Japan celebrate gold rush, Tunisian swimmer stuns superpowers

Published July 26, 2021
JAPAN’S Yuto Horigome competes in the men’s street skateboarding final at the Ariake Sports Park on Sunday.—AFP
JAPAN’S Yuto Horigome competes in the men’s street skateboarding final at the Ariake Sports Park on Sunday.—AFP

TOKYO: The Tokyo Olympics delivered a day of high drama on Sunday with a stunning surprise in the pool, one of the great David v Goliath cycling victories and double sibling judo gold as Japan continued their golden start.

The host nation bagged skateboarding’s first gold medal courtesy of Yuto Horigome, then saw Uta Abe and her brother Hifumi make history as the first siblings to win gold medals in different events on the same day in any sport. With swimmer Yui Ohashi also victorious, Japan’s overall gold medal tally rose to five, one behind China and one ahead of the United States.

Tunisia are unlikely to add to their solitary gold but no medal of the Games will be celebrated more wildly than that earned via the astounding achievement of 18-year-old Ahmed Haf­naoui, who stunned the swimming superpowers with victory from lane eight in the men’s 400m freestyle.

“It’s a dream and it became true — it was my best race ever,” Hafnaoui said in an Olympic-level understatement after he held off heavily-fancied Australian Jack McLou­ghlin and American Kieran Smith despite qualifying slowest for the final.

Hafnaoui received the ultimate validation as American medal machine Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer in history, labelled his performance as an “unbelievable swim”.

Skateboarder Horigome, who grew up in the Tokyo ward where the event is being held, took gold at the Games debut of a sport once seen as a symbol of counter-culture and, ironically, still symbolised by the “no skateboarding” signs plastered on the outside walls of the venue.

“It felt significant to return to Koto ward, it meant so much more for me,” said Horigome, who moved to the United States after high school to follow his skateboarding ambitions.

The day the Abe family will never forget began when Uta triumphed in the women’s 52kg category. The 21-year-old had cruised through to the final but was then taken deep into Golden Score overtime before overcoming Amandine Buchard of France.

She then cheered on as her big brother Hifumi overpowered Georgian judoka Vazha Margve­lashvili in the under-66kg gold medal fight.

Ohashi had got things going for Japan with victory in the 400m women’s medley and the gold rush was a boost for organisers hoping to see a lift in enthusiasm for the delayed Olympics among the Japanese public, who are labouring under a state of emergency in the capital.

Ohashi powered to victory, toppling Hungary’s defending champion Kati­nka Hosszu.

“I swam believing in myself. I really did not think of winning the gold,” said Ohashi.

Five years ago in Rio, Annemiek van Vleuten suffered an horrific crash in the women’s cycling road race when she was on course to win and she contributed another memorable Olympic moment on Sunday — again for all the wrong reasons.

Little-known Austrian amateur Anna Kiesenhofer made an audacious solo breakaway and somehow stayed clear to cross the line looking absolutely incredulous. She was not alone, as the vastly-experienced four-woman Dutch team seeking a third successive title were somehow unaware she had escaped.

Cue an embarrassing air-punching celebration by Van Vleuten who crossed the line second but thinking she had won.

“Have I got that wrong?,” she asked the team masseur at the finish line. She had spectacularly — leaving full-time teacher Kiesen­hofer with something very special to tell come September.

TUNISIA’S Ahmed Hafnaoui celebrates after winning the final of the men’s 400m freestyle swimming event at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Sunday.—AFP
TUNISIA’S Ahmed Hafnaoui celebrates after winning the final of the men’s 400m freestyle swimming event at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Sunday.—AFP

“I am happy that I was not too scared and I just went for it,” said Kiesenhofer after winning Austria’s first cycling gold since the inaugural Games of 1896.

The first world record of the Games came in the pool as Australia’s women rom­ped home in the 4x100m final.

Chase Kalisz delivered Team USA its first gold in the men’s 400m medley.

GOLFERS TEST POSITIVE

A USA men’s basketball team lost at an Olympics for the first time since the 2004 Athens Games as a team led by 11-time NBA All-Star Kevin Durant were beaten 83-76 by France.

Durant was held to just 10 points in an upset that shows the Americans have a fight on their hands to retain their title.

NBA player Evan Fournier top-scored with 28 points for France, finding form from three-point range late in the game to help his team claw back a 10-point deficit to stun the Americans.

Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty crashed out in the first round of the women’s tennis singles. The reigning Wimbledon champion lost 6-4, 6-3 to Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka won her first-round match — her first since withdrawing from the French Open in May and two days after lighting the Olympic flame — as she defeated 52nd-ranked Zheng Saisai of China 6-1, 6-4.

Elsewhere on Sunday, a century-long wait to see surfing at the Olympics came to an end at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach.

It marked the culmination of efforts to get surfing added to the Olympic programme dating back more than 100 years.

The spectre of Covid-19 meanwhile continued to stalk the Olympics, with the men’s golf tournament upended by two high-profile withdrawals.

World number one Jon Rahm was ruled out after returning a positive test — his second Covid-19 positive in two months — while Bryson DeChambeau also saw his Olympic hopes end with a positive case.

The Dutch rowing coach also tested positive as Olympic organisers reported 10 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total disclosed to 132.

In gymnastics, Simone Biles and the US women’s team trailed the Russians after qualifying in the team event, the first time in a decade they’ve failed to finish atop the standings during any portion of a major international event.

Biles led the field in a bid for her fifth gold medal, but the US team has work to do to repeat as Olympic champions. The ROC had a score of 171.629 through the first three subdivisions at the Ari­ake Gymnastics

Centre, ahead of the second-place Americans’ 170.562.

Medals Table

After Sunday’s events

(Tabulated under gold, silver, bronze, total):

China 6 1 4 11

Japan 5 1 0 6

United States 4 2 4 10

South Korea 2 0 3 5

Russian OC 1 4 2 7

Italy 1 1 3 5

Australia 1 1 1 3

France 1 1 1 3

Hungary 1 1 0 2

Tunisia 1 1 0 2

Austria 1 0 0 1

Ecuador 1 0 0 1

Iran 1 0 0 1

Kosovo 1 0 0 1

Thailand 1 0 0 1

Uzbekistan 1 0 0 1

Canada 0 2 0 2

Netherlands 0 2 0 2

Brazil 0 1 1 2

Taiwan 0 1 1 2

Britain 0 1 1 2

Indonesia 0 1 1 2

Serbia 0 1 1 2

Belgium 0 1 0 1

Bulgaria 0 1 0 1

Colombia 0 1 0 1

Georgia 0 1 0 1

India 0 1 0 1

Romania 0 1 0 1

Spain 0 1 0 1

Germany 0 0 2 2

Kazakhstan 0 0 2 2

Turkey 0 0 2 2

Ukraine 0 0 2 2

Estonia 0 0 1 1

Israel 0 0 1 1

Mexico 0 0 1 1

Mongolia 0 0 1 1

Slovenia 0 0 1 1

Switzerland 0 0 1 1

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2021

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