Olympics: Five stand-out stars from week one


Combination picture made on August 11, 2016 shows US swimmer Michael Phelps with the 22 gold medals he ...
Combination picture made on August 11, 2016 shows US swimmer Michael Phelps with the 22 gold medals he won at the Olympic Games in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016. STF / AFP

With the Rio Olympics at the halfway mark, here are five sporting stars who left their mark on the first week of competition with their records, style and courage:

Michael Phelps – more gold and more mature

He said his body ached, his legs hurt and he felt tired, but Michael Phelps still went out of the Olympics in spectacular style with four golds and a silver in a week — 22 golds in a five-Olympics career — and still one more title likely on Saturday. The Chinese medicinal practice of ‘cupping’ which left red circle marks on his body was the only apparent sign that at 31, Phelps is slowing down, and then barely. His victories in the 4x100m free and 4x200m free relays, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley were all clear.

The man who won eight golds at Beijing in 2008 has always come across as something of a medal machine. But Phelps has also shown his more mature side in Rio. Being in a three-way dead heat for silver in the 100m on Friday was “kind of cool”.

“My body is in pain, my legs are hurting,” said Phelps after a crushing 200m fly win. “I think the biggest thing for me through the meet so far is I’ve been able to kind of finish how I wanted to,” added the American, who has insisted there will be no sixth Olympics.

Simone Biles – pint-sized but up with the greats

 US gymnast Simone Biles celebrates with her gold medal after the women's individual all-around final of the Artistic Gymnastics at the Olympic Arena during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2016. US gymnast Simone Biles won the event ahead of her compatiot Alexandra Raisman and Russia's Aliya Mustafina. Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

US gymnast Simone Biles celebrates with her gold medal after the women’s individual all-around final of the Artistic Gymnastics at the Olympic Arena during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2016. US gymnast Simone Biles won the event ahead of her compatiot Alexandra Raisman and Russia’s Aliya Mustafina.
Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

Simone Biles lived up to her star billing as the gymnastics dynamo put herself on track for a record five gold medals in Rio by winning the all-around title after helping the United States to defend their team title.

The 1.45m (4ft 9ins) Texan with a big smile gave a powerful display of gravity-defying tumbling and acrobatics to add the Olympic all-around crown to the three world titles she holds. She is unbeaten in the individual event since 2013.

If Biles takes the vault, beam and floor over coming days she will have won more gold at one Games than any other woman, overtaking Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina (1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (1968) and Romanian Ecaterina Szabo (1984), who have all won four.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll just go on lockdown at my house. It won’t be exactly normal, but we’ll make it as normal as possible,” said 19-year-old Biles of how she will cope with her fame on her return home.

Fiji – the capital of rugby sevens

Gold medallists Fiji celebrate during the men’s rugby sevens medal ceremony during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2016.  John MACDOUGALL / AFP
Gold medallists Fiji celebrate during the men’s rugby sevens medal ceremony during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2016.
John MACDOUGALL / AFP

The South Pacific sevens rugby players came to Rio as favourites but no one expected them to trounce Britain 43-7 in such devastating fashion in the final as the sport made its Olympic debut. Sevens may come from Britain but Fiji has become its capital.

The speed and passing of captain Osea Kolinisau and his team blew away all-comers and they saved the best for last. World Rugby believes that Fiji and even the teams that trailed them will bring in new adepts and hopefully a permanent Olympic status. Fiji reckons the country’s first ever gold medal will bring sporting glory and tourists and investment to a poor country of 900,000 people.

Ironically, Fiji is especially hailing the work of coach Ben Ryan to lift the side in recent years. He of course is British.

Rafaela Silva – heroine defies racist taunts

Rio 2016 Olympic Games women's -57kg judo gold medal winner Rafaela Silva holds her medal during a press conference about racism in Rio de Janeiro on August 10, 2016  VANDERLEI ALMEIDA / AFP
Rio 2016 Olympic Games women’s -57kg judo gold medal winner Rafaela Silva holds her medal during a press conference about racism in Rio de Janeiro on August 10, 2016
VANDERLEI ALMEIDA / AFP

Rafaela Silva, who was brought up in Rio’s notorious City of God favela, was called a “monkey” after being disqualified from the London Olympics in 2012. Four years on, Brazil is hosting the Games and the 57kg category judoka is the heroine as the country’s first and only gold medal of the opening week of competition.

“People taunted me, they said I was a monkey and my place was in a cage. But I proved my place is in sport and in judo,” said the gritty 24-year-old who has spoken forcefully about racism in her country whilst she is in the Olympic headlines. Her sporting skill also deserves attention. She beat world number one Sumiya Dorjsuren of Mongolia to take the title and prove that Brazil is a world force in women’s judo even if the country does not always treasure them.

Katie Ledecky – the best is yet to come

USA's Katie Ledecky poses with her gold medal on the podium of the Women's 800m Freestyle Final during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016.  GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP
USA’s Katie Ledecky poses with her gold medal on the podium of the Women’s 800m Freestyle Final during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016.
GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

America’s newest star wrote her name in lights by uniting the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle for the first time since 1968 — winning two of the races in world-record time. Ledecky, 19, has four gold medals overall including the 4x200m freestyle relay, plus silver from the 4x100m free.

The most extraordinary stat for Ledecky is that she has never lost an individual final at a world championships or Olympics, compiling nine world titles before she has even reached her twenties. She burst onto the scene at the 2012 London Olympics, when she won the 800m at just 15. And she has confirmed every ounce of her promise with her feats in Rio, which include world records in the 400m and 800m.

“I just wanted to lay it all out there,” Ledecky said after Friday’s 800m race. “It was my last swim here at the Olympics, the pinnacle of our sport, and I have to wait another four years to have that moment.” Ominously for her competitors, Ledecky may be reaching her peak for Tokyo 2020.

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