It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of the Olympics – spine-tingling races to the finish line, awe-inspiring world records and spectacular duels. But every once in a while, an athlete transcends the time trials and makes a different kind of record – the kind that lifts our hearts and maybe even changes the world. Herewith, Rio’s most moving moments so far, starring an all-female cast.
1. Yusra Mardini
This 18-year-old swimmer’s training regime is a little different to that of Australia’s Campbell sisters. After her home was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War last year, Mardini fled the country with her sister. When their boat – overloaded with fellow asylum seekers – broke down in the middle of the Aegean Sea, Mardini jumped in the ocean and helped swim the vessel (for three hours) to safety. In Rio, she competed as part of the inaugural Refugee Team, finishing seventh in her 100m freestyle heat. The now Berlin-based teenager told reporters: “The only things I know now are that I want to continue swimming and continue supporting refugees.”
2. Australia’s Women’s Rugby Sevens
Four years ago this squad didn’t exist. Now, they wear gold medals around their necks. In the sport’s first Olympic outing, the Aussie girls – most of whom were hand-picked for the team from diverse sporting backgrounds: athletics, touch football, hockey and basketball – took the tournament by storm. The best bit? Their win signifies one giant leap for women’s sport in Australia.
3. Doaa Elghobashy
Beach volleyball may usually be associated with itsy bitsy bikinis and toned, tanned bodies frolicking in the sand. But on Planet Olympia, stereotypes are there to be crushed. Cue Egyptian volleyballer Doaa Elghobashy, who took to the Copacabana sand last week in a modest long-sleeved ensemble and hijab. “I have worn the hijab for 10 years,” Elghobashy told reporters. “It doesn’t keep me away from the things I love to do, and beach volleyball is one of them.” It will go down in history as a shining moment of cultural diversity – though hopefully one that future generations view as unremarkable.
4. Kristin Armstrong
Four years ago she (temporarily) retired, but yesterday Kristin Armstrong became the oldest female Olympic cycling gold medallist ever – on the eve of her 43rd birthday. Embracing her five-year-old son after the race, the American told NPR, “"I think that for so long we've been told that we should be finished at a certain age. And I think that there's a lot of athletes out there that are actually showing that that's not true." But if Armstrong does retire from competitive cycling any time soon, she won't be putting her feet up – she already has a full-time job as director of community health at an Idaho hospital, cycling in her spare time.
5. Majlinda Kelmendi
This woman is more than just a proud judo player who has won an Olympic gold medal; she is Kosovo’s first ever medallist. Her war-torn nation declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and this year it made its Olympic debut. Kelmendi, a 25-year-old who has been something of a judo star since her youth, resisted offers from other nation’s to join their ranks: “I was young but I could see that my country needed to be represented in the world. Today I am very happy that this medal is for Kosovo … It means a lot. People, especially kids in Kosovo, look to me as a hero."