#Rio2016: Social media crowns its own winners | Follow the Hashtag | DW | 22.08.2016
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Follow the Hashtag

#Rio2016: Social media crowns its own winners

Rio 2016 is over, and though Phelps and Lochte grabbed medals or headlines, social media users cheered a more myriad group of athletes and events.

After two weeks of great sporting achievements and equally grandiose scandals, the Rio 2016 games have come to an end. Athletes like US swimmer Michael Phelps, gymnast Simone Biles and Jamaica's Usain Bolt grabbed both medals and applause, but they were far from the only winners in the Olympic contest taking place online.

China's taboo-breaking swimmer

One of the winners is Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui. Aside from becoming an instant internet sensation with her upbeat and hilarious television appearances, she gained praise for starting an important conversation.

Speaking to China's state broadcaster CCTV, Fu commented on a difficult performance by saying she'd struggled due to her period. In doing so, she broke a strong, deep-seated taboo in Chinese society and elsewhere.

Users on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, saluted Fu’s honesty and matter-of-fact approach, with one writing, "Women have been shamed about puberty, periods, dating, having sex, domestic violence, getting divorced … I hope this malice will disappear in a more equal society."

Another, called Aventerdor, added, "She is probably the first woman admitting that she has period in front of millions of people. I admire her!"

While some were critical of the attention Fu’s remarks got on international media, menstruation is undeniably complicated to publicly discuss in China - so much so that users rarely explicitly mention "periods" on Chinese social media, using the evocative euphemism of "official holiday" ("例假") instead.

Refugee athletes

In a display of solidarity with millions of people forced to leave their homes to flee war zones, whether in Syria or elsewhere, the International Olympic Committee included a ten-member refugee team competing under the Olympic flag.

And, though none of them clinched any medals, their participation was widely saluted online as a sign of hope for refugees around the world.

Among them, Congolese judoka Popole Misenga generated enthusiasm when he won his first match in the 90-kg event. This later earned him the right to bear to the flag for the refugee team at the closing ceremony.

Iran’s first female medalist

Iran Taekwando champion Kimia Alizadeh made headlines worldwide by becoming the first-ever Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal by clinching bronze in the 57-kg event.

On its own, such an achievement would have been worthy of celebration, but Alizadeh’s supporters also used her victory to highlight gender inequality in Iran, where women are not allowed to enter stadiums during several male sporting events.

Fair Play

In ancient Greece, the Olympics were a time of truce among the often-warring Greek city states, and this spirit is still valued in the modern Games.

Despite moments of tension, such as an Egyptian athlete’s refusal to shake an Israeli rival’s hand, cross-cultural bridge-building was hailed throughout the games.

Very early on, a selfie taken by South Korean Gymnast Lee Eun-Ju posing next to her rival from North Korea, Hong Un Jong, proved one of the defining pictures of the Games and was widely shared online.

Sportsmanship was also honored online when US runner Abbey D’Agostino tore her ligaments after colliding with New Zealander Nikki Hamblin. The latter’s efforts to help D'Agostino finish the race won the pair the Coubertin Medal for sportsmanship, an honorary award handed out by the IOC to those who uphold the Olympic spirit.

Rio itself, and Tokyo 2020

Despite the political and economic crises rocking Brazil, worries over green swimming pools, infrastructure safety or concerns about the Zika virus, Rio 2016 proved a memorable Olympic batch for many social media users.

In a Twitter poll conducted by DW, a solid majority said they would hold on to the good memories from these Olympics:

Athletes themselves saluted Brazil’s organization, like the British swimmer Aimee Willmott or US volleyball player Rachael Adams.

And as numerous social media users expressed sadness during the Closing Ceremony, they quickly found reason to cheer again when Rio handed the Olympic baton to Tokyo, where the 2020 games will be held.

The Japanese organizing committee’s teaser video featured a memorable cameo by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed as Super Mario immediately went viral - a sign that, though it will have big shoes to fill, Tokyo is definitely up for the challenge.

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