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!
Mexico Dominates Japan in Bronze-Medal Match
Japan had high hopes for this medal match, as a win would have meant the team’s first Olympic medal in football in 53 years, since it claimed the bronze medal in a big upset victory over Mexico at the 1968 Mexico City Games.
However, the hopes of Japan were crushed by Mexico, the London 2012 Olympic champion, which came in with strong play and dominated in a 3-1 win at Saitama Stadium.
This clearly emboldened Mexico, and just 10 minutes after the penalty in the 22nd minute, the second goal was scored by Johan Vasquez.
In the second half, Mexico hit early, by scoring yet another goal at the 58th minute. With the assist of Cordova, Alexis Vega shot straight into the Japanese defense.
The third goal seemed to stun Japan out of its stupor, however, as after a couple of substitutions and a change of pace, Japan went in to try to recover some of the advantage.
In the last 20 minutes of the game, Japan attempted 10 shots on goal, but all of its chances missed the target or were stopped.
Even with Kaoru Mitoma’s exemplary goal in the 78th, there was little room for celebration for Japan, and Japan ended the game without being able to complete another goal.
Japan had come from a very good performance through the group stage, previously beating Mexico 2-1. In addition, Japan reproduced the result of the London 2012 Olympics, when the men had also placed fourth.
“I think that the players really came together as a team, they worked really hard,” said team manager Hajime Moriyasu following the match, speaking to NHK.
”This was a complete loss,” said captain Maya Yoshida, also choking back tears. Yet, he reflected: “This isn’t the end. Life in football goes on. In September, we have the World Cup final qualifiers… I look forward to that, to meeting everyone again, and to prepare for the best team going forward.”
In the women’s final, which started at 9 p.m., Canada defeated Sweden 3-2 in a penalty shootout. The score was 1-1 after extra time.
Mukaida Captures Freestyle 53-kg Gold
Pang initially led, scoring four technical points in the first period and preventing Mukaida from getting any points. In the second period, Mukaida reversed the score, ending the match at 5-4 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba.
“I continued believing that I would win in the end,” Mukaida said in a post-match interview. “No matter what happened, I was determined to win the gold medal.”
Takuto Otoguro and Yui Susaki both remained undefeated, making it into the finals for the men’s freestyle 65-kg and women’s freestyle 50-kg division. Both Otoguro and Susaki participated in three matches on the day in the 1/8 final, quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
In his semifinal match, Otoguro faced the Russian Olympic Committee’s Gadzhimurad Rashidov, the most recent world champion in the 65-kg class, and defeated him 3-2.
Susaki, 22, didn’t concede any points in all three matches. In her final match of the day, she defeated Azerbaijan’s Mariya Stadnik, 11-0. Stadnik was the silver medalist in the 48-kg weight class at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and also earned bronze in 2008.
Japan Men’s Team Grabs Bronze Medal Against South Korea
Japan continued its medal haul in table tennis by beating South Korea in the men’s bronze-medal match, prevailing 3-1.
The team competition takes place over a best of five matches, which in turn are composed of one doubles and four single matches.
Yet Mizutani and Niwa breezed past Lee and Jeoung, with a score of 11-9, 15-13 and 11-5. The Korean duo took the second game 11-8, but the first match finished 3-1 for Japan at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
In his Olympic debut, Tomokazu Harimoto was up next, and shone with energy. At just 18 years old, the Sendai native followed a similar pattern as the doubles, and sped past Woojin Jang, winning the first, third and fourth games with scores of 11-7, 12-10 and 11-7. Jang took the second game 11-8.
Niwa next yielded to Jeoung in three games, 11-3, 11-8 and 11-7.
However, in the fourth match Japan’s ace Mizutani played against Jang. In a strong performance showing solid nerves, he slammed the ball until the very last hit, taking the match 3-0 (14-12, 11-9, 11-8).
“I didn’t think that I would win that final singles match, I had lost in the singles against Sweden and Germany, so I thought perhaps I was not up to standard,” said a visibly relieved Mizutani to NHK following the final match.
Mizutani had previously in the Tokyo Olympics grabbed the gold medal in the mixed doubles partnering with Mima Ito, the first-ever gold medal in the sport for Japan. The Shizuoka native at 32 years old is at this third Olympics, after taking home a bronze medal in the men’s singles from Rio de Janeiro, and a silver medal in the men’s team.
In London in 2012 and Beijing in 2008 Japan had not gone past the qualification stage: might this just be the start of a golden age for Japan’s table tennis?
Looking at the next Olympics, Mizutani commented: “We have a strong team of kohai (younger athletes). Going forward I would like to support them, and want them to succeed looking toward the Paris Olympics.”
U.S., Brazil Advance to Women’s Final
Serbia’s Tijana Boskovic had a match-best 19 points.
Team USA, which lost to Serbia in the semifinals at the 2016 Rio Games, found the winning combination from the get-go this time. Getting a big boost at the net from Foluke Akinradewo, who led the team with three blocks, and four others with two apiece, the U.S. exhibited a unified front to blockade Serbia’s attacks.
The Americans have finished second on three occasions at the Olympics.
They could be on the brink of something special: winning that elusive first gold in the event.
Akinradewo, for one, expressed confidence in the team’s chances against Serbia and the task that lies ahead in the final.
“I just felt it,” Akinradewo said, according to The Associated Press, looking back at her pre-match outlook. “I just felt trust in our group. It was just a feeling I had. Actually I’ve never felt that before, to be honest. But this morning I woke up and I was like: ‘We’re going to do this. We’re going to get it done.’ I’m glad that came to fruition.”
In the day’s second semifinal, Brazil cruised past South Korea, winning 25-16, 25-16, 25-16.
The women’s final is set for Sunday, August 8 at 1:30 p.m.
ROC Averina Twins Dominate Qualification Round, Japan’s Kita Fails to Qualify for Final
In a whirl of flying hoops, ribbons, clubs and balls, the real stars of the show at the rhythmic gymnastics qualifier were Dina Averina and Arina Averina. The twin sisters from the Russian Olympic Committee came first and second in the qualifiers at Ariake Gymnastics Centre, scoring 106.300 and 106.175 points, respectively.
The 22-year-old sisters brought home a particularly strong score in the clubs category, receiving 28.275 and 28.100 points, respectively. Dina was the world champion in Azerbaijan in 2019, and Arina was runner-up.
A surprise performance was also by Israel’s Linoy Ashram, who amassed 28.250 points in her ball performance. The 22-year-old came third in the all-round ranking, with 103.100 points.
Another surprise qualifier came from Italy’s Milena Baldassarri, who scored 96.050.
Japan’s Sumire Kita, on the other hand, narrowly missed out on the final by placing 11th (only the first 10 athletes qualify). The 20-year-old from Kagawa Prefecture delivered a strong score of 24.550 in the clubs, yet displayed several mistakes in the first two rotations, perhaps due to nerves, thereby missing the opportunity to reach the final.
Korda Holds Three-Shot Lead Heading into Women’s Final Round
Nelly Korda of the United States battled through intense heat to fire a 2-under-par 69 and take a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the women’s golf tournament at the Tokyo Olympics.
PGA Tour regular Korda carded three birdies against a lone bogey at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, to finish at 15-under 198.
India’s Aditi Ashok stayed in contention with a 68 that included five birdies and two bogeys.
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who won the silver medal at the Rio Games, was tied for third in a group of four golfers five strokes off the pace after a bogey-free 66.
That group also included Ko’s compatriot Hannah Green (67), Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen (70) and Japan’s Mone Inami, who shot a 68 that featured five birdies. Inami would have been closer to Korda if not for a bogey on the par-4 18th, her second of the round.
Japan’s Nasa Hataoka was tied for seventh after carding a 67. Hataoka started off with a bogey on the first hole and had another on the par-3 7th but recovered nicely with six birdies.
Korda made all her birdies on the front nine.
“I didn’t have a really good back nine,” Korda told The Associated Press. “I was kind of spraying it all over the place. I had some testy par putts.”
Olympic organizers weren’t sure if there would be another round on
Saturday, August 7, due to an approaching tropical storm. But the plan now is to start as early as possible on Saturday and hopefully get in a full round. The first group will go off Saturday at 6:30 am.
It’s likely a new Olympic champion will be crowned on Saturday. Rio Olympic gold medalist Inbee Park of South Korea struggled with the high temperatures and settled for an even-par 71 that left her tied for 25th place.
Yuka Saso, who won the U.S. Women’s Open in June, fired a 67 to finish tied for 20th. Saso is the daughter of a Filipina mother and Japanese father and is representing the Philippines.
Cuba’s la Cruz Wins Men’s Heavyweight Gold
La Cruz, 31, won on points with the unanimous decision of all five judges at Kokugikan Arena. This is his second Olympic gold, having won the men’s light heavyweight class at the 2016 Games.
“There was a lot of attention on the fight as he [Gadzhimagomedov] is the current world champion but my team and trainers gave me a lot of confidence that I could win the fight, and they were right. They said that I had to believe in myself,” la Cruz said, according to Olympics.com.
In the lightweight division, his compatriot Andy Cruz defeated Harry Garside of Australia 5-0, and will go on to the gold medal match against the United States’ Keyshawn Davis, who beat Armenia’s Hovhannes Bachkov by the same judges’ score.
Greece, Serbia Advance to the Men’s Gold Medal Match
Greece and Serbia won their respective semifinal matches and secured spots in the men’s gold medal match.
Greece’s Stylianos Argyropoulos Kanakakis led his team with four goals in a 9-6 victory over nine-time Olympic champion Hungary at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre.
Meanwhile, Greece, currently ranked second in the world, is in the finals for the first time and is on its way to winning its first-ever men’s water polo medal. The women’s team collected silver in its home country in 2004.
For Hungary, which has also claimed three silver and three bronze medals in Olympic water polo, a third-place match against world No. 6 will provide a chance to vie for another medal.
In the classification fifth-eighth matches, Croatia edged Montenegro, currently the first-ranked team, 12-10, and the United States beat Italy, 7-6. The two winners will face off for the fifth-place rank, and Montenegro and Italy will fight for seventh, on August 8.
Track and Field
Italy Triumphs in Men’s 4×100 Relay as Japan Drops Out of Race Due to Botched Baton Exchange
Japan, which shocked the world by finishing in second in the men’s 4×100-meter relay at the 2016 Olympics, didn’t complete the race on the final event of the night at the New National Stadium.
Italy triumphed in the sprint showcase in 37.50 seconds, a national record. Great Britain was second in 37.51. Canada secured the bronze in 37.70.
Japan’s Shuhei Tada, Ryota Yamagata, Yoshihide Kiryu and Yuki Koike booked a spot in the relay final by placing third in their qualifying heat on Thursday, August 5. But a tactical nightmare occurred early in the final the next day, with the baton not being exchanged from Tada to Yamagata, the second runner. The relay mates’ timing was off, and that signaled the end of the foursome’s race.
Reigning Olympic champion Jamaica finished fifth.
In another big event at the track, American Allyson Felix placed third in the women’s 400 in 49.46 seconds, earning her 10th Olympic medal, which makes her the most decorated female track athlete in Olympic history. The 35-year-old has also collected six golds and three bronze in a decorated career.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas won the 400 in 48.36.
Authors: Ed Odeven, Arielle Busetto, Jim Armstrong, Serena Landers