By John Dundon
With the conclusion of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympic Games, it’s with hearty pats on the back that America welcomes home the locals who competed in their respective events.
Long Island had ties to five athletes who competed in Rio. Some, like basketball star Sue Bird, soccer players Allie Long and Crystal Dunn, had larger than life expectations to come back stateside with gold medals. Of the LI medal hopefuls, Bird was the only athlete to secure a place on the podium.
The Games concluded Sunday evening during a closing ceremony punctuated with the customary passing-of-the-torch to Tokyo, the host of the 2020 summer Olympiad.
While fans judge a country’s accomplishments by victories, Olympians themselves are not as singularly focused. Some athletes traveled to Brazil for reasons that can’t be defined by a medal count. Take, for example, race walker and Farmingville native Maria Michta-Coffey.
“No, I will not win, no, I will not medal, and no, I probably won’t be top 10,” Michta-Coffey acknowledged on her personal blog before the games. “I am not defining this journey, the journey of an Olympic Dream, by success that is limited to a number.”
For hundreds of athletes in Rio who weren’t considered favorites to medal in their respective events, the Olympics represent more than just hardware. They are the culmination of a lifetime of preparation and discipline. To have simply been an Olympian is simply enough.
While Michta-Coffey placed 22nd in her event, the 20-kilometer race walk, she considers herself a champion in a different way.
“Measuring success in your own terms, without numbers, but in experiences is a way to bring greater meaning to your accomplishment. It also is a reminder that these experiences, this journey, the people who shared in it with you, these memories created, these are all yours forever,” Michta-Coffey wrote.
For another duo of Long Islanders, the only thing that would’ve made the trip to Rio worth it was flying home with gold around their necks. When you fail to achieve said goal, well, it sucks.
Ask Huntington native Allie Long and Crystal Dunn of New Hyde Park, who both had significant roles on the US Women’s Soccer squad.
The World Cup champs fell short in Rio. Their disappointing defeat came at the hands of Sweden, by the closest of margins—a heart breaking 1-1 loss by penalty kicks. Sweden’s strategy seemingly involved hanging on until the last minute and forcing the game into penalties, where timely strikes and lucky saves merit the result as opposed to team skill.
To call the loss shocking would be an understatement. For a team that was billed from the start to win gold, the quarterfinals defeat was an abject failure, nothing less.
While high expectations ended in disappointment for Long and Dunn, basketball star Sue Bird and the US Women’s basketball team delivered—yet again. They coasted to the program’s sixth-straight Olympic gold medal. Bird, a Syosset native, clinched her fourth straight Olympic gold.
Bird played a big hand in what should be considered the greatest women’s basketball team of all-time, period. Not only was she the team’s main facilitator on the court, Bird served as co-captain, and was one of the most well-respected leaders off the court.
Bird was in danger of missing the gold medal game due to an injury suffered earlier in the tournament, but she ultimately suited up. For Bird, who is 35 years old and still one of the best players in the world, the question now becomes whether or not this was her last time as an Olympian. The veteran point guard will have some more hardware for her collection when she returns home this week.
That’s not the case for sailor Bora Gulari, who lived on the Island briefly as a child. He narrowly missed a bronze medal in his sailing event. He placed fourth.