6 Feel-Good Stories to Come Out of the Olympics So Far

I know it’s uncool, but I love the Olympics. I usually find the excessive patriotism it inspires to be unseemly, but I find cheering for American athletes a way better use of flag-waving than, say, bombing a country full of brown people. And yes, where the Olympics go, human rights abuses, questionable environmental impact and wasted infrastructure follow.

But Katie Ledecky, you guys! I can’t help it. Like Leslie Jones, I see a lot to love about the Olympics, despite its problems. The Olympics are almost tailor-made for inspirational tales, but here are a few that stood out for me this first week.

Rafaela Silva Brings Home Gold for Brazil

Silva’s story is quite remarkable. She’s from the City of God, a long-neglected Rio favela. Her father enrolled her in a judo club when she was a child to get her away from the drugs and violence that permeated their home. She was expected to medal in the 2012 Olympics in London, but was disqualified after an illegal move. After her disqualification, she was on the receiving end of racial abuse. That only spurred Silva to work harder at judo, and it payed off. Silva won the gold in the Women’s 57 kilogram judo.

Her win obviously meant a lot to Silva. You don’t devote your life to a sport and then shrug off an Olympic gold medal. But it meant a lot to her country, as well. Patrick Gonçalves, an Olympic volunteer, explains why Silva’s win is so important:

“A lot of girls her age will now be able to say: ‘I have a chance,’” Gonçalves continued as he watched Silva holding her medal aloft for the crowd to see. “They can say: ‘I can do something good, look at her, she has a gold medal.’ She could be on the street right now. She could be doing something bad, but instead she is an Olympic champion.”

Not every girl is going to be an Olympic champion, or even qualify for the games. But having that role model is so important.

Aly Raisman Gets a Second Chance in the Women’s Gymnastics Individual All-Around

The United States women’s gymnastics team proved to be unbeatable as they dominated the team all-around to win a second consecutive Olympic gold medal. The team is so deep, in fact, that it’s caused some commentators to opine on the unfairness of the two per country rule that says that only two gymnasts per country are allowed to compete in the individual all-around competition. Gabby Douglas, the 2012 all-around Olympic gold medalist, got the third highest score during the qualifying round, but doesn’t qualify for the all-around finals because the two gymnasts who scored higher were Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, both from the U.S.

But spare a thought for Raisman, who competed in the 2012 Olympics with Douglas. Raisman tied for the bronze medal with Russian Aliya Mustafina. It had to go to a tiebreak, which Raisman lost. I literally can’t imagine how heart-breaking that must have been, especially when she must have known that she might not get another shot. (We can’t all be Oksana Chusovitina.) But Raisman got what so few people get: a second chance, and she used that chance to win the silver medal in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around. Who among us hasn’t wished for another shot at something significant, something you’ve worked hard for? I think that’s wonderful.

The First African American Woman Wins Gold in an Individual Swimming Event

Had you heard of Simone Manuel before Thursday night? Me neither. But her win in the 100-meter freestyle is is the first time an African American woman has won an individual swimming gold medal, and she set an Olympic record in that event, to boot.

The moment was made all the more spectacular to watch because Manuel wasn’t expected to medal. The story of this race was that Australian sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell were swimming against each other and both could medal. About halfway through the race, Manuel came out of nowhere to take the lead and ultimately win the race. (OK, she tied for gold. But let’s not quibble.) She not only surprised the commentators. She seemed to surprise herself, as well. I mean, look at this gif of her reaction and tell me it doesn’t make your heart grow three sizes.

Source: Slate

Source: Slate

The significance of the moment was not lost on Manuel, who, in her post-swim interview, said she hoped to be an inspiration for other athletes.

“This medal is not just for me,” Manuel said. “It’s for a whole bunch of people who have come before me, and have been inspirations for me—Maritza, Cullen—and it’s for all the people after me who believe they can’t do it, and I just want to be an inspiration to others that you can do it.”

Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad Become First American to Compete in a Headscarf

I hate to draw attention to an athlete based on what they wear. However, we live in a time when a certain major party presidential candidate likes to imply that Americans who are Muslim can’t be real Americans, so I think this is worth noting. Ibtihaj Muhammad made history by being the first American to compete in a hijab. The eighth ranked fencer proved her headscarf doesn’t slow her down by winning her first bout against Olena Kravatska of Ukraine. Muhammad recognized the importance of representing Muslim women at the Olympic Games.

“I feel like this is a great moment for Team USA to be even more diverse than we have in the past and I’m just looking forward to representing myself, my community and my country,” Muhammad said in the days before the competition.

Of course, not all of the great stories coming out of the Rio Olympics have anything to do with sports. In fact, some of the sweetest stories of love and international camaraderie have nothing to do with what the athletes achieved, but how they relate to each other.

Rugby Player Isadora Cerullo Gets Engaged on the Pitch

If you’re going to rate an Olympic experience by how well you did in competition, Isadora Cerullo had a pretty middling Olympic games. As a member of Brazil’s women’s rugby team, Cerulla placed ninth. But she was in for a surprise.

After the medal ceremony, Cerullo’s girlfriend Marjorie Enya proposed to Cerullo right on the rugby pitch. Enya had apparently been planning this for a while, saying, “As soon as I knew she was in the squad I thought I have to make this special. I know rugby people are amazing and they would embrace it.”

Worldwide, LGBT rights have a long way to go, but this heartfelt moment also shows how far we’ve come.

North and South Korean Gymnasts Take a Selfie Together

North and South Korea are technically still at war with each other, with tensions rising over the past several months. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you just looked at their respective gymnasts.

During the training period before the actual gymnastics competition began, South Korea’s Lee Eun-ju and North Korea’s Hong Un-jong took a brief moment to take a selfie together. It’s a small gesture, but it’s one that encapsulates pretty much everything the Olympics should be: Athletes from different nations and cultures – sometimes nations and cultures that are hostile to each other – coming together to show that we’re much more alike than different.

Photo Credit: HereStanding via Flickr

96 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

hank you for sharing.

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Telica R.
Telica Rabout a year ago

Great stories :)

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william Miller
william Millerabout a year ago

Thanks

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Janet B.
Janet Babout a year ago

Thanks

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Regus Slantei
Regus Slanteiabout a year ago

#7 Feel-good: the joy of competition, sportsmanship, and team membership exhibited by the racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse American team members stand in stark contrast to the bigotry espoused by one of the two American presidential candidates. These Olympics are to Trump what the 1936 Olympics turned out to be for Hitler.

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Ricky T.
Ricky Tabout a year ago

Been a bland Olympics so far, great success for Britain and I'm happy for all of the, but I'm not gonna pretend I enjoy watching swimming, gymnastics, tennis or cycling. Mo Farah is the man! And I enjoy the stories above, black gold in some of the afore mentioned sports! Go Team Refugees!

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JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Parisabout a year ago

Great stories - thanks!

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Sue H.
Sue Habout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Janet B.
Janet Babout a year ago

Thanks

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Marija Mohoric
Marija Mabout a year ago

great srories, tks for posting

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