everything, so that helps. ... Carlos Delfino still exists? ... Manu is struggling to get going, but his 5' 9" point guard Facundo Campazzo is buzzing around the court like J.J. Barea on bath salts.

3:27 p.m.: I'm really wondering what the Brazilians are saying to the Argentinian fans. They're counting now. I can definitely make out numbers.

3:30 p.m.: Brazil leads 72–67 going in the fourth. I just realized I have a 20 oz. Coke, 20 oz. Coke Zero, coffee, and a bottle of water sitting in front of me. Please send help.

3:33 p.m.:  Everything people say they love about college hoops—the teamwork, the atmosphere, the fundamentals—is twice as true in international basketball. The stadium here is small—maybe 15,000 fans?—and the crowd has been approaching delirium for 90 minutes. Both teams are efficient like NBA players, but cohesive, and more creative. I think I’m becoming a full-on FIBA convert at this point.

4:01 p.m.: Brazil up eight with just under three minutes to play. More Portuguese chants toward the Argentinians.

4:05 p.m.: Campazzo drains two free throws and hits a three. Three point game! 

4:09 p.m.: Two free throws from Huertas ... 21 seconds left ... Brazil up three ... Manu three-pointer to tie misses, but ... 5' 9" Campazzo grabs the board ... kicks to Nocioni ... it rattles around ... IT DROPS!!!

4:16 p.m.: Nene has the last four points for Brazil, and he's got 24 points on 11-for-16 shooting. Brazil 94, Argentina 88 with 2:35 left in OT.

4:20 p.m.: Nocioni hits another three to cut it to one. He's got 37 points. Top five players all-time: 5) LeBron, 4) Bird, 3) Magic, 2) Jordan, 1) Andres Nocioni during Brazil-Argentina.

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4:25 p.m.: Campazzo ties it up with a drive straight through the teeth of the defense. He is MEAN.

4:27 p.m.: Manu gets isolated on Nene for the last but Nene stonewalls him. DOUBLE OT.

4:29 p.m.: Campazzo for three to open the second overtime.

4:30 p.m.: Campazzo hits another three. Argentina up six.

4:32 p.m.: Campazzo Dream Shake in the lane. Jesus Christ. The lay-up rims out, but still.

4:45 p.m.: Brazil down two at the end. They foul. Carlos Delfino misses two free throws, buuuuuut... Brazil doesn't box out and misses the rebound. Ginobili knocks down both free throws. This was game was always going to break someone's heart, but that was especially cruel.

4:50 p.m.: "We won, somehow," Carlos Delfino tells reporters. 

4:52 p.m.: Top five all-time: 5) Michael Jordan, 4) Campazzo in the fourth quarter, 3) Campazzo in OT, 2) Campazzo in Double OT, 1) Andres Nocioni in Brazil-Argentina.

4:57 p.m.: The game's been over for 15 minutes and Argentina fans are still in the stadium, chanting at the top of their lungs.

Saturday Night

Andrew Sharp

6:52 p.m.: I'm lost.

6:55 p.m.: I came to the RioCentro complex for boxing, but was directed to the wrong arena by a volunteer. Now I'm at the badminton venue. An older woman is draped in an Irish flag. She tells me there's a big match at 8.

6:57 p.m.: Uzbekistan has a badminton team?

6:59 p.m.: Looking for a way to boxing, I wind up wandering into the players area, where I find a British volunteer who can guide through the back hallways to boxing. But first I see the players' welcome board (above). The Olympics are the best.

7:02 p.m.: The boxing stadium is on the other side of the complex. Outside, there are packs of Brazilian kids wandering into the badminton area, all of them singing and chanting, wearing Brazilian badminton shirts. Is Brazil a badminton hotbed? I'm confused.

Andrew Sharp

7:08 p.m.: Walked into boxing, and... Hey, Kazakhstan wins on points! Next up in the heavyweight class, it's Joe Joyce from Great Britain vs. Davilson Dos Santos Morais from Cape Verde​.

7:12 p.m.: I'm sitting next to an American from Illinois, and his Brazilian girlfriend, from two hours outside Rio. The Brazilians are all in for Dos Santos from the opening bell, and the woman tells me this is because Cape Verde has a Portuguese culture.

7:20 p.m.: Gotta be honest: I thought I would like boxing more than this. I forgot that, unless you're an expert, boxing is a sport that's much easier to appreciate with the help of a) famous fighters, or b) instant replay on television. Joyce knocks out Dos Santos in the first round. I think I'm going back to badminton?

7:22 p.m.: The Brazilian woman asks what I'm doing here. I tell her I'm covering basketball, generally. "Were you at Brazil game today?" she asks. "We were there. That was shitty..."

7:24 p.m.: I ask about the chants during the game. "They were all soccer chants," she says. "Those are the only chants Brazilians know. We just made fun of Maradona, and Messi, and their championships, because we have five in the Copa [América] and they only have two. We also made fun of how long it's been since they won one. 1, 2, 3, 24! Happy birthday to youuuuuuuu."

7:28 p.m: After these Olympics are over, we need another Olympics that's strictly Brazil and Argentina going head-to-head in every sport.

Andrew Sharp

7:45 p.m.: I entered this stadium—arena? pavilion?—behind another pack of screaming Brazilian children, all wearing badminton shirts, and this is still very confusing. The showcase match will come after Russia's Natalia Perminova and Austria's Elisabeth Baldauf finish up on center court.

8:05 p.m.: Badminton seems to have most of the same rhythms as tennis. There are drop shots and overheads, there similar lines on the court—for singles and doubles— and the players will take similar breaks to clean their racket, change their grip, whine to the umpire, and generally do whatever they can to break their opponent's rhythm. It's tennis, but if tennis were only played at the net, and if one out of every three shots seemed completely impossible to return.

8:08 p.m.: Perminova wins in straight sets. Time for the main event.

8:14 p.m.: The announcer introduces Ygor Coelho De Oliveira​ from Brazil, and the stadium convulses with joy and "YYYYYY-GORRRRRRRR" chants. Meanwhile, Scott Evans is his heavily favored opponent, and he's the first Irish athlete I've seen at the Olympics. While he's not one of these rowers, I'm cheering for him anyway. I've been waiting 10 days for an Irish athlete to get irrationally invested in.

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8:17 p.m.: A few New York Times reporters sit down next to me. I get some backstory on the match. Ygor De Oliviera is from a favela on the outskirts of Rio. His father founded a badminton club to help keep the local youth out of trouble. He's only 19 years old, and he's the first Brazilian to ever compete in badminton in the Olympics. The ecstatic children on hand are participants at his father's club. He's a hero to all of them. He was part of a group of underdog athletes the Brazilian media spent months promoting before the games, to inspire the people around the country. I feel pretty guilty about choosing the Irish guy.

8:25 p.m.: Evans takes first set 21–8. For most of the points he looked like he was toying with Oliviera. The crowd is deflated now. This is uncomfortable. This is my fault.

8:30 p.m.: Ygor up 6–1 in the second set!

8:32 p.m.: 8–1!

8:33 p.m.: 11–2. A Times reporter tells me that Evans is ranked 24th in the world. Ygor is ranked in the mid-60s. Even winning a set here would be a major accomplishment. During the break, the crowd chants, "YYYYYYYYYY-GORRRRRRRRRRRR."

8:38 p.m.: 17-9. Evans is lurking, and I hate him for this.

8:43 p.m.: 18-15. No. Come on. My heart can't handle this.

8:46 p.m.: 20-19. ONE MORE.

8:48 p.m.: He's got it! The Brazilians are euphoric. Reporters are grinning. Everyone in the stadium is on the same page. The crowd breaks into the wave, and stomps in their seats. It's all about Ygor.

9:05 p.m.: He loses the third set, but it doesn't matter. He's already proven he belongs. That second set lives forever with those kids. 

Andrew Sharp

9:55 p.m.: THE POOL.  

10:05 p.m.: Simone Manuel takes silver in the 50m freestyle. Pernille Blume from Denmark with the gold. I'm OK with this. Given how dominant American swimmers have been, it's time to let some others shine here.

10:10 p.m.: Men's 150-meter freestyle. Jordan Wilimovsky​ and Connor Jaeger are our Americans to watch, and without an announcer to guide this experience, I'm really not sure what else to expect.

10:13 p.m.: One more lap and Italy's Gregorio Paltrinieri is pulling away...

10:14 p.m.: Hold up: This is the 1,500-meter freestyle... We've got some time.

10:17 p.m.: The world record is 14 minutes and 31 seconds. We definitely have some time.

10:20 p.m.: The men's 150 meter freestyle is not an Olympic event. It did seem a little excessive to throw that in there with the 100 and 200.

10:31 p.m.: There's a French family to my left. The father and son are wearing red white and blue Mohawks, with French flags draped over their shoulders. The daughter is wearing her French flag like a skirt, and has a red white and blue lei. I think the mohawks are in solidarity with the Gallic rooster.  

10:33 p.m.: Medal ceremony for the women's 50 meter freestyle. They play the Danish anthem. The French father and son remove their rooster mohawks out of respect. 

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10:55 p.m.: Women's 4x100 medley. Lily King is back in the mix. Yulia Efimova and the Russian dopers are here also. If this were an American sport, I would almost certainly be annoyed by the clumsy vilifying of Efimova while pretending every other athlete is clean. But... this is the Olympics. It's fun to have Russian villains.

10:56 p.m.: Dead silence. 

11:00 p.m.: Final lap. Simone Manuel is the anchor. TAKE US HOME, SIMONE. 

11:01 p.m.: Simone holds it down. We can let the world win some, but can't let them win too much. The Americans take gold.

11:03 p.m.: We're all here for the men's 4x100 medley. This is the last time Michael Phelps will race in an Olympic pool, and everyone. The Italian fans in front of me ask me to take a photo of them, and I see their Facebook post: "Lo Ultimo... Michael Phelps". Meanwhile, these Brazilians are going harder than anyone tonight:

Andrew Sharp

Andrew Sharp

11:09 p.m.: Dead silence. Then that little buzzer noise, and the place explodes.

11:12 p.m.: The Americans are trailing. The video board cuts to Phelps waiting. He's swimming the fly. (Whichever swimming bureaucrat decided to rename the butterfly "the fly" should get a raise.)

11:13 p.m.: Phelps is still trailing 75 meters into the race. He can't lose this, right?

11:13 p.m.: How does he stay underwater for that long on the turn? 

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11:14 p.m.: Phelps makes up the difference after his inhuman turn. He takes the lead.

11:15 p.m.: The Americans win. I can't believe I was worried that Michael Phelps wouldn't win. He raises his arms to salute the crowd. He looks might be tearing up. Camera cuts to his family crying in the stands. This really is the end. 

11:30 p.m.: The women's medley winners get their medals. I don't know how long it will take for Phelps to emerge and collect his, but I will stay here until 3 a.m. if I have to.

11:48 p.m.: The stadium is playing a mash up of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and "We Found Love" and it's not quite as bad as you'd imagine.

11:49 p.m: Announcer: "Ladies and gentleman, thank you you for your patience. We will be underway as soon as possible."

11:52 p.m.: The stadium plays a techno remix of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." It's so much worse than you're imagining. 

11:58 p.m.: Announcer: "We thank you for your patience ladies and gentleman and we hope you've been enjoying the music during this delay, provided by DJ Triz."

12:12 a.m.: 57 minutes later, we did it. Phelps collects his medal with the Americans.

12:18 a.m.: "Olympic medal number 28," the announcer says. "Gold medal number 23." Good God. I can't believe that's a real stat. We'll never see this again. That's why everyone showed up here to see it tonight.

12:20 a.m.: I turn to leave, and there's another rooster.

Andrew Sharp

Sunday Afternoon

Andrew Sharp

2:14 p.m.:  Back to Carioca 1! More roosters. France-USA.

2:24 p.m.:  Team USA is hot. Klay Thompson just (finally) hit a three after struggling for the past week and KD is scoring early. This is how the team's supposed to look. Then again, France is still only down two points.

2:33 p.m.: Nando De Colo sounds like a 16th Century explorer.

2:46 p.m.: Klay has 10 points. Kyrie just put Thomas Huertel in the spin cycle. U.S. up 44-37.

2:48 p.m.: Klay picks up his third foul. Why won't FIBA refs let us be great?

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2:50 p.m.: France hits a three. Four point game. The U.S. has been playing well, and Tony Parker's not even playing, and this is still close. Maybe that's a red flag?

3:16 p.m.: DeMarcus Cousins travels, and also runs right through Nicolas Batum. The refs call the travel, but that definitely would've been an offensive foul, too. Boogie's had a rough tournament.

3:17 p.m.: Next possession. Boogie throws the ball away in the lane.

3:17 p.m.: Boogie lowers his shoulder on a screen, gets called for an offensive foul, gets benched. These Olympics have been tough times for the pro-Boogie caucus.

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3:21 p.m.: Back to back threes for Klay. A reporter laughs, "Klay Thompson has arrived in Rio!" U.S. up 13. 

3:25 p.m.: Klay hits another three. He's got 25.

3:27 p.m.: Klay fading away and falling out of bounds by the baseline, draws rim annnnnnnnd it drops. We are living in OKC Game 6 again. We're living in Klay's entire career, which is a never-ending loop of breakout performances, inexplicable disappearances, and then more explosions to remind everyone that he's great.

3:55 p.m.: Team U.S.A. wins. Too close for comfort given how well Durant and Klay played, but the offense looked worlds better than it did against Serbia. Now Brazilian volunteer is explaining me how to get to tennis.

Andrew Sharp

4:42 p.m.: Tennis. Gold medal match. Andy Murray is representing Great Britain, and Juan Martín del Potro is here for Argentina, and he's flanked by a decent contingent of countrymen. The medal ceremony for mixed doubles concludes, and as soon as the anthem ends, the Argentinians start singing. 

5:01 p.m.: Three guys from Brazil just sat down next to me. I ask who they're rooting for. One of them starts to say del Potro, before a friend cuts him off and says something in Portuguese. "Murray," says another. The other two agree. "We don't like Argentina," says another.

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5:06 p.m.: A Brazilian fan yells down in at del Potro. I ask my Brazilian friends to translate. I can't reprint the answer here.

5:24 p.m.: Murray pauses on his serve to complain about a member of the Brazilian national guard who walks through his field of his vision. The Brazilian national guard is at every event, and they have two uniforms in Rio. One is pretty standard: fatigues, with assault rifles. There people are everywhere. The other uniform, the one that distracted Murray, is this bright blue jumpsuit with spackles of canary yellow. These guys are my favorite. There's nothing better than armed guards patrolling a crowd looking like AAU basketball coaches.

5:34 p.m.: Eight straight points for Murray. Up 4-1. Crowd turns to "Let's Go An-dy chants". Del Potro looks rattled.

5:40 p.m.: Nevermind! Del Potro takes the next two games. He's serving now to tie it up.

5:53 p.m.: Two minute rally, del Potro wins, and the crowd is INTO IT. "Oleeeeeeeeee, oleeee, oleeee, oleeee, Potrooooo, Potroooooooooooo." More Argentinian fans at Wimbledon, please.

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5:54 p.m.: I've moved closer to the exit and I'm sitting next to Argentinians now, a man and a woman. The man whistles during Murray's serve. Murray wins the point anyway, and he offers a sarcastic "Let's Go, An-dy" chant.

6:12 p.m.: Text from SI's Olympics expert, Chris Chavez: "Maybe you should have gone to diving."

6:15 p.m.: Two set points for Murray. And on the second, he blasts it down the line past del Potro to take the first set. I feel bad for the Argentnian fans behind me, but I'm happy for the Brazilian fans I left across the stadium. Now it's time to leave and find my way to track.

Sunday Night

7:45 p.m.: On the bus to the 100 meter race. Here's my honest opinion of the Rio Olympics in person: there are moments of hilarious inconvenience—I was on an Olympic bus that got lost on Rio highways for two hours last week—and in those moments, all this seems like a terrible decision. But then, at least once a day, I'll see something just cool enough to make me forget to care about anything else.

8:10 p.m.: As we approach the stadium, Brazilians are grilling food and crowding the surrounding streets. A female reporter from Doha is singing to her colleague: "U-sain in the membraaaaane!"

8:30 p.m.: WE'RE HERE.

Andrew Sharp

8:51 p.m.: The elevators to the press section were broken. I end up ducking out on the second floor and sitting on a railing behind the athletes who came as fans. It's a good scene. Five Australian athletes just took a selfie in front of me. An athlete from Thailand is here with a camera crew. A group from Hungary just showed up to my left. There's a track star from Antigua with purple hair. All of them have their iPhones out documenting all of this. An older man from Guinea is insistent on filming everything with his iPad. He's the resident dad of the athlete's section. 

8:59 p.m.: Men's 100-meter semifinal, first heat. Marvin Bracy is from the United States. He has some fun playing to the camera. Chavez texts me to say that he used to play wide receiver for Florida State. (He fails to qualify for the final, but Jimbo will get him out there somehow.)

9:00 p.m.: As soon as that race finishes, the second heat emerges. The stadium erupts. Usain Bolt is on the track. 

9:03 p.m.: The announcer introduces Bahrani sprinter, "Andrew Fisher." A traditional Bahrani name.

9:04 p.m.: The whole place is chanting. "BOLT. BOLT. BOLT." This night is a party. The athletes stand to watch and lean in to take pictures of the second heat of the 100 meter semifinals. Bolt wins easily, because of course he does.

9:16 p.m.: Justin Gatlin enters to boos, and then wins the third 100-meter heat. Chavez texts me: "This final is going to be a blowout." And: "Why hasn't Bahrain put any money down on basketball players?"

9:21 p.m.: Medal ceremony for the women's 100 meters. Bronze-medalist has Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has her dyed in Jamaican yellow and green. Elaine Thompson gets gold for Jamaica as well. This is Jamaica's night. Everyone else is coming in second and wearing less exciting colors.

9:30 p.m.: Right now, at different places in the stadium, there is high-jump qualifying, the women's triple jump, and the semifinals of the women's 1,500 meters. This is overwhelming. 

9:34 p.m: The women finish the 1,500 meters and three of them collapse onto the track. I was worried that something horrible happened, but apparently that's a normal reaction. This night is a party for everyone but the people who are supposed to be in a dead sprint for 1,500 meters straight. 

9:41 p.m.: The color of the Polish jumpsuits could best be described as "electric salmon".

9:45 p.m.: Second women's 1,500-meters heat. Chavez texts: "Genzebe Dibaba is in this race. She’s the WR holder at 1,500m. Her coach was recently caught with 60 syringes in his hotel room. Apparently she’s clean though." Tremendous Olympics paragraph.

9:55 p.m.: Hell yeah the athletes section will get in on the wave. 

Andrew Sharp

10:00 p.m.: OK. Men's 400-meter final. Here we go.  

10:02 p.m.: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat is happening. 

10:03 p.m.: Wayde Van Neerak of South Africa just broke a world record. The news rolls through the stadium in waves. It takes about 90 seconds before the stadium can fully process the implications. People below me are turning to each other to explain the what happened, athletes are snapping photos of the jumbotron, the whole place is pulsating. 

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10:05 p.m.: That race and this aftermath is what's wonderful about all this. On the most basic level, the Olympics unite people in awe. Nobody knows who Wayde Van Neerak is, and nobody cares. It's simpler than that. All that matters is he broke the record. Whether it’s Phelps or Van Neerak or Usain Bolt or badminton, everyone is here hoping to watch something amazing.

10:10 p.m.: Chavez texts: "Wayde Van Neerak’'s trainer is a 74 year-old great-grandmother named Ans Botha." I've never been more in on the Olympics.

10:23 p.m.: Now Bolt is walking up and down the track waving to the crowd. This is the king. 

10:24 p.m.: Close-up of Bolt before the race, and he's dancing. He's definitely winning.

10:26 p.m.: "Get ready," the announcer says. "This will all be over in less than 10 seconds."

10:26 p.m.: 9.81 seconds later... BOLT. 

10:32 p.m.: Bolt is making his way around the stadium while the stadium plays "Jammin" by Bob Marley and the celebration continues. The jumbotron shows a replay of the race. Like Phelps, he fell behind. Like Phelps, he had a gear that rendered the field irrelevant. And like Phelps, everyone else just felt lucky to be watching. 

10:40 p.m.: The show is over. Athletes are filing out now. This is the end of the diary. The show did not disappoint. 

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