Fri | Sep 18, 2020

Not everyone went gunning for gold in Rio

Published:Wednesday | August 17, 2016 | 9:47 AM
Argentina's Manu Ginobili waves to fans following the team's win over Brazil in a men's basketball game.
Silver medallist Juan Martin del Potro, of Argentina, drapes a flag over his shoulders as he thanks the crowd after the men's singles gold medal match.


As Manu Ginobili walked off the basketball court, a legion of Argentina fans crowded around the tunnel where players exited.

"Ole, ole, ole, ole! Manuuuu! Manuuuuu!"

Ginobili slapped hands and waved to a crowd that could not have been more delighted. And it came after a 19-point loss to Spain in group play.

The 39-year-old Ginobili soaked in the admiration, just like he soaked in his fourth Olympics. And it underscores that for so many athletes in Rio de Janeiro, the 'go gold or go home' mantra couldn't be further from the truth.

"My main goal was to enjoy the experience one more time," Ginobili said. "I had a blast in the last three editions. I'm older now so I value things a little differently. I came here to play my best basketball possible, help my team, but enjoy the daily experience of being in the Olympics."

Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and the Olympics' biggest stars are hailed for all of the gold hanging around their necks. For the vast majority of athletes who competed, and their home countries who sat on the edge of their sofas watching from afar, merely getting to the podium was more than just good enough.

Olaf Tufte and Kjetil Borch popped the bubbly and feasted on cake with red and blue icing while Norwegian newspapers hailed them as heroes for their bronze medal in rowing. Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz received a personal message from the president and nearly US$53,000 for finishing second, and celebrations broke out in towns across Colombia during boxer Yuberjen Martinez's unexpected run to the silver medal.


Heck, when Joseph Schooling defeated Michael Phelps in a heat of the 100-metre butterfly, his native Singapore celebrated as if he had won the gold medal - before he ACTUALLY won the gold medal.

Throughout the tennis tournament, the loudest cheers came for Juan Martin del Potro, never more so than when he fell short against Andy Murray in the gold-medal match. When it was all over, you never would have known from del Potro - or the boisterous Argentine fans in the stands - that he had lost.

"Now I've got the silver medal, which means gold for me," said del Potro, who won bronze at the 2012 Olympics. "I cannot believe I will bring another medal (home) for my country."

There were big celebrations in Chigorodo and Turbo, two towns near the Panama border that have been plagued by guerrilla and drug-trafficking violence, after Martinez beat Joahnys Argilagos of Cuba in the semi finals of the 49-kilogramme division.

Colombian media reported live from the boxer's family home in Chigorodo, where family and friends greeted cheering neighbours.

"My brother is a warrior and he's going for more," his brother Didier told Caracol Radio after the semi-final bout. "We suffered a lot watching the fight, but we knew he was going to win."

The 24-year-old Martinez was born in Turbo and moved with his family to Chigorodo. He told Colombian media after losing the gold-medal bout to Hasanboy Dusmatov that his only disappointment was that he wouldn't win enough money to buy his mother a house.

He received 96 million pesos (about US$36,000) for the silver. It was the first boxing medal better than bronze for Colombia.

"Considering the strength of his opponent, Martinez can leave these games with his head held high," wrote the Bogota Post, "and can be exceptionally proud of his country's greatest ever boxing performance at the Olympic Games."

That appeared to be the key for so many athletes and fans who were at the Olympics. The biggest games on the world stage come with a winner-take-all conclusion - the Golden State Warriors won't get second-place rings after losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

In Rio, there is room on the podium - and hardware to take home - for three.

"Of course, it's a little bit different tournament than the Grand Slams," said tennis player Angelique Kerber, who won silver in women's singles. "But it's also really high on my list because I was always dreaming to play in the Olympics for my country and (play) in the final. I really tried to enjoy it and to go back home with a medal, it's a really special feeling."

So it's less about the gold they lost than the silver or bronze they won. In Rio, there are points for second place. And third, too.