TOKYO: Caeleb Dressel got his first individual gold medal, the Chinese women put together a record-setting relay and American Sunisa Lee won the women’s all-around gymnastics gold.
After the biggest action of the day session on the sixth day of the Tokyo Olympics came at the pool, Lee shined at night in gymnastics with teammate Simone Biles watching from the stands.
Lee, the youngest member of the team, became the fifth straight American woman to claim the Olympic title in the women’s all-around. She edged Rebeca Andrade of Brazil in an entertaining and hotly contested final.
Lee’s total of 57.433 points was just enough to top Andrade. The Brazilian earned the first gymnastics all-around medal by a Latin American athlete but missed out on gold when she stepped out of bounds twice during her floor routine.
Russian gymnast Angelina Melnikova earned bronze two days after leading ROC to gold in the team final.
“It’s crazy,” the 18-year-old Lee told reporters after her win. “It doesn’t feel like real life at all.”
Biles, who stunned the Tokyo Games two nights ago by withdrawing from the all-around team event after a single vault, watched from the front row. It is still not clear whether she will compete in any of the individual events in the coming days.
Earlier on Thursday, Biles tweeted her appreciation for all the support that had flooded in after her candid statements about the pressure she was feeling shone a light on athletes’ mental health.
“...the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,” she said in a tweet.
As the Americans celebrated at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, their world champion pole vaulter Sam Kendricks was isolating in a hotel room after he tested positive for Covid-19 and was ruled out of the Games.
Argentine pole vaulter German Chiaraviglio also tested positive and was isolating, sending a chill through the track and field camp on the eve of the athletics competition.
“We are all pretty spooked out right now,” said Swedish world-record holder Armand Duplantis, whose bar battle with Kendricks was expected to be one of the highlights of the athletics programme.
Kendricks’ case triggered a panic in the Australian team, which went into precautionary isolation for more than two hours before all but three close contacts were released.
Kendricks, a two-time world champion, and Chiaraviglio will miss the pole vault competition when it starts on Saturday.
“We knew this Olympic Games was different and with different rules, and here I am, it’s my turn,” Chiaraviglio wrote on Instagram. “Living through this is very difficult, but it will also pass,” he added.
JAPAN AND CHINA ON TOP
The gymnastics gold was not enough to put the Americans top of the medal tally by the end of the day.
Instead, Japan’s Aaron Wolf and Shori Hamada grabbed gold medals in judo, bringing the host nation’s haul to 15, the same number as China, with the US just behind on 14.
Wolf, whose father is American and mother Japanese, threw South Korean Cho Gu-Ham to secure a dramatic ippon victory that ended more than five minutes of gruelling sudden-death overtime in the men’s 100kg final.
After Japan denied China a fourth straight table tennis team sweep by winning the mixed doubles, they reasserted their dominance when Chen Meng beat Sun Yingsha in an all-Chinese women’s singles title.
Japan’s stellar performance had Tokyo residents queuing up for photos around an Olympic monument near the city’s National Stadium with fans who have been banned from attending the events as spectators eager to celebrate any way they could.
Earlier, Dressel, America’s successor to Michael Phelps, won the 100m freestyle in an Olympic record of 47.02 seconds a mere six-hundredths ahead of defending champion Kyle Chalmers of Australia. That gave him a fourth career gold medal, with three previous ones coming in relays.
“It is a lot different. I guess I thought it would be, I just didn’t want to admit to it,” he said. “It’s a lot tougher. You have to rely on yourself, theres no one to bail you out.”
Robert Finke won another gold for the United States in the men’s 800m freestyle, while Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook claimed the men’s 200m breaststroke gold in an Olympic record 2:06.38.
The most dramatic race of the day came when China surprised the US and Australia with a world-record performance in the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay.
Katie Ledecky took the anchor leg for the Americans in third place, nearly two seconds behind the Chinese and also trailing the Aussies.
Ledecky passed Australia’s Leah Neale and closed the gap significant on China’s Zhang Yufei, but couldn’t quite catch her at the end.
She touched in a world-record 7 minutes, 40.33 seconds.
“We didn’t expect to win the race because the Americans and Australians are so strong,” said a shocked Zhang, who only found out she had to swim in the relay after her Olympic record gold in the 200m butterfly an hour earlier.
The Americans claimed silver in 7:40.73, while Australia took the bronze in 7:41.29. All three medalists broke the previous world record of 7:41.50 set by the Aussies at the 2019 world championships.
Sepp Straka of Austria made four birdies in his last six holes for an eight-under 63 for a one-shot lead over Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand in the first round of men’s golf.
Thomas Pieters of Belgium, who finished one spot out of a bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro five years ago, shot 30 on the back nine for a 65.
Carlos Ortiz of Mexico also had a 65 in ideal scoring conditions on a course so pristine it didn’t have a divot when players first began arriving because it was closed for two months.
At a sweltering Ariake Tennis Park, world number one Novak Djokovic swept aside home hope Kei Nishikori 6-2, 6-0 to reach the semi-finals as he targets his first Olympic title.
The Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon champion, on course for the first men’s Golden Slam of winning all four majors and the Olympics, will face Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the last four.
In the women’s tournament, 12th-ranked Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will meet in the gold-medal match.
Bencic beat Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 6-3 and Vondrousova who eliminated Naomi Osaka in the third round defeated fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-3, 6-1.
Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen and Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen were among the men’s badminton contenders to safely reach the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile organisers announced a daily record of 24 new Games-related infects, three of whom are athletes, taking the overall number of positive cases to 193.
The rising figure coincides with record numbers of new cases in Tokyo and nationwide. But the International Olympic Committee said there was no link with the Games.
“As far as I’m aware there’s not a single case of an infection spreading to the Tokyo population from the athletes or Olympic movement,” spokesman Mark Adams told reporters.
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2021