8 men who’ve inspired us on their Olympic journey

These Olympians are championing the field, and our hearts, with their winning times, deeds, and attitudes.

Cameron Spencer | Staff | Getty Images, Tom Szczerbowski  | Stringer |Getty Images, Clive Brunskill  |  Staff | Getty Images

At just over half-way through the Rio Summer Olympics 2016 we have been spoiled with so many incredible stories of athletes surpassing themselves. And perhaps their achievements have inspired you to hit the pool, or put on our sneakers, to try and surpass our own ambitions—even if it means a simple jog to the end of the road! But the hopes and pressure these sportsmen and women have put on themselves have been huge right from the moment they dreamed of winning that elusive Gold medal.

Here at For Her, we’ve been paying a lot of attention in particular to our female heroes in Rio, from Simone Biles and Aly Raisman to an equestrian who put her horse before her medals. So we wanted to give a nod to the men, too, especially the ones who are breaking records and bursting hearts with their sportsmanship.

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt of Jamaica after winning the Men’s 100m final on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14

Usain Bolt of Jamaica after winning the Men’s 100m final on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14. Pascal Le Segretain | Getty Images

For example, the impressive Jamaican, Usain Bolt, had spectators on their feet as he raced to victory on Sunday to win gold in the 100m sprint in 9.81 seconds, therefore becoming the first athlete to win the prestigious event three times in a row … and although he says he will be hanging up his spikes at the end of 2017 he’s still attempting to prove that lightening can strike a few more times in Rio: he’ll also compete in the 200m and 4 x 100m relay.

Andy Murray

Andy Murray of Great Britain during the Men’s Singles Final against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Andy Murray of Great Britain during the Men’s Singles Final against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Clive Brunskill | Getty Images

England’s Andy Murray (who recently became a father) took 4 hours to defeat Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro and gained a second Olympic gold medal (a record for team Great Britain in tennis), just five weeks after his resounding championship victory at the Wimbledon Championships in England.

There are many more mighty men who’ve impressed us, not just for their ability to perform in an international arena and sometimes pick up a gold medal—although that is a staggering achievement in itself—but their sportsmanship and attitude throughout the Games which have shown them to be the true Olympic heroes and all around gentlemen we hold them up to be.

Mo Farrah

Mo Farrah at the Olympic Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Mo Farrah at the Olympic Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Paul Gilham |Staff | Getty Images

Long-distance runner, and holder of two Olympic golds, Great Britain’s Mo Farrah, taught us all a very valuable lesson during his 10,000m run when he tripped with over 16 laps to go: when you fall you get right back up. “I got up quickly. I thought about my family. It made me emotional. I thought ‘get through, get through’. I believed in myself.” the BBC reports Farrah as saying after his race.

Amazingly, this inner-strength saw him sprint to victory to win his third gold. Despite his talent for endurance running, what we really admire is his focus on his family and legacy, “I’ve won an Olympic gold for three of my children,” he said. “Now I’d like to win the 5,000m gold for my little boy [my fourth].” So now we will have to wait for the 5,000m race on Wednesday to see if he can fulfill this loving ambition.

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps of USA competes in the Men’s 200m Butterfly semi-finals on day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Michael Phelps of USA competes in the Men’s 200m Butterfly semi-finals on day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Jean Catuffe | Getty Images

Having fought some very personal demons in a very public manner, Phelps is a first-class choice for his prowess in the pool and his ever-increasing collection of Olympic medals. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, started his Olympic career at the tender age of 15 during the Summer Olympics in Sydney, 2000. Although he didn’t manage to gain a medal while in Australia, he’s dominated in every subsequent Olympic Games he’s participated in (four!), trumping the competition, and smashing personal, Olympic, and world records.

Entering the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro as flagbearer for Team USA, we were once again struck by his impressive stature of 6’4″ and his look of determination. Although this was his last Olympics (having confirmed his retirement with NBC’s Matt Lauer on Monday), it was clear from his first gold-medal race that he was going to go out with a splash … a pretty big splash!

Daring kids to dream—that’s the only reason why I’m here.”

His overall tally of 28 medals, 23 being gold, is a testament to his dedication and commitment to being the very best he can be. But the message he is trying to relay to his young audience is even more impressive: “Daring kids to dream—that’s the only reason why I’m here,” Phelps said in Time. “I was a little kid with a dream, which turned into a couple of medals and a pretty good couple years of swimming. I had a blast.”

And what is truly beautiful is that one of these kids who had that very same dream, Singaporean Joseph Schooling, actually met his Olympic idol at the age of 14 and then went on to beat him in the 100m Butterfly last Friday, and in doing so won the tiny country’s first ever gold medal. It seems like Phelps’ dream has come full-circle as, he passed down his personal Olympic torch to the 21-year-old Schooling with grace and humility—and maybe a bit of pleasure that he lost out to one of his fans.

Swimming achievements aside, we’re also awarding him a medal for cutest dad of the Olympics with the help of his three-month-old son Boomer. The little peck he gave his baby at the end of a race had us all cheering. What a lucky little guy Boomer is to have his father give up his career to concentrate on his young family.

Samir Aït Saïd

France’s Samir Aït Saïd competes in the Men’s Rings event of the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships 2016

France’s Samir Aït Saïd competes in the Men’s Rings event of the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships 2016. Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

Aït Saïd’s story is one more of heartache than Olympic gold. The French gymnast missed out on the London Olympics in 2012 due to an untimely injury three months before the major event. Devastated Aït Saïd was determined to get back on the pommel horse, so to speak. Performing in numerous championships since, he picked up a medal in the 2013 European Championships in Moscow, where he won gold on the rings, and then he won silver and bronze in the same discipline in the following European Championships. Not quite the success story he’d hoped for but he was training hard to make a comeback in Brazil.

I’m still alive, I have my friends, my parents are here with me … and I’ll be in Tokyo in 2020.”

Sadly, in the qualifying rounds Aït Saïd sustained a nasty break to his tibia and fibula after a bad landing from the vault. His story shows the real fragility of these athletes; despite grueling training schedules and healthy eating, sometimes things go wrong. But what really makes a champion is how an individual deals with pain, injury and the disappointment of missing out on a medal.

Just 48 hours after surgery on his leg Aït Saïd declared to the French sporting news publication L’Equipe:

“It was my destiny, that’s the way it is,” as reported in the Guardian “There are worse things in life. I’m in good health, that’s the main thing. You have to put it in context. You know, people died in the Paris terrorist attacks, some people lost their children. I’ve missed out on the chance to make the Olympic final, that’s all. I’m still alive, I have my friends, my parents are here with me … And I’ll be in Tokyo in 2020. I give you my word. I’ll go there—and I’ll come back with a medal.”

Paul George

Paul George #13 of the United States during an exhibition game against Argentina in Las Vegas

Paul George #13 of the United States during an exhibition game against Argentina in Las Vegas. The U.S. won 111-74. Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Team USA basketball player, Paul George, gets a big thumbs up for thinking of others during a time when a lot of athletes are inwardly focused on obtaining the dream gold.

George suffered a similar injury to Aït Saïd in 2014, missing most of the 2014–2015 season, and then came back with a bounce to re-take his place as an All-Star in 2016.

George offered his support to the French gymnast, ““I feel for you brother,” George tweeted on Saturday. “You’ll be in my prayers! You’ll come back stronger than ever from this. Trust me I know! #GodBlessSamir” Let’s hope prayers, George’s support, and the support of many others help give Aït Saïd the encouragement he needs to face some difficult months ahead and fulfill his ambition of a medal in the next Olympics.

Pita Taufatofua

Tonga’s flagbearer Pita Nikolas Taufatofua leads his delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Tonga’s flagbearer Pita Nikolas Taufatofua leads his delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Olivier Morin | AFP | Getty Images

This might not be a name that you’re familiar with (or can even pronounce!) but this Tongan taekwondo athlete represented his country as flagbearer during the opening ceremony. He is not really known for his past sporting abilities, although he has gained renown in the twittersphere for his opening ceremony attire: a traditional Tongan ta’ovala—a decorated piece of material—a waist ornament, and what seemed to be layers (upon layers) of coconut oil. Whilst many ladies were impressed by his obvious physical attributes, what we really appreciated were his reasons behind his choice of costume.

Taufatofua explained to Today that,for us it was important to get our culture out to the world … I said to them I want to march in what our ancestors wore 200 years ago and this is what it was.

So Taufatofua stepped into the stadium in front of millions of viewers worldwide and put the Kingdom of Tonga, a Polynesian island in the Pacific Ocean, on the map. The athlete has yet to compete in the Games, with his appearance scheduled for Saturday. And despite all this adulation, Takitoa Taumoepeau, Secretary General of Tonga’s National Olympic Committee, says that the flagbearer is “very humble, very down to earth. He’s a great guy.” Being as handsome as he is it is not surprising the athlete is a part-time model. However, the fact that this single devout Christian also helps homeless kids through the Brisbane Youth Service— volunteering his time, fundraising, and teaching taekwondo—has truly made our hearts melt.

Fijian Rugby Sevens Team

Fiji’s players pray after winning the Men’s Rugby Sevens gold medal match between Fiji and Britain on August 11

Fiji’s players pray after winning the Men’s Rugby Sevens gold medal match between Fiji and Britain on August 11. Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images

The excitement of Team Fiji and its spectators is palpable this week, not just for the country’s first-ever gold, but for bringing some publicity to the island that isn’t just about honeymoon tourism. According to Rodger Sherman at SB Nation, not all Fijians have access to the most simple of necessities, like clean water. The economy is poor and lots of inhabitants are forced to emigrate to nearby Australia or New Zealand for a better quality of life. The Games and the astonishing result these men labored for has brought some light relief and a sense of joy to these islanders. Plus, the humility shown in their win is something to be noted: on receiving their medals from England’s Princess Anne, the members of the team knelt and clapped three times, to show respect and admiration.

Their story is a reminder of what the Olympics is truly about, as nations rich and poor gather, it is not about the huge sponsorship deals, it is about respect, of nations joining together over a love of sport.

Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner

Cerith Gardiner was born in London and has been living in Paris for 14 years. She spends her time working as an English consultant, acting as taxi driver to her four children, and wondering if she’ll ever be as stylish as the French.

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