The Olympic Games are a showcase of achievement, held every two years at locations around the world.
But the Rio Olympics, probably more than just about any in the last four decades, will be remembered equally for failure than success.
Perhaps the most high-profile failure on the field of play had to have been the U.S. women’s soccer team. Winners of the 2015 FIFA World Cup, the team had a pair of major injuries, a pair of pregnancies, and key retirements that resulted in the callup of an 18-year-old to the national team roster. The team underachieved in pool play and lost to a bunkering Sweden in the quarterfinal round.
Also not performing up to their usual standard were Australia’s basketball teams. The men’s team, the Boomers, finished fourth in Rio despite having a number of NBA veterans. The women’s team, the Opals, didn’t make the Final Four after having to retool with the retirement of Lauren Jackson.
Australia also underachieved on the hockey pitch. The men’s team, ranked No. 1 by FIH, didn’t qualify for the Final Four. Neither did the Hockeyroos, which were without top dragflicker Anna Flanagan because of a drunk-driving charge and subsequent cover-up.
Holland’s field hockey teams also underachieved, losing their final matches at the Games. The men lost the bronze-medal match to Germany, and the women lost in a shootout to Team GB.
But some of the bigger failures came off the field of play. Crime was a problem in Rio; a stray bullet struck the media center at the equestrian center, more than one athlete was robbed. A sailor got a water-borne illness, and I’m surprised more that were not reported.
Personal behavior got the best of some competitors. The support staff of a Mongolian wrestler, upset over a late decision, stripped off their clothing at matside in protest, and justly received red cards for their actions.
Hope Solo, after the U.S. quarterfinal loss to Sweden, termed her adversaries “cowards,” which blew up social media and created a backlash against her.
I think the biggest failure off the playing fields of Rio had to have been the behavior of four Olympic swimmers from the United States, including multiple medal-winner Ryan Lochte.
Originally, Lochte offered his story of being robbed to The Today Show’s Matt Lauer. In terms of morning television, this interview is what is called a “get.” As we’ve known over the last few years, however “gets” aren’t exactly high on the journalistic totem pole. The story spread over the tabloid media and fed into the notion that Rio was a lawless place and that perhaps the International Olympic Committee had made the wrong decision to hold the Olympics there.
Reporters and investigators found tremendous holes in the story and inconsistent stories from the alleged victims. And the Lochte story fell apart last week when surveillance video surfaced from a gasoline station, showing the group vandalizing a bathroom when they couldn’t open the door.
The story fed into the notion of the ugly American, as well as the continuing narrative about entitlement. And the regrettable thing is, this one incident may prevent swimming from receiving the kind of exposure that Michael Phelps has envisioned.