From the dizzying gymnastics heights of African-American Simone Biles to Indian wrestler Sakshi Malik and Brazilian golden girl Rafaela Silva in judo — Rio proved a groundbreaking Games for women.
Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps had already arrived in Rio as global superstars of men’s track and field and swimming.
But newcomer Biles’s amazing acrobatic skills also won star billing with her record-equalling four women’s gold and a bronze at her first Games.
The 19-year-old became the second African-American after Gabby Douglas in 2012 to win the all-around title, ending her Olympics in the spotlight by carrying the United States flag at the closing ceremony.
“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” the Texan had said. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Despite the shining success of Biles, a gender gap remains with 169 events for men staged in Rio compared to 137 for women.
Nevertheless, the Games still had many firsts with judoka Majlinda Kelmendi winning Kosovo a gold at its maiden Games, as Monica Puig gave Puerto Rico tennis gold.
“I just proved that even after we survived a war, if they (kids in Kosovo) want something they can have it,” said Kelmendi.
Silva, 24, who grew up in Rio’s violent, poverty stricken ‘City of God’ slum, won special mention from IOC president Thomas Bach as the Games drew to a close.
“Rising from the favela to become Olympic champion, when you look at her childhood and what she had to overcome, she’s an inspiration across the world,” Bach said.
Malik also told how she had to overcome prejudice to become India’s first medallist with freestyle wrestling bronze.
The 23-year-old from Rohtak, 76km northwest of New Dehli, said her parents had been criticised by local people when she started wrestling.
“I want to say that girls can also do a lot if you give them confidence,” said Malik, who carried the Indian flag at the closing ceremony.