Rio 2016: Underrepresented populations dominate in traditional Olympic Sports

From swimming, to gymnastics to Rugby — formerly scarce faces dominate some of the most popular and prolific sports at today’s competitions in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Simone Manuel is the first African American woman to medal in Olympic Swimming individual event – she tied for gold in the women’s 100 meter freestyle with 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak. To top it off – their time of 52.70 was an Olympic record.  In a rare move, both countries’ anthems were played as they shared the number one spot on the winner’s podium. The emotion shown by prolific tears cascading down her face as Manuel lip-synced to the United States’ anthem. Red shirting at Stanford to pursue Olympic dreams must have felt satisfying at that moment.  Sweden won third place in that competition.

Manuel’s U.S. teammate, Chinese and African-American Lia Neal (from my hometown of Brooklyn #props), won a silver medal today as well on a swimming relay team.  Neal previously won a bronze as part of a relay team at the 2012 London Games.

No Brazilian woman has ever won a medal in gymnastics, and Rebecca Andrade gave a good show in her quest to bring gold to her country. Andrade (pronounced Ahn-Drah-jay) dropped out of competition for the bronze to 8th place going into the floor exercise ,but redeemed herself with a stunning ovation in appreciation from the audience for her AMAZING concluding floor routine.  With the pressure of bringing a medal home off of her shoulders, she brought the crowd to a roar with an eye-popping routine full of awe-inspiring beauty – punctuated by her now relaxed demeanor and ever-present smile. Though she didn’t place, her routine was a great conclusion to an incredible Olympic journey (short of earning a medal, of course).  Her Russian coach had been brought in to get the Brazilian women’s gymnastics team ready for the Olympics – and the team had some great moments.

“No Crying. I don’t want to cry,” said Simone Biles to Aly Raisman as Raisman exited the floor from an amazing routine. The American gymnasts dominated their competition.

After Aly Raisman’s floor routine, she marveled, “That was the best double of my life,” no doubt pleased with herself.

And then it was Biles’ turn.

Biles needed a 13.833 on the floor exercise to earn gold in the all around. She didn’t disapoint with what to this layperson seemed like a PERFECT, and perfectly amazing floor routine that left her mother in tears as she gazed from the audience.  In awe, is all I can say to describe what it is to watch Simone Biles tumble, vault, twist and turn into our hearts on the floor, beam, horse, bars and as she floats on air. Scoring 15.933 out of a possible 16.3 on the floor– she did it. All around Olympic Gold. Then came the waterworks.

She called Aly Raisman on stage to celebrate as they brought home Gold and Silver for team USA – and as they waved to the crowd – the rest of the multi-cultural “final five” American gymnasts on their feet, clapping their support. Olympic Champion in the All Around. The margin of victory between she and her silver medalist teammate was equal to more than the total of the spread between all gymnast victors from 1980-2012 — the last 9 Olympics — added together. Unbelievable.

Alyia Mustafina from Russia, who won the gold in 2012 by a tie-breaking exercise between she and Aly Raisman, took the bronze.

After 16 summer games and eight winter Olympic opportunities, Fiji flew to the top in Rugby and won its first gold ever.  A country with a population less than the U.S. tiny state of Delaware, back home it seemed like the entire country was watching the match that brought home the coveted medal.

Apparently, rugby is a BIG DEAL in Fiji, with many toddlers learning the game as soon as they can run. Such love for a sport must make this win that much more sweet.

Congrats to all our non-traditional winners from today’s games.  We salute you!

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