But the Rio Games were far from an unqualified success, either. Its legacy is only beginning to form with the Olympic flame now extinguished. And, as with any athletic competition, there are winners and losers on and off the field.
The sun had long set on the Empire by 1996, when Team GB collected a desultory 15 medals (with just one gold), good for 36th place in the standings
. But thanks to a renewed emphasis on sports -- funded by the country's national lottery -- and buoyed by the success of the 2012 London Games, the British are once again an Olympic superpower.
Team GB left Rio with 67 medals
-- two more than it earned on home soil four years ago -- and bested China for second place with 27 golds. And its haul came from 19 different sports, most notably Mo Farah's second consecutive double-gold in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races
, six golds in cycling
and wins by Andy Murray and Justin Rose in men's tennis and golf, respectively. Britain has displaced Russia and Germany as the top Olympic nation in Europe and seems poised to stay on the top of that perch for a while.
Ryan Lochte. Once best known as Michael Phelps' foil with a bit of an eccentric streak, Lochte had a disappointing Olympics, failing to win an individual medal when he fizzled late in his duel against Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley. Then things really went south for him.
Lochte became possibly the biggest Olympics story when his tale of being the victim of a robbery mushroomed into an international incident and a diplomatic embarrassment. With his image now badly tarnished, he squandered potentially millions in endorsement money. Worse yet, his "Ugly American" shenanigans could hurt the US as it bids to host the 2024 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Neymar. If there was one medal all Brazilians craved before the Games, it would surely have been the gold in men's soccer. Two years ago, as the FIFA World Cup host, the Selecao were humiliated in front of their home fans in an epic 7-1 drubbing by eventual champion Germany. Though Olympic soccer is only a glorified under-23 tournament (with three over-age exemptions), Brazil was looking for redemption in its national sport any way it could get it.
And it was Neymar -- the Brazilian superstar who missed the Germany debacle in 2014 -- who delivered in front of a delirious crowd at the historic Maracana in the gold medal match against the same German nemesis (forget the fact that none of the German players appeared in the 2014 game
). Neymar scored Brazil's lone goal in regulation on a spectacular free-kick, and then finished it off with the winning kick in the penalty shootout. It is inarguable that Neymar is now the most beloved Brazilian since Pele was in his heyday.
Usain Bolt / Michael Phelps. It's hard to mention one without the other, as they both laid legitimate claims to be the greatest Olympian of all time in (most likely) their final Games. Both lived up to the considerable pre-Olympics hype and delivered under the hottest of global spotlights with class and aplomb.
Phelps swam in his fifth Olympics and finished with 28 medals overall, including 23 golds, extending his record totals with five golds and a silver in Rio. Bolt retained his title as the World's Fastest Man for the third straight Olympiad, winning triple golds in the 100- and 200-meter races and the 4 x 100 relay just as he did in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. If both truly ended their respective careers in Rio, we may never see the likes of them again.
The people of Rio. While the nightmarish scenarios envisioned before the Games didn't occur, Rio likely did not come off as a future tourist destination for many viewers as other previous Olympics host cities did. What's worse is that once the closing ceremony ended Sunday night, the residents of Rio will be left holding the bag.
Because of cost overruns
, Rio needed the Brazilian government to provide nearly $1 billion in bailout funds
on the eve of the Games. Most of the venues built for the Olympics will have no future uses except as white elephants. The much-publicized new subway line actually will not serve the majority of the city, but one affluent neighborhood. Some estimate that the cost of hosting the Games may top $20 billion
, a sum that an almost bankrupt city in a country deep in recession can ill afford.
Golf. In its first Olympics appearance in more than a century, the sport's re-inclusion was highly questioned just before the Games. Many top players used security and health issues to bail out, and there was serious concern that golf could be booted out of the Games again after Tokyo 2020.
But as it turned out, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy missed Olympic golf more than the other way around. The Gil Hanse-designed course
proved to be a fair test and produced worthy champions. Major winners Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson dueled to the final hole to decide the men's event, while future Hall of Famer Inbee Park romped to the women's gold
, holding off World No. 1 Lydia Ko. It didn't hurt that golf's six medals were won by six different countries -- Great Britain, Sweden, United States, South Korea, New Zealand and China, spanning much of the globe.
Despite the network's crowing about its record online streaming viewership numbers, the stark reality is that its television coverage -- which accounted for an estimated 98% of its audience
-- completely flopped. Even though Rio's time-zone proximity (only one hour ahead of the US Eastern Time Zone) made it ideal for the Games to be carried live to the American viewers, NBC stuck to its tired and outdated tape-delayed and packaged coverage during prime time.
The result has been massive TV viewer defection, as the Peacock Network saw its ratings plunge, especially among the 18-49 key demographic. All of NBC's prime-time coverage on the West Coast was tape-delayed, including both opening and closing ceremonies, and it's of little surprise that's where the network had its most massive viewer defection.
There was no doubt that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was already under siege before the Rio Games. Few cities wanted to host the Olympics anymore -- only Beijing and Kazakhstan's Almaty ended up bidding on the 2022 Winter Games after Oslo dropped out, citing the staggering cost
Things didn't get better in Rio. There were swaths of empty seats in many venues as interest in the Games seemed generally down. A prominent IOC executive was arrested
by Brazilian authorities over allegations of scalping tickets. But the worst blemish might have been the IOC's cowardly decision not to issue a blanket ban on Russia
after its rampant doping regime was exposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency. To save his tottering organization, IOC boss Thomas Bach should really consider serious reform instead of paying it mere lip service.