One of the most-prized achievements in world sport, an Olympic gold medal is a great honour for both athlete and country. This special achievement sees the status of the athletes rise to that of heroes on their return home. They are the trailblazers, marking the way ahead for others. While the traditional sporting superpowers continued their domination in the medal tally at the Rio Olympics, here are ten teams that got their first taste of gold in the Brazilian city.
Joseph Schooling – Singapore
Swimming against the likes of Michael Phelps, Chad Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh, it didn’t seem like Joseph Schooling had a chance. Apparently, he didn’t think so either, looking stunned when he won the men's 100m butterfly. It was a big moment for him as he had just beaten his childhood idol and greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps. It was a great moment for Singapore as well, with the country finally winning a gold after 16 appearances. Schooling returned home a national hero after beating the other swimmers by 0.85 seconds.
Rugby sevens team – Fiji
The little island nation of Fiji was swept up in a wave of euphoria when they won their first medal at Rio. It was a gold medal claimed by their Rugby sevens team after they beat Great Britain 43-7, an outstanding feat for a team comprised of part-time players ranging from hotel bellhops to prison wardens. It was such a great day for the nation that their Prime Minister declared a national holiday on the day of the team's return. Many of the Fijians have even called for their English coach Ben Ryan to be made an honorary citizen!
Majilnda Kelmendi – Kosovo
Kosovo was recognised as an independent nation by the International Olympic Committee in 2014 and this year was the first time it participated in the Summer Olympics. The wounds of its troubled past received a balm when Majilnda Kelmendi gave the country a gold medal on its Olympics debut. She raised the country’s flag high after defeating Italy's Odette Giuffrida in the final of the 52kg judo competition. It was a new start for the Balkan nation with her win bringing pride to the fledgling country.
Monica Puig - Puerto Rico
It was a Saturday that brought the country together. Divided by economic strife, the people of Puerto Rico came together to cheer for Monica Puig as she beat German Angelique Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in the women’s tennis final at the Olympic Tennis Centre. Her exceptionally aggressive run to the final saw many of the top-seeds fall along the way as the unseeded player galloped to the top of the pecking order. The 22-year-old had won the first ever gold medal for the Caribbean island, and was the first woman in the country's history to win an Olympic medal.
Ruth Jebet – Bahrain
Born in Kenya, Ruth Jebet opted to run for Bahrain. While it might have been a much-talked about affair, her efforts on the track were duly rewarded as she left the rest far behind. Her stunning performance in the 3,000m women's steeplechase was more than enough to bring Bahrain its first Olympic gold medal after nine trips to the Summer Olympics.
Fehaid Al-Deehani - Independent Olympic Athletes
Kuwait might have been banned from competing in the Olympics but many of its athletes competed under the Olympic flag. The first such Olympic champion competing as an ‘Independent’, Fehaid Al-Deehani earned a double distinction as the first amongst Kuwaitis and Independents to win a gold medal. An officer in the Kuwaiti army, he won the men's double-trap shooting event.
Cheick Sallah Cisse – Ivory Coast
It had been 32 years since Ivory Coast won an Olympic medal and Cheick Sallah Cisse ended the drought. Participating in taekwondo, the 22-year-old won the final 8-6 with a crucial last-second kick. His gold medal was a historic one for the country and was greeted with great joy.
Ahmad Abughaush – Jordan
Another country saw its Olympic fortunes turn gold with taekwondo. Jordan’s champion Ahmad Abughaush might still be a student but he defeated Russian Alexey Denisenko, no less, in the men's 68kg final to claim his first Olympic medal. Considered an outsider, he produced a series of upsets to make it to the final. His good use of footwork and kicks saw him win 10-6 as he claimed gold on Jordan's 10th trip to the Summer Olympic Games.
Dilshod Nazarov – Tajikistan
Dilshod Nazarov was his country’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of the Rio Games and made Tajikistan proud by winning gold at the men's hammer throw. His best throw came in the fifth round as he hurled the metal ball 78.68 meters. This was the country’s first gold since it gained independence in 1991 and its first medal in track-and-field.
Hoang Xuan Vinh – Vietnam
After competing in the Olympics for more than 60 years, Vietnam got its first taste of gold this year at Rio. The man to finally deliver the ultimate Olympic glory was Hoang Xuan Vinh, who emerged victorious in the 10m air pistol event. Said to have learnt marksmanship with an AK47, the 41-year-old army colonel finished 0.4 of a point ahead of Brazil's Felipe Wu to clinch gold. He made history at the Olympics with a score of 202.5 in 20 shots, with news of his victory making headlines at home.