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Here are the Six Countries that Made their Own History at the Tokyo Olympics


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Between the year-late start date, the empty arenas, the new sports added, and the slew of world records being broken right and left, the Tokyo Olympics has certainly been one to remember. For several countries and their astounding athletes, this year’s Olympics have even made history—their history in particular. Before Tokyo, 71 of the countries currently participating in the Games had never won a single Olympic medal. This year, as the Games are coming to a close, three countries are leaving Tokyo with their first-ever gold medals—and, even more impressive, three are coming home with their country’s first medal ever.

Even with over 60 years of Olympics under their belt, the tiny country of San Marino had yet to nail down a medal. The nation is one of the smallest in the world, boasting a population just shy of 34,000, making them a clear underdog in many of the competitions.

Whether it’s one out of a million or one out of a thousand, though, it only takes a single outstanding individual to make history. For San Marino, this came in the form of Alessandra Perilli, a trap shooter who just barely missed out on a podium placement nine years ago in London. This year, though, Perilli finished a strong third in the women’s trap shooting final, finally gaining her country their first-ever medal and making San Marino the smallest country to ever stand atop an Olympic podium.

Trap shooter Alessandra Perilli won San Marino’s first Olympic medal. Photo thanks to Italy24News.

San Marino didn’t stop there, though—as if one record-breaking medal wasn’t enough, Gian Marco Berti went on to place second in the mixed trap team final, earning their first Olympic silver. Then, four days later, wrestler Myles Amine narrowly won yet another bronze medal in the men’s freestyle 86kg class finals.

Though they’ve been participating largely in the background for 61 years now, it took the athletes of San Marino less than two weeks to bring home 3 Olympic medals, proving themselves as competitors to be reckoned with in future competitions.

Burkina Faso is the second country to leave Tokyo with their first-ever Olympic medal, coming via the country’s flagbearer in the Opening Ceremonies, Hugues Fabrice Zango. The West African country has participated in the games since 1988, but it wasn’t until Zango just barely beat out American Will Claye for third in the triple jump event that the nation had ever made it to the podium.

The momentous win earned Zango both a bronze medal and congratulations from the president of Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Kabore: “I have just followed the magnificent performance of our great champion from start to finish,” Kabore wrote on Twitter. “Thank you Hugues for this bronze medal. We are all proud of you.”

Hugues Fabrice Zango won Burkina Faso a bronze medal in the triple jump. Photo thanks to the Olympics website.

Perhaps most notable, though, is the third country to win their first-ever Olympic medal: Turkmenistan. The Central Asian country made its debut in the Olympics in 1996, but it wasn’t until Polina Guryeva made her own debut this year that anyone has really noticed the country at all. The 21-year-old weightlifter certainly stood out, though, beating out more experienced competitors such as Maria Alexandra Escobar Guerrero (ECU) and Andoh Mikiki (JPN) in the women’s 59kg finals. According to the official Tokyo Olympics website, Guryeva began her athletic career as a gymnast but switched to weightlifting in 2011, making her second-place score in the Olympics even more impressive.

“It’s the first medal, and it’s me who won it,” Guryeva said at the Tokyo International Forum. “I think I’ve made myself a name in the history of Turkmenistan… I’m so shocked.”

The three countries to win their first-ever Olympic gold medals—to hear, for the first time, their national anthems playing as they stood on the podium—are the Philippines with weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, Qatar with weightlifter Fares Ibrahim Elbakh (and a second gold with Mutaz Essa Barshim tying for first in the men’s high jump!), and Bermuda with triathlete Flora Duffy.

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