Olympic glory: Sports stars from around the world

4:19 pm on 31 July 2021

There isn't one Olympics, despite what the IOC likes to think. There's about 206 of them.

A photo shows  fireworks during the Opening Ceremony of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at National Stadium in Tokyo on July 23, 2021. The summer Olympic games will run until Aug. 8th.  (

Photo: AFP

While the International Olympic Committee added the word "together" to its motto of "Faster, Higher, Stronger", the main thing which brings every nation together is the Opening Ceremony and the superstars, like Simone Biles.

Otherwise every nation has its own Olympics, its own stars, its own history and its own sense of how well it has done.

This was brought home to me forcefully during the 1992 Games in Barcelona. I was in Turkey. I discovered later that Barbara Kendall won a gold and Danyon Loader a silver. I had no idea that the US had a basketball dream team at the Games. But I did follow wrestling and weightlifting closely because that was what was on Turkish TV.

That was the year the great Naim Suleymanoglu won gold in the Men's featherweight weightlifting. To this day he is the only weightlifter to have snatched two and a half times his bodyweight and among only a handful to lift three times his weight in the clean and jerk.

So while we celebrate a golden competition in the rowing, and elsewhere, it's worth looking at what is going on in the other Olympics.


For years, India dominated the men's hockey contest. From 1928 to 1964 you simply pencilled in India for the gold. But since 1980, nothing. At Tokyo, things are looking better. They are in the quarter-finals on Monday, against Great Britain.

But, perhaps, the real story for India is the performance of several women athletes. There's Lovlina Borgohain, the shy, counter-attacking welterweight boxer, who has overcome one former world champion to guarantee at least a bronze, but is now up against the reigning world champion.

India's Lovlina Borgohain celebrates after winning against Chinese Taipei's Nien-Chin Chen in the women's welter quarter-final boxing.

India's Lovlina Borgohain celebrates after winning against Chinese Taipei's Nien-Chin Chen in the women's welter quarter-final boxing. Photo: AFP

What makes her story so special is that she has had to come back from Covid-19 and a lack of training to make it. Her howl of joy and emotion when she beat Chinese Taipei's Nien-Chin Chen is probably one of these Games' highlights so far.


All hail Abdullah Al-Rashidi, an inspiration to middle aged men everywhere. At age 58 he won bronze in the skeet shooting.

"Everybody love me because I am old and see me in Olympic Games," he told the AP.


Four years ago at Rio he also picked up bronze, except that Kuwait had been suspended by the IOC so he competed as an independent.

With no flags or team uniform allowed he wore a jersey of England football club Arsenal. This time he wore the colours of Kuwait.


The headline said it all really; "Francine Niyonsaba's Olympic nightmare continues."

Hers may well be one of the saddest stories of Tokyo. In 2016 she won silver in her preferred 800m. But her medical records have been leaked and she acknowledged publicly she has what is known as Difference in Sex Development.

That means she is not allowed to compete in events between 400m and a mile without taking testosterone-reducing drugs.

Francine Niyonsaba opted not to, instead trying to compete in the 5000m, more than six times her preferred distance and vastly different races.

She finished fourth in her heat to claim a place in the final but officials ruled she had stepped off the track. She was disqualified.

San Marino

Is it the smallest country to win a medal? San Marino, about the size of Gisborne, has nabbed a shooting gong. They immediately began doing the medals per population maths.

To beat them New Zealand will have to win 147 medals. We have eight.


They seem to be having a very good Olympics on the judo mats, with two bronzes and a silver.

But the story of their Games so far has been the tale of their silver medalist, Saeid Mollaei. He is Iranian, and a former world champion. But at the 2019 world champs he says he was pressured by Iranian authorities to lose in the semifinals so he didn't have to face an Israeli judoka, Sagi Muki.

Mollaei said he could not return to Iran because he had blown the whistle on their pressure and instead went to Germany. He was then offered Mongolian citizenship by Mongolia's President Khaltmaagiin Battulga who also happens to be chairman of Mongolia's Judo Federation.

Since then Mollaei and Muki have become best of friends and there are Instagram photos of the two hanging out. A movie is to be made of their story.

In the meantime, Mongolia is celebrating its three medals.

Gold medallist Japan's Takanori Nagase and silver medallist Mongolia's Saeid Mollaei react after the judo men's -81kg gold medal bout.

Gold medallist Japan's Takanori Nagase and silver medallist Mongolia's Saeid Mollaei react after the judo men's -81kg gold medal bout. Photo: AFP


And if this all seems very serious then let's turn to our friends in Ireland who are celebrating the response by one of their athletes to an interview question after he won gold in the men's rowing.

Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy won in the lightweight men's double sculls.

But Donovan sidestepped the usual platitudes in the post-race interview. Asked by the BBC how being an Olympic gold medal-winning athlete sounded, O'Donovan said: "It's alright, yeah. You can't complain about it really. I wouldn't go around introducing myself like that though."

The "most Irish response ever" said one newspaper headline.


They must get sick of the stories of being the most populous nation never to win a medal.

But they have their Olympic star, Muhammad Yunus. He was the Nobel Peace Prize winner who spoke in Tokyo's opening ceremony by link from his home in Dhaka.

Nobel Peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh speaking at the World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos in 2009.

Nobel Peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh spoke in the opening ceremony. (File photo). Photo: Supplied/World Economic Forum, Remy Steinegger

The man who has helped millions to be lifted from poverty by his idea of offering "micro-loans" to the impoverished couldn't travel due to Covid-19.

But he was awarded the Olympic laurel and, according to the United News of Bangladesh, when he spoke of his "Three Zeroes" he addressed the highest number of viewers at the Games.

His three zeroes are zero net carbon emission; zero wealth concentration to end poverty and zero unemployment.

Let's face it; that is probably worth more than medals.

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