Smallwood: Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Neymar, Jr.

Smallwood panel Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Neymar, Jr.
Clockwise from top: Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Neymar, Jr. All were stars in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

After the spectacular competition that featured 34 world records being set, then-International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch made his catchphrase proclamation that the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney were “the best Games ever” and then the phrase was retired.

With all of the external issues surrounding the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it would have been silly for IOC chief Thomas Bach to have brought Samaranch’s saying back when the games closed on Sunday but calling them a “marvelous Olympics” was appropriate.

The Olympics, like all sports, exist to provide a momentary escape from the stress of the real world — even if the massive resources it takes to operate the games often increase issues for the host city.

We watch to see the greatest athletes in the world in their respective sports compete at the highest level on the biggest stage.

Obviously, after 306 events in 28 sports over 2 weeks, it is a subjective exercise to pick out your Top 3 stories, but here are mine:

The last hurrahs

If American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt stick to their plans, Rio was the final Olympics for two of the greatest athletes in their respective sports.

Phelps, 31, captured six medals in Brazil to bring his career Olympic total to a staggering 28 medals, including 23 gold.

Bolt, who turned 30 Sunday, cemented his legacy as the fastest human in history by winning gold in the 100 meters, 200 and 4x100 relay for the third consecutive Olympics.

From age 21 to 29, the “Triple-Triple” by Bolt, who holds the world record in the 100 and 200, is a feat that will likely never be equaled.

The coronation

 Simone Biles already had 10 world championship gold medals and was the first woman to win three straight all-around world titles, but in gymnastics legends are made at the Olympics.

Prognosticators expected Biles, 19, to dominate and she did not disappoint by becoming the first American and fifth woman to win four gold medals at a single Olympics.

Surviving the cauldron

No team faced more pressure in Rio than the soccer team from Brazil, and no single athlete was under more scrutiny than its captain — Neymar Jr.

Soccer is the national passion in Brazil, often reaching psychotic fanaticism.

The nation had not yet recovered from being smashed by Germany, 7-1, in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup that it hosted.

Brazilians expected the Olympic team to provide some measure of redemption. The gold medal in soccer was the only one that Brazilians unequivocally demanded.

Neymar Jr. was required to deliver the only major international soccer tournament Brazil, in its storied history, had never won: the Olympics.

The Brazilian players were jeered by the home fans as they played to scoreless draws in their first two matches of group play.

With tensions mounting, they recovered to advance to the gold-medal match against Germany — the nation that had humiliated Brazil two years earlier.

At a packed Maracanã Stadium, the national cathedral of football, Neymar Jr. delivered the winning kick as Brazil defeated Germany, 5-4, in a penalty-kick shootout.

Neymar Jr.’s tears of joy were the perfect expression of the burden of carrying the weight of a nation being lifted off one man's shoulders.