Olympics: Singapore and 8 other countries that are celebrating their first ever gold medal

Joseph Schooling singing the national anthem on the podium after winning the men's 100m butterfly final.
Joseph Schooling singing the national anthem on the podium after winning the men's 100m butterfly final. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Going into the Rio Games, 75 countries were looking for their maiden Olympic medal and even more seeking a first gold.

Singapore were one of 47 National Olympic Committees that had been to the podium, but never the top step. That changed when Joseph Schooling, 21, won 100m butterfly gold in an Olympic record time of 50.39 seconds on Aug 12.

His grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg was Singapore's first Olympic representative at the 1948 London Games.

Sixty-eight years later, Majulah Singapura was played at the Games' medal ceremony for the first time.

It was a historic moment that eight other countries can relate to. Bahrain, Fiji, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Tajikistan and Vietnam all heard their national anthems in venues across Rio at these Games.

The Straits Times looks at their history-makers.

1) Bahrain

Hero: Ruth Jebet, 19 (Athletics, 3,000m steeplechase)

Population: 1.4 million

Previous Olympic best: Bronze (2012)

Years without gold: 32


Ruth Jebet took the steeplechase gold at the Rio Olympics with the second-fastest 3,000m steeplechase time in history. PHOTO: REUTERS

It took just three years for Jebet to repay Bahrain's faith. She was born in Kenya but started representing her adopted country when she was 16.

On Aug 15, she ran the second-fastest 3,000m steeplechase time in history, clocking 8min 59.75sec. She was just 0.94sec over Russian Gulnara Samitova-Galkina's world record of 8:58.16.

2) Fiji

Heroes: Men's rugby sevens team

Population: 900,000

Previous Olympic best: Nil

Years without a medal: 60


Fiji's men's rugby sevens team won the country's first medal in 60 years. PHOTO: AFP

Prior to these Games, only two Fijians have ever qualified for the Olympics - runner Makelesi Bulikiobo and javelin thrower Leslie Copeland. Their other Olympians accepted wildcards.

But as rugby returned to the Rio Olympics after 92 years, Fiji men's sevens team did not just earn their place in Brazil, they were the No. 1 seeds.

The back-to-back world series champions lived up to their top billing, outclassing Great Britain 43-7 in the final on Aug 11.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama declared a public holiday on Aug 22 to mark the occasion.

3) Ivory Coast

Hero: Cheick Sallah Cisse, 22 (Taekwondo, men's 80kg)

Population: 20.6 million

Previous Olympic best: Silver (1984)

Years without gold: 52


Cheikh Sallah Cisse of Ivory Coast celebrates after winning his country's first Olympic gold in the men's 80kg taekwando. PHOTO: REUTERS  

With two seconds remaining in the men's 80kg final on Aug 19, the African country appeared to be set for their first Olympic silver since runner Gabriel Tiacoh's 400m medal 32 years ago.

But Cisse's reverse turning kick in the dying moments earned him four points, an 8-6 victory over Great Britain's Lutalo Muhammad, and a first gold for Ivory Coast.

4) Jordan

Hero: Ahmad Abughaush, 20 (Taekwondo, men's featherweight 68kg)

Population: 9.5 million

Previous Olympic best: Nil

Years without a medal: 36


Ahmad Abughaush of Jordan (in red) became the first Arab to win a taekwondo medal. PHOTO: EPA

Abughaush was seeded 10th but made a mockery of his status as an outsider for the title, beating Russian Alexey Denisenko 10-6 in the final on Aug 18.

To get to the gold medal match, the university student defeated two-time world champion Lee Dae Hoon of South Korea in the quarter-finals and defending champion Joel Bonilla Gonzalez of Spain in the semi-finals.

Abughaus, who picked up the ancient Korean combat sport at the age of six, is the first Arab to win a taekwondo medal.

5) Kosovo

Hero: Majlinda Kelmendi, 25 (Judo, women's 52kg)

Population: 1.8 million

Previous Olympic best: Nil

Years without a medal: 0


Kosovo's judoka Majlinda Kelmendi shows her gold medal to supporters during a welcoming ceremony in Pristina on August 14. PHOTO: AFP 

The Balkan country became independent in 2008 and were recognised as a sovereign state by the International Olympics Committee two years ago.

In the first Games that Kosovo attended under their own flag, Kelmendi ensured that flag would be raised at the Carioca Arena 2 on Aug 7.

The top-ranked judoka defeated Italy's Odette Giuffrida by yuko in the women's 52kg final.

Thousands lined the streets of Pristina - Kosovo's capital - to give her a hero's welcome on Aug 14 as she waved to them from an open bus. Celebrations continued in Peja, the two-time world champion's hometown.

6) Puerto Rico

Hero: Monica Puig, 22 (Tennis, women's singles)

Population: 3.7 million

Previous Olympic best: Silver (1984 and 2012)

Years without gold: 68


Puerto Rico's Monica Puig reacts after winning her women's singles final tennis match against Germany's Angelique Kerber. PHOTO: AFP

Ranked 34th in the world in Rio, Puig has never gone past the fourth round of a grand slam tournament. She had just one Women's Tennis Association singles title to her name as she headed into her Olympic debut.

 

But she upset the odds to become the first unseeded woman to win the singles title since tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988.

Her victory over Major champion Angelique Kerber of Germany in the final on Aug 13 provided Puerto Ricans much cheer at a time of economic crisis.

"This is for Puerto Rico. This is definitely for them," Puig said. "They're going through some tough times right now, and they needed this."

7) Tajikistan

Hero: Dilshod Nazarov, 34 (Athletics, men's hammer throw)

Population: 8.8 million

Previous Olympic best: Silver (2008)

Years without gold: 20 years


Dilshod Nazarov of Tajikistan celebrates after an attempt in the men's hammer throw final. PHOTO: EPA 

Tajikistan has sent athletes to six Summer Games since it gained independence in 1991 from the USSR. Nazarov has been to four of them.

On Aug 19, he made his experience count, heaving a best of 78.68m to finish ahead of Belarus' two-time world champion Ivan Tsikhan (77.79m). Poland's Wojciech Nowicki took bronze (77.73m).

"The reaction back home is going to be hard to imagine," said Nazarov, a three-time Asian Games champion and a silver medallist at the world championships last year. "I've got hundreds, maybe thousands of 'likes' on my Facebook account, so I think the country were behind me tonight."

8) Vietnam

Hero: Hoang Xuan Vinh, 41 (Shooting, men's 10m air pistol)

Population: 94 million

Previous Olympic best: Silver (2000 and 2008)

Years without gold: 64


Hoang Xuan Vinh (centre), Vietnamese Olympic gold medalist in the men's 10m air pistol event, is greeted by the media as he arrives in Vietnam. PHOTO: EPA 

Vinh's near-perfect final shot in the men's 10m air pistol event gave Vietnam a dream start to the Rio Games. On the opening day of competition on Aug 6, the military colonel fired a 10.7 with his last effort, to beat Brazil's Felipe Almeida Wu by 0.4.

Four days later, Vinh won silver in the 50m pistol competition, making him the first Vietnamese athlete to earn two Olympic medals.

On Aug 16, he was awarded the First-class Labour Medal by President Tran Dai Quang at a ceremony held in Hanoi.