RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 21, (Agencies): After a rollercoaster Olympics for the hosts, it took just one kick of a ball from Brazil’s poster boy Neymar to make a nation’s dream come true.
It is unusual for football to become the main event of the Games, but, for the most successful nation in World Cup history, the hitherto lack of Olympic gold had become an obsession.
Neymar finally succeeded where the likes of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho had failed when he coolly slotted into the top corner to edge a penalty shootout 5-4 against Germany at a packed Maracana on Saturday after a 1-1 draw.
“This is one of the best things that has happened in my life,” said the tearful Barcelona star.
It was a fitting finale that after queries and criticism of Brazilian fans’ penchant for treating every sport like football, the biggest crowd of the Games packed the Maracana to do what they know best.
Neymar’s spot-kick also exorcised some of the demons that have dogged Brazilian football since Germany sent them packing from their own World Cup with a humiliating 7-1 thrashing just two years ago.
“This phase now has passed. We can look forward to the future more confident and more proud. Brazilian football is not dead,” said Brazil coach Rogerio Micale.
Talk of revenge was exaggerated. Not one player played in both Belo Horizonte 775 days ago and in Rio on Saturday.
However, so wounded was Brazil’s pride that another capitulation on home soil was unimaginable.
It is for that reason that Neymar was selected for the Games instead of the Copa America — where Brazil crashed out at the group stages — back in June.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Mo Farah completed a historic Olympic distance double double with victory in the 5,000m Saturday as American runner Matt Centrowitz scored an upset win to claim the 1,500m gold.
Farah became the first man since Finnish great Lasse Viren in 1976 to retain two Olympic distance titles after storming to victory, a week after defending his 10,000m crown at Rio’s Olympic Stadium.
The 33-year-old Somali-born Londoner again produced a superb tactical race on Saturday to outfox his rivals and take gold in 13min 3.30sec.
Centrowitz produced the biggest upset on the final night of track competition, beating defending champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria into second place to win gold in 3min 50.00sec.
New Zealand’s Nicholas Willis took the bronze medal in 3:50.24.
US track golden girl Allyson Felix led home her team in the women’s 4x400m, crossing the line in 3min 19.06sec to claim a record sixth gold medal.
The United States extended a stunning winning streak. They have not lost the event since 1992.
In the men’s 4x400m, former Olympic 400m champion LaShwan Merritt led the US team home in 2:57.30 with Jamaica finishing in silver and defending champion the Bahamas bronze in 2:58.49.
South Africa’s Caster Semenya completed a convincing victory in the 800m to win her first Olympic gold in 1:55.28.
Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi took silver in 1:56.49 with Kenya’s Margaret Wambui claiming bronze in 1:56.89.
Semenya has been at the centre of a raging controversy because of her naturally occurring condition, hyperandrogenism, which causes elevated testosterone levels.
She has dominated the event since a sports court last year judged that an International International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulation limiting competitive testosterone levels was unlawful.
Shortly before Saturday’s final, IAAF chief Sebastian Coe said the world body would seek to revisit the question with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Semenya would not be drawn on the controversy.
The other big winner Saturday was Spain’s veteran high jumper Ruth Beitia, who scored the biggest win of her 20-year career with a gold.
The 37-year-old became the oldest woman to win an Olympic jumping event after clearing 1.97m. Beitia won on countback from Mirela Demireva of Bulgaria and Blanka Vlasic of Croatia.
The javelin was won by Germany’s Thomas Rohler with a 90.30m throw. Kenya’s reigning world champion Julius Yego won silver with 88.24m while defending Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago claimed bronze with 85.83m.
In related news, red-hot favourite Eliud Kipchoge stormed to a runaway gold medal in a wet men’s marathon on Sunday, the final day of competition at the Rio Olympics.
The Kenyan broke away from his rivals at the 35km mark and romped home to win in a time of two hours, eight minutes, 44 seconds, more than a minute quicker than Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa, who took silver.
American Galen Rupp took bronze a further 11 seconds back.
In the shadow of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, poking through the rain clouds from high above the city, Kipchoge produced a virtuoso performance as he added gold to the 5,000m silver he won in Beijing in 2008 and his bronze from Athens 2004.
Russia won a fifth straight gold in the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around event at the Rio Olympics on the final day of competition Sunday.
The five-woman team keep a title Russia have won at every Olympics since Sydney 2000. Spain took silver and Bulgaria bronze.
Russia won its first Olympic gold medal in women’s handball on Saturday, overcoming France 22-19 in a tight, fast-paced final in front of a rapturous crowd.
The Russians led by several points through much of the game, although the French roared back in the middle of the second half to level at 14-14 before again trailing to a fierce attack.
When the final whistle was blown, Russia’s players fell to the ground and embraced, while the disappointed French walked off, some wiping away tears.
After losing the last two finals, Brazil reclaimed the Olympic men’s volleyball gold medal with a 3-0 victory over Italy at the Maracazinho in Rio on Sunday.
Watched on by football star Neymar, the volleyball team made it a golden double following the Selecao’s penalty shoot-out victory over Germany in the next door Maracana stadium on Saturday night.
The United States beat Russia 3-2 in the battle for bronze between the last two Olympic champions.
A delighted Denmark won their first gold medal in men’s handball on Sunday, overcoming the defending French champions to win 28-26 in a thrilling Olympic final.
The score was tight throughout the game at Rio’s Future Arena, where a mostly France-leaning crowd chanted for their “Bleus”, but the Danes managed to pull ahead in part thanks to brilliant saves by 2.01 metre-tall keeper Niklas Landin.
Earlier on Sunday, Germany’s men’s team overcame Poland 31-25 to win bronze.
Meanwhile, Pau Gasol scored 31 points in perhaps his final Olympic basketball game and Spain added a bronze to its collection on Sunday with an 89-88 win over Australia, again denied its first medal inside the rings.
Sergio Rodriguez made two free throws withs 5.4 seconds left and the Spaniards, who captured silver in 2008 at Beijing and the London Games, got the defensive stop they needed as Australia fumbled the ball away on its last possession.
Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoirov won the men’s Olympic flyweight boxing gold medal on Sunday with a unanimous points victory over Russia’s two times world champion and 2012 bronze medallist Misha Aloyan.
The gold was the second of the boxing competition for Uzbekistan.
Venezuela’s Joel Segundo Finol and China’s Hu Jianguan won the bronze medals.
Switzerland’s Nino Schurter completed his Olympic medal collection as he won gold in the men’s cross-country cycling race on Sunday.
Czech Jaroslav Kulhavy, the man who beat five-times world champion Schurter to gold in a thrilling sprint finish in London, took the silver medal 44 seconds back.
Carlos Caloma Nicolas of Spain was third after grinding down France’s Maxime Marotte in the closing stages.
Claressa Shields defended her middleweight title on Sunday to become the first US boxer in 112 years to win two Olympic gold medals.
Shields beat Nouchka Fontijn, whose silver medal was the first by a Dutch boxer since heavyweight Arnold Vanderlyde won bronze in 1992, by a unanimous points decision.
Kazakhstan’s Dariga Shakimova and China’s Li Qian took the bronze medals as losing semifinalists.
France’s Tony Yoka beat Britain’s Joe Joyce to win the men’s Olympic super-heavyweight title on Sunday and match the lightweight gold medal won by girlfriend Estelle Mossely earlier in the week.
Now half of a golden couple, Yoka becomes the first Frenchman to win gold in the heaviest division.
Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic and Kazakhstan’s Ivan Dychko took the bronze medals as losing semi-finalists.
Britain’s Anthony Joshua, the 2012 champion, turned professional after the London Games.