Saturday, 12 November 2016

The Hype and Hyperbole of Demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 Notes

Let me say at the outset that I welcome the demonetisation move but do not support:
·      the shock and awe approach that has caused hardships to a vast majority of citizens for the limited benefit this may deliver (more about this later); and
·    the hype and hyperbole that this action will deliver a death blow to corruption and black money, which it certainly will not, as the problem of corruption and unaccounted wealth is much bigger and is not limited to hoarding of cash, which if anything is less than 5% of total black money.
Hence, the claims by the Government that this will end the menace of black money and corruption are simply outlandish.  Also, the simultaneous introduction of Rs 2,000 note undermines their claim and it simply does not fit the storyline of an attack on black money and corruption. 
Now, let's look at the extent of the possible real benefits of this move. 
As noted above, to say that this will deliver a death knell to corruption and black money is a massive overstretch and a great exaggeration, and I will come to that in a bit. But those who are going on an overdrive about this being an unprecedented move of epic proportions and the next best thing since sliced bread, need to read up a bit of history.  This has happened in the past in India in 1978 and again to a limited extent in 2005 when older notes were recalled but in a more orderly and sensible manner.  This has also been tried in many other countries and what these experiences tell us is that demonetisation on its own has a very limited effect for a short while unless backed with several other measures of surveillance.  
This is simply because of the fact that significant amount of black money is held via overseas bank accounts or in offshore real assets through a web of shell companies, a fact acknowledged earlier by the ruling party prior to general elections (Kaala dhan videshi bankon mein jama hai!). However, equally it’s undeniable that some portion of it is also held domestically but bulk of this is in the form of real estate, financial assets through trusts, Gold and some amount of it in cash.  And it's the last part of this that demonetisation will address and deliver some benefit. This was also the political position of the ruling party back in 2005 when they protested against a move by the previous Government to recall higher denomination notes. So, what are the real benefits of this move?

Let’s look at some of the specifics around expected benefits of this demonetisation and the ways in which this may have an impact:
1.     For starters, it will invalidate the fake notes being pumped by some of our neighbours through Nepal and other porous borders;
2.       It will bring more cash into the banking system, as even legitimately held cash with people will find its way into the banks, at least for some time (until the cash withdrawal limits are increased);
3.   It will bring some amount of unaccounted cash which may either flow back into the banks where people simply decide to account for it and pay tax or otherwise use their extended family and friends network to split the amounts into smaller amounts to recycle into the banking network; and
4.       Finally, some cash may simply be unclaimed (though highly unlikely with the Indian Jugaad system).

The benefits case
1.                   Fake Currencies
The issue of fake currencies was becoming a serious menace and this move clearly stamps it out. It will take a while for them to master the art of new notes that have, purportedly, advanced security features.  However, the immediate adverse impact of this will be felt in the form of slower GDP growth and lower consumer spending.  The positive effect may be in the form of Inflation trending lower because of this.

2.                   Cash flowing into the banking system
Irrespective of having a bank account, people legitimately hold cash for their routine and emergency requirements.  This move will result in this cash flowing back into the bank, only to be withdrawn after a while.  So this will only result in a temporary improvement in the liquidity position of banks as it will leave once the new notes are available and withdrawal limits are lifted. So the real benefit from this is questionable.

However, the cash that was not previously within the banking system will flow into it for the first time.  This will lead to an increase in bank deposits and perhaps a reasonable amount of this may stay for a longer period.  To the extent of the stability of these deposits, this may help the credit creation process. However, for the credit creation to occur, the PSU banks that are weighed down by non-performing loans have to be recapitalised.  So, no tangible benefit to the economy until and unless the banks are recapitalised.

3.                   Unaccounted Cash flowing back
This is potentially what the Government is really targeting. If some element of unaccounted money finds its way back into the system, this will help in improving the tax take and the Government stands to benefit. Given the ingenuity of these individuals in protecting their cash, it remains to be seen whether this yields a big tax collection or results in just an increase in number of bank accounts and balances as hoarders find ways to split the amounts. It has to be noted that the recently concluded income declaration scheme in September 2016, resulted in an income disclosure of Rs 65,000 crores ($10bn) and netted a tax take of Rs 29,000 Crores ($4.5 bn), much less than the expected hundreds of billions of $. 

4.                   Unclaimed balances
And finally any unclaimed notes in circulation, a highly unlikely scenario as people will find ways to recycle (remember, India is a land of Jugaad), will result in a clear benefit to the RBI and the Government, as RBI can extinguish its liabilities to this extent.  This gain can be used by the RBI to pay dividend to the Government which reduce the fiscal deficit. But this process cannot begin until next fiscal year which is when the aggregate of unclaimed balances will be known as RBIs window for accepting notes extends to 31st March 2017.
Now let's compare the magnitude of black money and the minimal extent to which this action is going to address the problem.

Total money in circulation according RBI statistics is Rs 16.4 lacs crores ($250bn if you can't get your head around that). Of this, about 86% or Rs 14.2 lacs crores ($ 215bn) is represented by Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes as per table below.

According to the RBI's statistics, Scheduled Banks and other banks in India hold about ~Rs 6 lacs Crores ($91bn) in Rs 500/Rs 1000 notes after applying the 86% on their total cash holdings to estimate the amount held in Rs 500 and Rs1,000 notes, in their branches and ATMs.
Then you have organisations like the Railways, Post offices, PSUs, Corporates, Petrol Pumps, Hospitals, Government offices, businesses and traders holding cash as part of their legitimate daily activities. Assuming that the legitimate portion of the cash holdings to be 2/3rd levels of banks (based on an estimate that recognises that the number of corporates, traders, organisations significantly outnumber the banks by several hundred folds), it comes to Rs 4 lacs crore ($60bn), then the remaining cash amount reduces to less than half of the total. So that leaves the balance cash to ~Rs 4.2 lacs Crores (or $64bn). The table below shows the estimates:

Rs (Crores)
~ USD billions
% to total cash in circulation
Aggregate Money in circulation (RBI statistics)
Aggregate Money in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes (86% of total per RBI Statistics)
Money held with Scheduled Commercial Banks and other FIs includind Cash reserve ratio of Rs 5lacs Crores with RBI (Branches and ATMs) (estimated at 86% of total cash in Rs 500/1000 notes)
~ 6,00,000
Estimate cash with Post Office, Corporates, Railways, Traders, Petrol Pumps, Govt. etc.
~ 4,00,000
Estimated Balance left with individuals (surprisingly a number we associate with fraud and cheating!)
~ 64

Out of the estimated amount of cash held by individuals, we can make a reasonable split of cash held by urban and rural folks:
·         Urban India - Legitimately held cash for routine and emergency expenses (assuming an average of Rs 2,500* per person for the 400 million urban population) - Rs 1 lac crore ($15bn)
·         Rural and Semi Urban – Mainly cash users or not in the banking system - say an average of Rs 500* for the 800 million - Rs 40,000 crores ($6bn)
(* average holdings based on research of Rama Bijapurkar -

So, if we adjust the legitimate amounts held by individuals of ~Rs 1.4 lacs Crores ($21bn) from the aggregate Rs 4.2 lacs Crores ($64bn) of balances with individuals, the net estimated amount of unaccounted cash would be ~Rs 2.8 lacs crores or ~$ 43bn.

This is just about 2% of our GDP!  Now cutting all the noise, compare this to the total unaccounted money which was estimated to be ~$1 trillion and you can very easily see that it represents less than 5% of the black money problem!

Even if we made an overly optimistic assumption that the entire amount of ~$43bn can be recognised as a gain either through tax take or unclaimed balances, this would still represent only 4.3% of the total black money problem.  While this is still a welcome development and needs to be applauded, but it needs to be kept in the context of the magnitude of the overall problem. 

So I would say to all those screaming that this will end black money that after all the noise subsides and the chest thumping is over, please realise that the black money problem is far from over! We have just scratched the surface. But the reintroduction of higher denomination notes will only make the problem worse unless further measure to curb cash transactions are introduced.

An important point to understand that cash is fungible. It has no permanent label as black or white.
You withdraw cash from the bank and buy a durable without a bill to avoid GST or pay a bribe for any approval you need, it become black. The same recipient goes with that cash to a supermarket or a restaurant and spends it and gets a bill, it become white.  So not all cash is black and not all cash is white!!!
So the solution is not attacking cash because it will start the day the scheme ends as people as will about their old ways.
What's required is the incentives that drive creation of black money need to be addressed. Attacking cash is like treating the symptom than the underlying problem!

So was the midnight strike really necessary and worth it?

Now let’s look at the dramatic way in which this decision was announced. The move took many by surprise and the reactions in social media has since moved from an initial euphoria to a state of chaos and panic that has left crores of citizens on the streets queuing in front of banks and ATMs looking for the right kind of cash (as lower denominations are only 14% of stock in circulation trying to replace 44% of cash that needs to be replaced!).  To top it, the new currency notes do not fit the ATM machines and it will take more than a couple of weeks for ATMs to deliver the higher denomination notes of Rs 500 and Rs 2,000! And the government says it has been planning for well over six months!

In my opinion, the benefits of this surprise element is being significantly overplayed by the Government. If the Government is conducting inspections of gold traders and other places of suspected of conversion of cash, they could still adopt the same process of surveillance and could have given people a reasonable notice to organise their lives.  This would have resulted in an orderly withdrawal of old notes and still snuff out the fake currencies without the attendant chaos and hardships to a large section of the population for a limited benefit!

The immediate withdrawal is unjustified as it results in hardships to 99% of the population to attack 1% of hoarders. More so, when taken in the overall context of the contribution of unaccounted cash to the black money problem as bulk of it is held overseas in offshore assets or in real estate or in gold.

While people can be asked to make sacrifices for the nation’s cause, this seemingly ill planned execution together with its limited benefits does not quite fit that bill. The simultaneous introduction of the higher denomination Rs 2,000 note blows a hole into that argument as it clearly defeats the purpose of stamping out black money! All this exercise does, at best, is to reset the base for a small part of the overall issue which could have been managed better.

Here's some context in simple layman terms of the current exercise:
If you earn Rs 100 per annum, how tickled would you be if I told you that you will get a one-time bonus of Rs 2? Mighty thrilled?
And for that I have to inconvenience 99% of people to secure that, and I am not even sure whether it will be Rs 2...That is the nature of the current abrupt demonetisation. This could have been orderly without having to cause chaos, panic and distress.
And BTW, there is another Rs 50 that I know can be recovered without having to disturb the 99% of the people. Ah, but that will involve upsetting some powerful business magnates. We will leave that for another day...
A surgical strike is a precision strike with precise intelligence. Not aimless shooting in the dark in the hope of hitting some targets!
And creating an easy path for future creation of black money cannot be part of such an objective (re. Rs2,000 Note).
Hence, the Government’s claim that this action will stamp out black money is tenuous and a fantasy as the Rs 2,000 note will only accentuate the problem of black money creation. While the move is intended to catch the cash hoarders unaware, there are other effective administrative tools in the form of better surveillance, improving the analytics and intelligence network, and taking action against those who facilitate the fake currency trade from our side of the border.


The monetisation move is to be welcomed as there will be some benefit from this exercise but the justification for a sudden withdrawal is questionable as the surveillance on exchange of notes could have ensured that even orderly withdrawal would succeed.

If the Government is seriously minded to tackle black money menace, it has focus on the 96% of the problem and work with other G20 members on information sharing and take prompt action.  So far nothing much has been heard after the initial claim of 650 odd names.  Even the Supreme Court has now stopped asking for updates! So the judiciary is also sleeping at the wheel.

I also question the associated hype and hyperbole, which simply seems to exploit the financial and economic illiteracy that is prevalent even amongst the educated middle class who haven’t comprehended the issue, let alone the rural illiterate.

While there is some gain to the Government in the form of a potential tax take or unclaimed balances which will help to reduce the fiscal deficit, but to proclaim that this is the end of corruption and black money is far-fetched.

This move is neither going to deliver a death knell to corruption nor eradicate black money! And the rhetoric doesn’t gel with the simultaneous introduction of the higher denomination note!! The shock and awe approach doesn’t quite justify the hardship inflicted on millions of ordinary folks.

#Demonetisation #BlackMoney

Wednesday, 24 August 2016


Rio Summer Olympics 2016 – Citius, Altius, Fortius - Faster, Higher, Stronger

The Summer Olympics in Rio has finally ended after two weeks of intense competition, thrilling contests and nail biting finishes that provided adrenalin pumping excitement. The Rio Games had its finale with brilliant display of fireworks

lighting up the skies in the city of God. After the celebrations comes the after effects of the Games which inevitably leaves behind a trail of despondency and gloom as the party ends and people begin to get back to their routine with a sense of vacuum.

However, the Rio Games also provided its moments of drama and controversies but leaving that aside it was a fantastic event that brought the Olympic spirit alive and the theme of 'Faster, Higher, Stronger' remained much in display with 27 new World records being made and the margins separating the winners and losers becoming ever so wafer thin.

There were several milestones achieved by athletes, for e.g. Usain Bolt’s ‘Triple Triple’, Mo Farah’s ‘Double Double’, Phelps incredible rush of gold, Ledecky making new waves, Simone Biles’s incredible gymnastic routines, the ‘Trotts’ gold haul, Nicola Adam’s power punches, Chen Aisen’s breathtaking dives, Wayde van Niekerk’s 400m world record etc., all of which lived up to the billing of the Olympic Games. 

The Olympic spirit came alive when New Zealand’s runner Nikki Hamblin stumbled and fell, accidentally tripping Abbey D'Agostino of the US and went about helping Hamblin back to her feet -- but the American had injured her leg in the incident. When it gave way and she slumped to the track seconds later, Hamblin then helped her up and stayed by her side to make sure she was fine. Hamblin only resumed the round one, heat two race at the Olympic Stadium when she knew D'Agostino was over the worst. And she waited at the finishing line to greet the American -- who hobbled through the pain to complete the race and was helped away in a wheelchair -- with a heartfelt hug. The spirit of Olympics blossomed!

Beneath all the excitement lies stories of blood, sweat and tears of the athletes. Several inspiring tales that brings to fore the enormous grit, perseverance, endurance, self-belief and determination of the participants. Many of them had overcome physical, emotional, societal and financial hurdles. Given the backdrop of their circumstances, their achievement deserves even greater admiration and respect as it implores one to look beyond constraints and inspires us to persevere in spite of immense difficulties.

The stories are hugely uplifting and reinforces the message that human pursuits have no limits.  The only limits are the ones that we impose on our minds!

Here are some of the inspirational stories (in alphabetical order) from the Rio 2016 Games:

1.         1.    Chris Mears, 23, Team GB

Along with Jack Laugher, Chris Mears won Britain’s first ever gold medal in diving. But just seven years ago things didn’t look so promising for Chris.  He contracted the life-threatening Epstein Barr virus, and was given just a 5% chance of survival.

In 2009 the diver suffered a ruptured spleen and collapsed, losing five pints of blood. He stayed in hospital for a month, and had to have his spleen removed. He made a full recovery and returned to the Games in 2010, finishing fourth in the synchro at the Commonwealth Games.
2.                 2.   Dina Asher-Smith, 19, Team GB

Just four years ago, Dina Asher-Smith was carrying out the athletes’ kit at the London Olympic Stadium. Today, the 19-year-old is Britain’s fastest woman. It’s an incredible rise that leaves the London sprinter on the verge of becoming the first British woman to dip under 11 seconds and is an increase in speed that has taken even her by surprise.  “It’s pretty weird,” she says of the tag of the fastest Brit, following her run of 11.02sec in Hengelo, Holland, in May. “I’m still not used to it.
3.                 3.   Dipa Karmakar,  23, India

Lack of modern gymnastic facilities did not deter Dipa from pursuing her dream of becoming a world class gymnast. She is the first Indian female gymnast ever to compete in the Olympics, and the first Indian gymnast to do so in 52 years. When she began gymnastics, Karmakar had flat feet, an undesirable physical trait in a gymnast because it affects their performance. Through extensive training, she was able to develop an arch in her foot.

She attained 4th position in Women's Vault Gymnastics event of Rio Olympics 2016 with an overall score of 15.066. Karmakar is only the fifth woman in gymnastics history to land the Produnova vault, or the handspring double front. The Produnova is an artistic gymnastics vault consisting of a front handspring onto the vaulting horse and two front somersaults off. The vault currently has a 7.0 D-score, and is the hardest vault performed in women's artistic gymnastics. In the Olympics women's vault gymnastics final she finished at 4th position.   Sajad Ahmad, physio/coach of Dipa Karmakar, was rushed to the Rio to keep her in optimum shape only after she qualified for the finals. Her earlier request of company of the physio was deemed wasteful!

4.                 4.   Houry Gebeshian, 27, Armenia

Houry Gebeshian works night shifts delivering babies – and then goes to the gym. She is a gymnast for the Armenian team – and a physician’s assistant the rest of the time. She told the BBC that she works nights and weekends delivering babies, and then spends her free time around that at the gym.

‘I work a 24-hour shift on Sunday and a 16-hour shift on Wednesday, but the days that I’m not working I’ll be in the gym,’ she told the BBC.  ‘I get off at around 7am, I take a bit of time off work – I’ll take a nap for about three hours – and then I’ll head straight to the gym.’
5.                 5.   Jillion Potter, 30, USA

American rugby sevens star Jillion Potter has overcome every hurdle put in her way to compete in the Olympics.

In 2010 she broke her neck during a game against Canada – an injury that could have left her as a paraplegic, preventing her from ever playing rugby again. However, she was back in the game just one year later.

She went on to play in the 2013 Rugby Sevens World Cup – with what she would find out was a tumour in her mouth, later diagnosed as a rare Stage III synovial sarcoma. Her subsequent battle with cancer, chemotherapy and radiotherapy led to her being dubbed US rugby’s ‘great survivor’. Now, just three years since her diagnosis, she was back on the pitch at Rio 2016.
6.                 6.   Lopez Lomong, 31, USA

South Sudanese-American Lopez Lomong was one of thousands of child refugees caught up in the country’s horrific civil war. He was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan – a group of more than 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced or orphaned during the war.
Lopez was abducted at the age of six while attending Catholic Mass, and was assumed dead by his family. He almost died in captivity, but other people from his village helped him escape.
He sought refuge in the US in 2001, and became a naturalized citizen in 2007. For many years he assumed his parents had been killed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, but in 2003 he was reunited with his parents.
7.                 7.   Michael Phelps, 31, USA

Much has been written about Michael Phelps and his incredible list of achievements.  Undoubtedly is one of the Greatest Olympians of All Times (GOAT) with a haul of 28 Olympic medals of which 23 of them Gold! But as a child Michael had to face many challenges. At age 9, Michael was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  With the help of treatment — medication and behaviour therapy — and the support of his mother, Michael was able to channel his energies into swimming, becoming the youngest male record holder in modern sports at the age of 15.
His size 14, double-jointed feet move like flippers, which help power him through the water. Even though he seems to be genetically engineered for the water, Phelps matches his genetics with an incredible work ethic and training regimen. He and his coach Bob Bowman have a strict and disciplined routine; a must-have for anyone who wants that prestigious spot on the podium. He trains in the pool six days per week and circuit trains with weights three times per week. He doesn't lift super heavy because extra bulk wouldn't help him. He wants to keep his body light and lean.
He got 8 out 8 gold medals in Beijing Games in 2008 and in the process created 7 World Records and 1 Olympic Record!
As they say, the rest is history!
8.                 8.   Mo Farah, 33, Team GB

Mo Farah was born on 23 March 1983 in Mogadishu, Somalia. He spent the early years of his childhood in Djibouti with his twin brother. He moved to Britain at the age of eight to join his father, speaking barely any English. His athletic talent was first identified by physical education teacher Alan Watkinson. He later joined the Borough of Hounslow Athletics Club in west London.

Farah represented the UK at 5000 m in the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan and finished sixth. He was knocked out before the 5000 m final at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

He came back strongly at the London 2012 Olympics and won Gold in both the 5000m and the 10000m event. This was Great Britain's first Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 m, and Farah made it a long-distance double, winning the 5000 metres. In Rio 2016, Farah completed the “Double Double” of winning back to back Gold medals in the 5000m and 10000m event, a feat performed by only another Olympian, Lasse Viren, a Finnish Athlete who competed in Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976 Games.

9.                 9.   Nicola Adams, 33, Team GB

Adams struggled to continue her boxing career due to lack of funds. She worked as an acting extra on soap operas such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale, and EastEnders, and worked as a builder before the International Olympic Committee backed funding for women’s boxing in 2009. She is the first woman to win an Olympic boxing title for Team GB.  She has won two back to back Gold medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics in the women's flyweight division. As of May 2016 she is the reigning Olympic, World, Commonwealth Games and European Games champion in the flyweight category.

10.            10.   Nick Skelton, 58, Team GB

Nick Skelton made his Olympic debut in 1988, but in 2000 his hopes and dreams of continuing his Olympic career came to a halt after breaking the Cl vertebra in his neck from falling at the Park Gate Shows in Cheshire, England.  Skelton’s fall also caused a ligament to snap and tore away a piece of his spine. He broke his neck and was told by doctors that he would never be able to ride again. The following year Skelton received news that the bones in his neck had healed beyond expectations and returned to the saddle in 2002.
Fast forward 16 years and the Warwickshire-born horse enthusiast is an Olympic champion in his own right, having earlier won a team gold in London 2012. Skelton, the oldest competitor in Rio’s Jumping Finals, proved that age doesn’t mean a thing except that he’s only gotten better as the 58-year-old delivers three back-to-back clear rounds after starting with a clean slate.
Six Games after his debut, Skelton earns a fairy tale ending to his equestrian career by  not only adding an individual gold title to his London 2012 team title, but he became the first British individual show jumper to earn a golden title.
11.           11.   Rafaela Silva, 24, Brazil
Rafaela Silva, a Judo star, grew up in Rio’s most infamously violent favela – the City of God.
As a child she faced poverty, inequality and racism – and was first enrolled in Judo by her family in order to keep her away from a life of gangs and drugs. Years later, she’s just earned Brazil its first gold medal in this year’s Games.
Juliana Barbassa, who wrote about the City of God and is a native Brazilian, told the BBC: ‘It’s a situation of literal marginalisation – they were pushed to the margins. ‘To get out of it as Silva has done is really challenging. She literally had to fight her way out of the environment.’
12.            12.   Sakshi Malik, 23, India

Sakshi Malik was born on 3 September 1992 in Mokhra village of Haryana.  Her father, Sukhbir is a bus conductor with the Delhi Transport Corporation.  According to her father, she was motivated to take up wrestling from seeing her grandfather Badhlu Ram, who was also a wrestler.  She began training in wrestling at the age of 12 under a coach, Ishwar Dahiya, at an Akhara in Rohtak. Coming from a State known for patriarchal mindset, it is indeed a phenomenal achievement for her to have pursued wrestling, traditionally a male preserve. Her coach and she had to face opposition from the locals for having taken up a sport "not for girls”.

She won a Bronze medal in the 58kg freestyle at the Rio 2016 Games and came home to a rousing welcome.

13.            Simone Biles, 19, USA

American gymnast Simone Biles is undoubtedly the shining star of Rio 2016 Games. A newcomer to the Olympics, she’s so far ahead of her competition that other gymnasts joked that the real contest was to see who would be placed second.
But her life hasn’t been easy. Her biological mother struggled with serious drug and alcohol abuse, and when Simone was just five she was taken into care. Simone and her sister Adria, who was three at the time, stayed in a foster home in Ohio waiting to be adopted – until her biological grandparents, Ron and Nellie, found out what had happened and decided to adopt the girls themselves. Biles first tried gymnastics at six years old as part of a day-care field trip. The instructors suggested she continue with gymnastics. Biles soon enrolled in an optional training program at Bannon's Gymnastix. It was while living with her new parents that Simone’s talent began to flourish – and she would be on her way to becoming one of the greatest gymnasts of our time.
With four Olympic gold medals, Biles set a new American record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single Games, and equalled a number of other records with her medals won in Rio. Biles' win of four gold medals was the first instance of a quadruple gold medallist in women's gymnastics at a single Games since Ecaterina Szabo(Romania) in 1984, and the fifth overall, after Larisa Latynina (USSR, 1956), Agnes Keleti ( HUN, 1956), Věra Čáslavská (CZE, 1968) and Szabo.  Biles became the sixth female gymnast to have won an individual all-around title at both the World Championships and the Olympic Games.
She was chosen by Team USA to be the flag bearer for the closing ceremonies. She was the first American female gymnast to be given the honour.
14.            14.   Usain “Lightning” Bolt, 30, Jamaica

His parents ran the local grocery store in the rural area, and Bolt spent his time playing cricket and football in the street with his brother, later saying, "When I was young, I didn't really think about anything other than sports".  As a child, Bolt attended Waldensia Primary, where he first began to show his sprinting potential, running in the annual national primary-schools' meeting for his parish. By the age of twelve, Bolt had become the school's fastest runner over the 100 metres distance.
He became the first junior sprinter to run the 200 m in under twenty seconds, taking the world junior record outright with a time of 19.93s. Bolt headed to the 2004 Athens Olympics with confidence and a new record on his side. However, he was hampered by a leg injury and was eliminated in the first round of the 200 metres with a disappointing time of 21.05 s. 

The year 2005 signaled a fresh start for Bolt in the form of a new coach, Glen Mills, and a new attitude toward athletics. Mills recognised Bolt's potential and aimed to cease what he considered an unprofessional approach to the sport. Bolt began training with Mills in preparation for the upcoming athletics season, partnering with more seasoned sprinters such as Kim Collins and Dwain Chambers.
However, misfortune awaited Bolt at the next major event, the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. Injuries were preventing him from completing a full professional athletics season, and the eighteen-year-old Bolt still had not proven his mettle in the major world-athletics competitions. Bolt was involved in a car accident in November, and although he suffered only minor facial lacerations, his training schedule was further upset. His manager, Norman Peart, made Bolt's training less intensive, and he had fully recuperated the following week. Bolt had continued to improve his performances, and he reached the world top-5 rankings in 2005 and 2006.
Peart and Mills stated their intentions to push Bolt to do longer sprinting distances with the aim of making the 400 m event his primary event by 2007 or 2008. Bolt was less enthusiastic, and demanded that he feel comfortable in his sprinting. He suffered another hamstring injury in March 2006, forcing him to withdraw from the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and he did not return to track events until May.  After his recovery, Bolt was given new training exercises to improve flexibility, and the plans to move him up to the 400 m event were put on hold. He yearned to run in the 100 metres but Mills was skeptical, believing that Bolt was better suited for middle distances. The coach cited the runner's difficulty in smoothly starting out of the blocks, and poor habits such as looking back at opponents in sprints. Mills told Bolt that he could run the shorter distance if he broke the 200 m national record. In the Jamaican Championships, he ran 19.75 s in the 200 m, breaking the 36-year-old Jamaican record held by Don Quarrie by 0.11 s. Mills complied with Bolt's demand to run in the 100 m.
Bolt announced that he would double-up with the 100 metres and 200 metres events at the Beijing Summer Olympics, and the new 100 m world-record holder was the favourite to win both. Michael Johnson, the 200 m and 400 m record holder, personally backed the sprinter, saying that he did not believe that a lack of experience would work against him. Bolt qualified for the 100 m final with times of 9.92 s and 9.85 s in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, respectively.

In the Olympic 100 m final, Bolt broke new ground, winning in 9.69 s (unofficially 9.683 s) with a reaction time of 0.165 s. This was an improvement upon his own world record, and he was well ahead of second-place finisher Richard Thompson, who finished in 9.89 s. Not only was the record set without a favourable wind (+0.0 m/s), but he also visibly slowed down to celebrate before he finished and his shoelace was untied.

He followed that up with a Gold in 200m and in 4X100m relay in Beijing winning 3 Olympic Gold medals.  He repeated the feat in London 2012 and Rio 2013, completing the “Triple Triple” earning him the title of “Greatest Athlete of All Time”. Another GOAT!

Regarded as the fastest human ever timed, he is the first man to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records.

15.            15.   Wayde van Nekeirk, 24, South Africa

Odessa Swarts, a track-and-field athlete who competed provincially in South Africa, couldn't qualify for the national team, let alone the summer Olympics, because of her ethnicity while the country was under apartheid.
She never got the chance. But her son is making up for it. Swarts' son, Wayde van Niekerk, won gold in the 400-meter sprint Sunday in Rio with a world-record time of 43.03 seconds. The record in the event had been held by U.S. track and field legend Michael Johnson for over 15 years.
Van Niekerk became the only man to have won the Olympic 400 metres from lane eight and the first man to win the race from an outside lane since the 1924 win by Scotland's Eric Liddell in lane six.
16.            16.   Yiech Pur Biel, 21, Refugee

Yiech Pur Biel fled South Sudan 11 years ago to escape the civil war, and ended up living in a refugee camp for 10 years. Because of this, his training for Rio has been unconventional. He only started running a year ago, and has said that there were ‘no facilities in the camp, not even shoes’.

But now he will run in the 800m, and just wants to ‘show the world that, being a refugee, you can do something’. 

17.            17.    Yolande Bukasa Mabika, 28, Refugee

Yolande Bukasa Mabika, a judoka, is from Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo – one of the worst affected areas in the country’s brutal civil war from 1998 to 2003. She was separated from her parents at a very young age, and was eventually found and taken to a centre for displaced children in Kinshasa. It was here that she took up judo.

‘Judo never gave me money, but it gave me a strong heart,’ she said. ‘I got separated from my family and used to cry a lot. I started judo to have a better life.’
18.            18.   Yusra Mardini, 18, Refugee

Yusra Mardini is the face of the Olympics’ first ever team of refugees. She had a budding swimming career in her home city of Damascus, but when the civil war started her pool was bombed and life was increasingly perilous. Her family realised that they had to flee.
In 2012, she represented Syria in the 2012 FINA World Swimming Championships 200 metre individual medley, 200 metre freestyle and 400 metre freestyle events.
Mardini's house was destroyed in the Syrian civil war. Mardini and her sister Sarah decided to flee Syria in August 2015. They reached Lebanon, and then Turkey, where they arranged to be smuggled into Greece by boat with 18 other migrants, though the boat was meant to be used by no more than six or seven people. After the motor stopped working and the dinghy began to take on water in the Aegean Sea, Mardini, her sister, and two other people who were able to swim got into the water and pushed the boat for over 3 hours until it reached Lesbos. They then travelled through Europe to Germany, where they settled in Berlin in September 2015. Her parents also fled Syria and live in Germany.  
On arrival in Germany, Mardini continued her training with in Berlin, in hopes of qualifying for the Olympics. She attempted to qualify in the 200 metre freestyle swimming event. In June 2016, Mardini was one of ten athletes selected for the Refugee Olympics Team. Mardini competed in the 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Mardini won a 100m butterfly heat at the Rio Olympics, against four other swimmers, with a time of 1:09.21 and a rank of 41st among 45 entrants. All other five heats, with 8 competitors each, had winning times under 1 minute.

19.           19.   Zahra Nemati
Zahra Nemati is an Iranian Paralympic and an Olympic archer. She originally competed in Taekwondo before she was paralyzed in a car accident. The accident shattered her spine and she was paralysed from the waist-down. This didn’t stop her Olympic dreams though. At the 2012 Summer Paralympics she won two medals, an individual gold and team bronze.
Zahra, who is now wheelchair-bound, re-trained in archery – and is so good that she’s qualified to compete in both the Paralympics and the Olympics, against able-bodied athletes. She has qualified to compete at both the 2016 Summer Olympics and the 2016 Summer Paralympics.
She’s already broken records. In London’s 2012 Paralympics, she became the first Iranian woman to win a gold medal in either the Olympics or the Paralympics. 
Zahra was also chosen to be the flag-bearer for Iran at the opening ceremony – proudly leading out a team dominated by men. 

The above stories of individual struggles and triumph against adversities shows the enormous self-belief which is an inspiration to all of us.  In the pursuit of excellence the only limit is the one that we impose on our minds!

So go on pursue your dreams with gay abandon! Fortune favours the brave! Best of luck!!!