Olympics: Rugby, golf eye halo effect
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Rugby and golf thrived on their return to the Olympics after a century away, but will soon face new challengers in the battle to retain a place beyond the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Baseball/softball, karate, sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding will all be included in Japan and will be anxious to make a good impression to get a possible place among the so-called "core sports" with access to Olympic riches.
There is no doubt that rugby and golf raised the bar, despite a host of male golf stars staying away. Both have places assured for 2020 but the beauty contest starts to keep that place and Olympic leaders will be looking closely at the new sports that bring in the young crowd.
Rugby's last Olympic incarnation was as a men's 15-a-side tournament in 1924 won by the United States. The high-octane abbreviated rugby sevens on offer this time did not disappoint.
The 10-leg Sevens World Series is pulling in increasing crowds.
Australia won the women's contest at the 15,000-capacity Deodoro Stadium and home interest was captured as the Brazilian women battled to finish ninth of the 12 teams, to guarantee a spot on next season's world series.
Fiji won their first medal of any colour when they smashed Britain in the men's final, delivering one of the most complete displays of sevens rugby ever seen in front of a raucous, sell-out crowd.
The tournament also featured the biggest upset in sevens history as Japan defeated world champions New Zealand.
The teams "showcased the very best of our sport and its character-building values, demonstrating why we believe it is a perfect fit for the Olympic Games," said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont.
- Olympic 'game-changer' -Beaumont said rugby's inclusion in the Olympics had been a "game-changer".
"Since being voted back on to the programme in 2009, we have seen participation double to 7.73 million and we are determined to maximise the Rio 2016 halo effect," the former England skipper said.
Golf, making its Olympic return after a 112-year absence, was hit by the withdrawals of more than 20 top players including Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and top-ranked Jason Day.
While the top four might have been absent, world number five Henrik Stenson took silver, with world number 12 Justin Rose crowned Olympic champion.
McIlroy said last month that he didn't rank golf as a "real" Olympic sport. But Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, said the Olympics had "resonated with a wider audience, far wider than the US Open victory did. It is not just golf fans. It's sports fans as a whole."
Rose said the missing golfers would have to take note.
"It's not going to sit well with them. It's an opportunity that comes around so rarely. Hopefully they are going to take the opportunity in 2020."
International Golf Federation president Peter Dawson said an estimated 10,000 people watched the men's final round and predicted more would come out in Brazil.
"What they have witnessed on television will make them realise they have missed out on a great event."
The women's competition featured all the top players.
South Korea's Park In-Bee, a seven-time major winner, beat world number one Lydia Ko of New Zealand for gold.
"I have won majors but I haven't won a gold medal so this feels very, very special. To hear our national anthem being played over the golf course was just amazing," she said of the Olympic experience.
Surfing, skateboarding and karate enter the fray promising a young following against rugby and golf's richer and mainly middle-aged followers.
International Surfing Association president Fernando Aguerre said it had taken "decades of hard work" to persuade the International Olympic Committee grandees.
"We are already seeing increased popularity of the sport across the world and the Olympic Games will provide an incredible platform," he said.
"With its unique and modern blend of sport performance, style and youth culture, surfing will help deliver something special to the Games," he said.?
Skateboarding is promising the same edgy appeal that tempts the IOC.
Some young skateboarders have expressed fears that being in the mainstream Olympics will take away the sport's cool cache.
But Sochi Winter Olympics snowboarding champion Yuri Podladtchikov is among those tempted to try the new sport in Tokyo.
None of the sports can afford to be off-balance. The IOC has warned that it will consider whether top stars take part in assessing who gets a place after 2020.
That was a message to golf. It should also be noted by baseball whose major league stars in the United States have not committed to appearing in Tokyo.