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The world’s most prestigious sporting event was hosted on South American soil for the first time as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad headed to picturesque setting of Rio de Janeiro.
Affectionately known as Cidade Maravilhosa, the marvellous city in Portugese, Rio certainly lived up to its nickname. Events were contested in four zones around the city with Copacabana Beach and the Maracanã among the spectacular sites on show to the world.
Australia at the Games
For the first time in Australian Olympic History there were more women than men in a Summer Games Team and there was no better way of celebrating that than giving one of the nation’s most exceptional female athletes the chance to carry the flag at the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony. Competing at her fourth and final Olympic Games, Anna Meares led the Australian Olympic Team into the Maracanã as the Games were opened in spectacular fashion. Having already made Olympic history in the green and gold, Meares would go on to win her sixth Olympic medal, a bronze in the Keirin, in Rio as she became the first Australian to win an Olympic medal in four different Games.
Archery team Taylor Worth, Ryan Tyack and Alec Potts made some history of their own as they got Australia on the board by winning the nation’s first medal on the opening day of competition. The trio defeated China in the bronze medal match to win Australia’s first ever archery team medal in Olympic competition.
It was the first of three Australian podium finishes on day one as the swimming team opened their campaign in style. Having just missed out on competing in London, 20-year-old Mack Horton won gold in the 400m freestyle while Emma McKeon, Brittany Elmslie, Bronte Campbell and Cate Campbell took out the 4x100m freestyle relay in world record time. The victories in the pool ensured that Australia led the medal tally at the close of the opening day of competition in Rio.
Kyle Chalmers would round out the Australian swimming gold medallists in Rio when he sensationally took out the 100m freestyle final against a star-studded field that included teammate Cameron McEvoy (7th). As the 18-year-old from Adelaide exited the pool as Olympic Champion, McEvoy hoisted his arm into the air in a moment of great sportsmanship. Australia claimed a total of ten medals in the pool including five in relay events.
Rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in Rio and fresh off winning the nation’s first ever World Series title, the Australian women’s team didn’t disappoint. The Aussies moved through the competition undefeated before facing Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand for the gold medal. The Aussies built a 19 point lead before holding on to win the final 24-17 and become the first team in history to win Olympic gold in the sevens format. The Aussie men could only manage eighth as Fiji claimed not only the gold but their first ever Olympic medal.
It was another strong performance from the Australian sailing team in Rio. After it was Australia’s most successful sport in London, the green and gold crews again proved themselves on the Olympic stage. Tom Burton looked destined for silver or bronze before pulling off an incredible comeback to put five places between himself and Croatia’s Tonci Stipanovic in the medal race and secure Rio gold. Cousins Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin missed out on the Nacra 17 gold medal by a single point as they won silver, while Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (470) and Iain Jensen and Nathan Outteridge (49er) also won silver medals.
With three medals to her name Kim Brennan headed to Rio looking to add gold to her long list of achievements. Lining up in the single sculls with Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue looking over the Lagoa course, Brennan powered her way to victory to be crowned Olympic Champion. Australia’s other rowing medal was won by Alex Hill, Joshua Booth, Joshua Dunkley-Smith and Will Lockwood who combined to claim silver.
It would be hard to deny that Chloe Esposito’s modern pentathlon gold in Rio wasn’t of the most memorable Australian moments at the Games. Having finished 7th in London, Esposito was determined to get on the podium at her second Olympic appearance. The 25-year-old was consistent throughout the fencing, swimming and show jumping competition’s to head into the final event, the combined shoot and run, 45 seconds behind the leader in seventh place. Esposito was flawless in her shooting as she steadily picked off her opponents and stormed home to win the gold medal. Inspired by his sister’s success, Max Esposito finished seventh despite being the youngest competitor in the 36-strong field.
Australia had won medals in shooting at four straight Olympic Games heading into the 2012 Games but were unable to keep the streak running in London. Not only did Australia return to the top of the podium in Rio when Catherine Skinner claimed gold, but a host of young guns proved Australia will be a threat in the sport for many years to come. Skinner lined up in women’s trap where she won a shoot-off to progress through to the semi-final before holding her nerve to become Australia’s fifth Olympic Champion in the sport. By her side in the semi-final was Laetisha Scanlan who claimed fifth while men’s double trap athlete James Willett (20) finished fifth in his event. At just 16 years and 179 days Aislin Jones became the nation’s youngest ever Olympic shooter when she claimed 17th.
While the young guns were busy making headlines so too were some Australian Olympic veterans. Jared Tallent made more history winning silver in the men’s 50km walk to become Australia’s most successful ever male athletics Olympic athlete. Ken Wallace combined with Lachlan Tame to win K2 1000m canoe/kayak sprint bronze while Mary Hanna (equestrian) and Jian Fang Lay (table tennis) joined Nat Cook as the only Australians to compete in five Olympic Games for Australia.
It was a case of so close yet so far for the Australian men’s basketball team who were within seconds of a historic medal. The side led by the likes of Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills played exceptionally before a slip-up in the semi-finals against Serbia saw them set up a match for bronze with Spain. Two free throws to the Spanish side with seconds remaining sealed a heartbreaking one point defeat for the Australian side. There was similar heartache for the women’s side who won their opening five matches before losing their quarter-final to Serbia breaking their run of five straight Olympic Games with a medal.
It was a similar case for Australia for many of the team sports with the women’s football team losing their quarter-final to hosts Brazil in a penalty shootout while both the men’s and women’s hockey and water polo teams bowed out before the medals were decided.
Australia would finish the Games tenth on the medal tally with 8 gold, 11 silver and 10 bronze medals. While the aspirational goal of a top five finish wasn’t achieved the fact that there were 178 athletes under the age of 25 in Rio, including 43 of Australia’s 71 medallists, the future looks bright for Tokyo 2020 and beyond.