Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics have been performing super (and super-human) athletic feats, even as COVID-19 and other controversies swirl. With so much happening during these Games, it can be hard to keep track of what is going on.
JAPAN Forward is monitoring the key happenings in a handful of Olympic sports during the day and bringing reports to our readers through this Olympic Digest. Please bookmark JAPAN Forward’s page for the latest Olympic-related news from Japan!
Olympic Debutante Kaya Finishes Third in Men’s Pommel Horse
Kazuma Kaya won the bronze medal in the men’s gymnastics pommel horse final, capturing his second medal of the Tokyo Games on Sunday, August 1.
A member of Japan's silver medal-winning men's team, on Monday, July 26, the 24-year-old Tokyo native finished behind Britain's Max Whitlock and Taiwan's Chih-kai Lee at Ariake Gymnastics Centre.
Defending champion Whitlock earned 15.583 points, edging Lee by 0.183 points. Kaya, making his Olympic debut, earned 14.900 in the eight-man field. Japan's Kohei Kameyama was fifth with 14.600.
"I was able to win this bronze medal because I really concentrated on my performance," Kaya told reporters after the medal ceremony, according to Kyodo News. "I came into the competition believing that something will happen if I refuse to give up, and I was able to perform the way I wanted."
Kaya finished third in the pommel horse at the 2015 World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. He was fifth in the event four years later at the world championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
Looking ahead, he is targeting additional medals for his personal collection at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
"Since winning silver in the team final, I consider today's bronze to be the start in my campaign for Paris," Kaya was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "I don't want to feel any satisfaction because I want to win gold. I want to start training now."
Track and Field
China's Gong Hurls Shot Put 20.58 Meters for Title
It was a day when women's shot putters broke records to make it on the podium.
China’s Lijiao Gong hurled the shot a massive 20.58 meters, recording her personal best and grabbing the gold medal.
Saunders, who is 25, achieved this stellar feat after placing fifth in Rio de Janeiro, which triggered a struggle with depression. She has been one of an increasing number of athletes to open up about dealing with mental health in the realm of sports.
Gong made her fourth consecutive Olympic appearance. After snatching the bronze medal in Beijing in 2008 and silver medal in London in 2012, the 32-year-old narrowly placed outside the medal range in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, coming in fourth.
Gong therefore came to Tokyo to take the much-coveted top spot on the podium.
As World Athletics, the global governing body for track and field, posted on its Twitter page: “With 19.95m, 19.98m, 19.80m, 20.53m and 20.58m, each of her valid throws would have secured her gold.”
“I’m really, really excited to win this gold medal, I’m not only winning this gold medal, I’m also getting my personal best,” said Gong after her performance. “I think all my efforts were really worth it.”
U.K. Claims Gold in Women’s and Bronze in Men’s First-Ever Freestyle At the Olympics
Back flips, 360 degree turns, superman. These were some of the impressive skills being showcased at the first-ever final of BMX cycling freestyle at Ariake Sport Park. Different from the race, this sport calls for riders to perform tricks and skills on a course much like a skateboarding park.
The women were up first in the final. Much of the attention was on U.S. competitor Hannah Roberts, who won the 2021 Urban Cycling World Championships title in Montpellier, France in June. The 19-year-old Roberts wowed onlookers with a strong first run where she landed a 96.10 score.
Yet, a surprise competitor was the U.K.’s Charlotte Worthington. The 25-year-old Manchester-born Worthington had faced a hard morning after falling in the first run after a backflip.
In her second run she floored the competition by performing a 360-turn backflip and a stunning front flip. The difficult run scored Worthington a stunning 97.50 score, and when Roberts lost her momentum in the second run, it was enough to shoot the British athlete to the gold medal.
Switzerland’s Nikita Ducarroz scored 89.20 in her first run, gaining her bronze medal.
In the men’s category, the host country’s high hopes were focused on Rim Nakamura. The 19-year-old from Kyoto was the runner-up in the X Games in Minneapolis in 2019.
In the end, however, current world champion Logan Martin from Australia was the one to take home the first ever gold medal in the men’s category with 93.30 points.
Venezuela’s Daniel Dhers claimed the silver medal with a whopping 92.05 points. The 36-year-old Caracas native, a veteran in the sport, has consistently placed No.1 in the X Games (2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011), as well as coming first in Pan American Games in Lima in 2019.
Great Britain claimed its second medal in the sport, with Declan Brooks winning the bronze medal (90.80).
Japan Edges Portugal in Entertaining Men’s Showdown
In a match decided by the thinnest of margins, the Japan men’s handball team took a two-goal lead with 20 seconds remaining against Portugal on Sunday, August 1.
Antonio Areia pulled Portugal within one with 5 seconds to play. As time expired, the scoreboard read: Japan 31, Portugal 30.
Japan coach Dagur Sigurdsson’s team scored 31 goals on 51 attempts. Portugal converted 30 of 51.
Anri Remi Doi was 4-for-4 in the win. Rennosuke Tokuda made 6 of 7, including Japan’s final goal on a shot into the bottom left corner of the net. Yuto Agarie also scored four goals for Japan.
Areia, Andre Gomes, Rui Silva and Joao Ferraz all had four goals for Portugal.
Japan (1-4) didn’t qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.
Japan Finishes Last in Women’s 4x100 Medley Relay
Olympian Rikako Ikee’s recovery from leukemia, returning to the pool and enjoying success at the national level, is one of the most inspiring human-interest stories in Japan in recent years.
Ikee’s Olympic experience in her hometown hasn’t produced the desired results, though.
The 21-year-old and her relay teammates didn’t qualify for the final in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle on July 25. (They finished fifth in their eight-team qualifying heat the day before.)
A week later, more disappointment followed for Ikee. Japan’s 4x100 medley relay squad finished last on Sunday, August 1 at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in 3 minutes, 58.12 seconds. Australia won the race in 3:51.60, an Olympic record, and the United States and Canada placed second and third, respectively.
“It's not a result I alone produced, but coming this far while not being sure if I can make the Games, the Games going ahead safely and getting to return [to the Olympics] here, I'm really happy,” Ikee said after the event, according to Kyodo News.
Ikee swam the third leg of the medley relay, completing the butterfly portion of the race. Japan was in eighth place for nearly the entire race.
In other finals, Caeleb Dressel of the United States won his fifth gold medal of the Tokyo Games, finishing first in the men’s 50 freestyle in 21.07 seconds, an Olympic record.
Australia’s Wearn Wins One-Person Dinghy Laser Event
Australia’s Matt Wearn triumphed in the men’s one-person dinghy laser event in Enoshima Yacht Harbour.
Wearn’s gold-medal performance gives Australia three consecutive titles in the race, following Tom Burton at the 2016 Rio Games and Tom Slingby in London in 2012.
Wearn placed second in the laser final, but topped the standings with an impressive 53 net points amassed from the entire week of sailing. He had a pair of wins and three runner-up finishes in races leading up to the medal final.
"The goal was just to go out and have a clean start and be able to race from there. To be able to do that and just enjoy the race was awesome," the 25-year-old Wearn was quoted as saying by Reuters.
"It was a great experience ー nice wind, good waves. When the wind's like this the sport is just amazing and you really start to enjoy it."
Japanese Men Reach Quarterfinals for First Time Since 1992
Japan beat Iran 3-2 to advance to the quarterfinals of the men’s volleyball tournament.
It was the first time in 29 years that Japan’s men have reached the final eight of the Olympic volleyball tournament.
With 95 points, Ishikawa leads the tournament in scoring.
Japan improved to 3-2 in Group A and qualified along with Poland, Italy and Canada for the quarterfinals, which begins on Tuesday, August 3.
Zverev Defeats Khachanov for Men’s Singles Title
Fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev, a French Open semifinalist earlier this year, made quick work of Russian Karen Khachanov in the men’s singles final at Ariake Tennis Park.
The triumphant German won the title in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1.
Splendid serving played a pivotal role in Zverev’s victory. He won 87% (26 of 30) of his first serves.
“I’ve won the World Tour Finals but a gold medal at the Olympics, the value is incredible because you’re not only playing for yourself, you’re playing for your country,” Zverev said in a post-match interview session. “It’s an incredible feeling. There is nothing better than this.”
Fumita Advances to 60-kg Greco-Roman Final
With the win, Fumita awaits a showdown with Cuba’s Luis Orta Sanchez in the final on Monday, August 2.
If Fumita, the 2019 world champion, defeats Sanchez, he’d become Japan’s first Greco-Roman gold medalist since 52-kg wrestler Atsuji Miyahara at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Japan Women's Team Slams Hungary, Progresses to Round of Eight
The Japanese women’s team slashed the Hungarian team in the round of 16, snatching the match 3-0 at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
In a relay format of one round two-on-two, followed by two single matches, the Japanese women breezed through the match.
Gold medalist in the mixed doubles and bronze medalist in the individual round, Mima Ito kicked off the individual round, scoring several tricky points, and thereby crushing opponent Dora Madarasz 11-2, 11-6 and 11-6.
In her Olympic debut, Miu Hirano finished off the last round to win the match. The 21-year-old showed elation to be participating in the Olympics and prevailed over Szandra Pergel 11-3, 11-5 and 11-7.
Japan will next face Taiwan on August 2.
France Prevails over ROC for Gold, U.S. Floors Japan in Men’s Foil Team Bronze-Medal Match
At Chiba’s Makuhari Messe, France unseated the incumbent Olympic champion and clinched the gold medal by stunning the Russian Olympic Committee team and winning 45-28 in the men’s foil team final.
France’s third fencer Enzo Lefort brought a particularly strong performance and scored seven points, finishing his bout at 15-8.
For the bronze medal, Japan took on the U.S. for the prospect of a bronze medal. The American team rode its initial advantage, and brought the point difference up to 14 points in the eight rotation with Gerek Meinhardt. The match ended with a 45-31 score. The U.S. also won the bronze medal in Rio in 2016.
Earlier, Japan progressed to the bronze-medal match after pushing the Italian team out of medal prospects in the quarterfinals stage, 45-43.
Italy, which had placed fourth in the Rio de Janeiro Games, placed fifth after Germany forfeited due to an injured athlete.
Authors: Jim Armstrong, Arielle Busetto, Ed Odeven