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!
U.S. Men Hold Off France for Fourth Straight Olympic Title
In a game not decided until the final minute, the United States withstood all challenges it faced in an entertaining game against France.
Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant led Team USA with 29 points, including the game’s final two points on a pair of free throws with 8 seconds remaining, in an 87-82 triumph at Saitama Super Arena.
The 32-year-old Durant is now the second U.S. men’s player to play on three Olympic gold-medal squads after Carmelo Anthony achieved the feat at the 2012 London Games.
Durant carried his team in the first half, when he scored 21 points. The U.S. led 44-39 at halftime.
For Durant and his American teammates, the victory was sweet revenge. France opened the Olympic tournament with an 83-76 preliminary round win over the Americans in Group A play on July 25.
France pulled within 85-82 on Nando de Colo’s two foul shots with 10 seconds left. And after Durant stretched the lead back to five, Nicolas Batum missed a 3-pointer on France’s final shot of the game. Jrue Holiday grabbed the final rebound and U.S. coach Gregg Popovich’s team confirmed its greatness once again.
In the fourth quarter, it looked like either team could win the game.
France pulled within 73-70 after a Frank Ntilikina 3-pointer with about 5:45 to play.
After that, Popovich’s squad pulled away with a pivotal scoring run.
The U.S. led 84-75 with 1:58 remaining, but France gave itself a shot at a stirring comeback when Fournier sank a 3-pointer with 1:08 to play.
But coach Vincent Collet’s team ran out of time and didn’t make enough big plays after that shot to pull off an improbable win. Instead, France earned its first Olympic men’s hoops silver medal since the 2000 Sydney Olympics (also to the U.S.).
Indicative of the U.S. squad’s overall defensive ability and France’s sloppy play on offense, France turned the ball over 18 times, double the Americans’ total.
With the thrill of victory on his mind and the journey to get there, Durant reflected on Team USA’s journey from pre-Olympic defeats in Las Vegas to reaching the summit again.
“We had a lot of first-time guys on the team, new experience for everyone on the team,” Durant told reporters after the game. “COVID, the kind of bubble we were in, no fans, no one expecting us to lose.
“I love our country and this team is just amazing, it’s just incredible how we came together. The adversity that we went through, so many people doubting us early on too. We get that support from our families, our friends, you know it’s bigger than us. We wanted to come here, finish it and look alive.”
Popovich, who has won five NBA titles as San Antonio Spurs head coach, spoke about the sense of duty he felt in leading Team USA at the Olympics.
“Every championship is special, and the group you’re with is special, but I can be honest and say this is the most responsibility I’ve ever felt,” Popovich was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. “You’re playing for so many people that are watching, and for a country, and other countries involved. The responsibility was awesome. I felt it every day for several years now. I’m feeling pretty light now and looking forward to getting back to the hotel.”
In the men’s third-place game, Patty Mills erupted for 42 points to lead Australia past Slovenia 107-93. Luka Doncic was Slovenia’s top scorer with 22 points along with eight rebounds, seven assists and eight turnovers.
Otoguro, Susaki Complete Title Runs in Freestyle Divisions
A two-point takedown early in the match gave Otoguro early momentum and a scoring boost against a tough opponent.
Aliyev, 30, entered the Tokyo Olympics as a three-time world champion in the 61-kg division, most recently in 2017. He was the bronze medalist at 57 kg at the Rio Games.
Otoguro won the 65-kg division at the Asian Wrestling Championships in April in Kazakhstan, serving notice that would be a force to be reckoned with at the Olympics. The 22-year-old also captured the weight class title at the 2018 World Wrestling Championships in Budapest.
Youth vs. experience may be an oversimplified label for this gold-medal showdown, as evidenced by both grapplers’ notable accomplishments.
With the triumph, Otoguro ended a nine-year title drought for Japanese men in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics. Before his win over Aliyev, the last Japanese man to nab a gold in the specialty was Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu, a 66-kg wrestler, at the 2012 London Games.
In the women’s 50-kg freestyle final, Yui Susaki, who entered the title match by outscoring her three previous opponents at the Olympic tournament 31-0, produced more glorious results for Japan.
It was a sign of things to come.
The 22-year-old added to the host nation’s gold-medal haul in wrestling with a 10-0 decision over China’s Yanan Sun.
Susaki served as one of Japan’s two flagbearers during the Opening Ceremony at the New National Stadium on July 23, joining basketball star Rui Hachimura for the prestigious honor.
Brazil Beats Spain in Extra Time for Second Straight Olympic Title
Forward Malcom scored the go-ahead goal in the 108th minute and Brazil held on for a dramatic 2-1 victory over Spain in the men’s final at International Stadium Yokohama.
Spain’s Mikel Oyarzabal had tied it at 1-1 in the 61st minute, but neither team scored again in regulation. That forced the game to head into extra time, where Malcom scored the golden goal and Brazil defended its Olympic title won on home soil at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Earlier, forward Matheus Cunha gave Brazil a 1-0 lead in first-half stoppage time.
Brazil outshot Spain 15-9.
In the 38th minute, forward Richarlison, who plays for English Premier League club Everton, missed a penalty kick.
China’s Cao and Yang Grab Gold and Silver in the Men’s 10-Meter Individual Final
It was a nail-biter final in the men’s 10-meter platform diving. China’s Yuan Cao landed the top spot on the podium, with a stellar 582.35 points.
Jian Yang of China grabbed second place, with just a couple of points difference from Cao and 580.40 overall.
Great Britain’s diving star, Thomas Daley, placed third with a score of 548.25, and defended the bronze medal he achieved in London in 2012.
Until the third round, Daley was leading the pack, after receiving 91.20 and 91.80 on his second and third jump. The Plymouth-born athlete dropped slightly on his fourth jump, an armstand back three somersaults, scoring only 80.50 at Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
In the meantime, Cao pulled ahead with a 102.60 on his last dive. Yang, for his part, performed a forward four-and-a-half somersaults dive (and the highest difficulty jump in the final), earning a mind-boggling 112.75 and securing the silver medal.
Japan’s Rikuto Tamai placed seventh in the final, performing especially well on his second and fourth dive, with an identical score of 86.40. This is the first time in 21 years that Japan has secured a place in the final eight in this division.
Reflecting back on his Olympics, the 14-year-old said: “The qualifying round was tough, but I fought in the final and I think I had a good time. I want to become an athlete who can aspire to compete with the top athletes in the world.”
Linoy Ashram Twirls Towards Israel’s First Gold Medal in the Sport
In a stunning performance, the 2021 world champion (Bulgaria) Israeli Linoy Ashram grabbed the gold medal with a remarkable 107.800 points at Ariake Gymnastics Centre.
Ashram made history by taking the first gold medal for Israel in this category. This is also the first time since Atlanta 1996 that an athlete from the Soviet Union, Unified Team, Russia or the ROC hasn’t finished at the top of the podium in this event.
“It’s like a dream, I think (it’s) like I’m not here,” Ashram said to journalists after the event.
In an all-around performance which stole the hearts of onlookers, including music such as Crazy in Love by Beyoncé, and the notes of Hava Nagila, a popular Jewish folk song, for her final ribbon routine. Notably, her clubs’ round was the highest scoring performance of the night, with 28.650 points.
The 22-year-old also winked at the host country by choosing a remix of Big in Japan by Alphaville in her ball rotation. Despite dropping the ribbon in the fourth rotation, the routine was still technically executed well enough to guarantee Ashram the podium.
The Russian Olympic Committee’s Dina Averina put up a good fight, and was the very last to perform on the night. She scored the highest points in the ribbon category in the final (24.00), and amassed 107.650 points, just 0.150 short of Ashram. Averina has also topped several world competitions, such as the individual all-round in Italy and in Uzbekistan in 2021.
ROC Confirms Its Queens of Swimming in Team Event, Japan Misses out on Medal
The Russian Olympic Committee confirmed once more its supremacy in artistic swimming, with its team of eight winning hands down the final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
The ROC took the gold medal, performing Parade of the Planets in its free routine, scoring an almost perfect score of 98.8 which, added to the technical routine, amassed a total 196.0979 points.
“That was a really hard year, two years, and too much crying, too much working,” Vlada Chigireva said to Olympics.com. “We are really happy that we are here. Every day we are smiling that we are here in the Aquatics Centre, in the Olympic Village, and we want to say to all Japanese people that we love you.”
Notably veteran Russian swimmer Svetlana Romashina took home her seventh Olympic gold medal at the age of 31. She also became a mother in the last year.
China was close behind, on the notes of a traditional song with an energetic routine which gained the team 97.3 points, for a total of 193.5310 to defend its silver medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Ukraine’s team brought a strong performance with 96.0333 points in the free routine (190.3018 total). It was a podium mirroring exactly the duet result which took place a couple of days before.
Japan was hoping to repeat the feat of Rio de Janeiro in 2016 once more by nabbing the bronze medal. The team brought an emotional performance on the notes of Japanese festival music.
The point difference in the free routine was a mere 1.4 points less than Ukraine, but added to the 0.5 difference in the technical routine, it put Japan in fourth place with 188.3106 points.
Sweden Races to Gold in Team Jumping Final Against U.S.
Sweden won a dramatic gold medal in the final of the team jump-off with the U.S., in a shorter, timed course to determine the best team.
The Swedish team was made up of Peder Fredricson, Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Henrik von Eckermann. They came against the American team, which included Jessica Springsteen (the daughter of Bruce Springsteen), joined by 2008 Beijing gold medalists Laura Kraut and Kent Farrington.
Springsteen, together with helping her team achieve the silver medal, was also the youngest athlete at the age of 29.
All riders in the jump-off finished the course with no penalties, but the deciding course was by Sweden’s Peder Fredricson. The Swede finished his course at the lightning speed of 39 seconds, beating the U.S. team’s cumulative time by 1.3 seconds. 49-year-old Fredricson had previously gained the silver medal in the jumping individual final.
This team gold medal ended Sweden’s gold medal drought in the category going back to 1924.
The qualifying brought a lot of surprises, as the U.K. had a disappointing round and withdrew when the team was out of medal range. France’s team, Olympic champion in Rio in 2016, was leading the round. However, when Penelope Leprevost’s horse refused to jump a barrier, it led to the combination’s elimination, and the team lost the prospect of the podium.
France Claims Olympic Gold with Hard-Fought Victory Over Russian Squad
France outlasted the Russian Olympic Committee’s team in the men’s final at Ariake Arena, with both squads exerting their will on the match for long stretches.
France triumphed 25-23, 25-17, 21-25, 21-25, 15-12.
Two-time Olympian Earvin Ngapeth led France with a match-high 26 points, including 21 of 40 on attack chances.
In the earlier bronze-medal match, Argentina topped Brazil in a seesaw battle.
In a drama-filled, 2-hour, 12-minute duel, Argentina prevailed 25-23, 20-25, 20-25, 25-17, 15-13.
Argentina coach Marcelo Rodolfo Mendez’s squad fell to eventual-champion Brazil in the quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics five years ago.
Authors: Arielle Busetto, Ed Odeven