Djokovic’s golden dream ends on day of upsets

Published July 31, 2021
Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during his semifinal match against Alexander Zverev of Germany on Friday. — Reuters
Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during his semifinal match against Alexander Zverev of Germany on Friday. — Reuters
AUSTRALIA’S Lauren Reynolds (L) and Axelle Etienne of France crash during the women’s individual BMX racing competition at the Ariake Urban Sports Park on Friday. — Reuters
AUSTRALIA’S Lauren Reynolds (L) and Axelle Etienne of France crash during the women’s individual BMX racing competition at the Ariake Urban Sports Park on Friday. — Reuters

TOKYO: World number one Novak Djokovic had his dreams of tennis gold dashed on Friday while Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega felled the reigning world 10,000 metres Olympic champion, on a day of upsets that saw doping allegations surface at the swimming pool.

Serbia’s Djokovic was aiming to become the first man to complete the Golden Slam — Olympic gold and all four majors in the same year — but was undone by fifth-ranked German Alexander Zverev who fought back after losing the first set.

The two men embraced briefly at the net and Zverev appeared to sob into his towel after winning 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 at the Ariake Tennis Park. He will meet Russian Karen Khachanov in the final.

Djokovic’s second chance of a gold medal vanished hours later, as he and Nina Stojanovic lost their mixed doubles semi-final to Russian pair Aslan Karatsev and Elena Vesnina 7-6 (7-4), 7-5.

He joins leading players including Naomi Osaka and Ash Barty in failing to make it through the tennis competition.

In the men’s doubles, Croatia’s Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic beat compatriots Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6 (10-6) for their country’s first ever gold and silver medals in the sport.

In the first final of the athletics programme, Barega sprinted the last lap to leave Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, who also holds the 10,000m world record, trailing.

As viewer data suggested, Tokyo 2020 has so far been less watched than other recent Games, the day was also marked by crashes on the BMX track, including one that saw 28-year-old American favourite Connor Fields rushed to hospital.

A sense of unease also spread through the Tokyo Aquatics Centre as American Ryan Murphy said his 200m backstroke final was “probably not clean” following the loss of the title he won in 2016 to the Russian Olympic Committee’s (ROC) Evgeny Rylov.

Murphy, who won three golds in Rio, however later backed away from any implication that his rivals had cheated.

Held in Tokyo without spectators and after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been characterised by tumult and scandals from the get-go, and have yet to set the ratings alight for global broadcasters.

The unpredictable nature of this Games due to Covid-19 disruptions and delay has created high drama at the top of the medal tally in the first week.

JAPAN’S Masaru Yamada (R) and Kweon Youngjun of South Korea compete in the men’s epee team semi-final on Friday.—AP
JAPAN’S Masaru Yamada (R) and Kweon Youngjun of South Korea compete in the men’s epee team semi-final on Friday.—AP

China ended the seventh day of competition with 19 golds, while host nation Japan had 17 ahead of the United States with 14.

The on-field excitement has not translated into ratings with data from the opening ceremony and the first few nights showing viewing figures across Europe and America were lower for these Games than other recent editions.

TV viewership is up in Australia and Japan, however.

Covid-19 infections have also risen, totalling 3,300 in Tokyo on Friday, after hitting a record 3,865 a day earlier, adding to the strain on the medical system.

The government broadened a state of emergency to four more prefectures and extended Tokyo’s until the end of August from August 22.

US-RUSSIA DOPING ROW ERUPTS

Murphy, who won gold in the 100m and 200m Rio finals, surrendered both titles to Rylov in Tokyo.

“I’ve got 15 thoughts, 13 of them would get me into a lot of trouble,” he said when asked by a reporter if he had any doping concerns about his races, subsequently suggesting the 200m had been tainted.

More than half of the expected 5,000 doping tests at the Games have already been conducted, the International Testing Agency said, with no information yet on any positive cases.

But Rylov, who won with an Olympic-record time of 1 minute, 53.29 seconds, said Murphy was entitled to his thoughts given that there had been scandals.

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) hit back, tweeting “the broken record is once again playing the song about Russia doping and someone is diligently pressing the button on the English-language propaganda”.

TATJANA Schoenmaker of South Africa swims to set a new world record and take gold in the final of the women’s 200m breaststroke at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.—AFP
TATJANA Schoenmaker of South Africa swims to set a new world record and take gold in the final of the women’s 200m breaststroke at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.—AFP

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency said Rylov had been tested three times this year and that he was “prepared and clean”.

Russia are banned from Tokyo 2020 after being found guilty of state-sponsored doping, meaning their athletes cannot use the Russian flag and anthem.

But more than 300 Russian competitors have been allowed to compete under the ROC moniker, and they have won 10 golds to lie fourth in the medals table.

In other swimming events, the medals were again spread between countries other than traditional powerhouses.

South African Tatjana Schoenmaker won the women’s 200m breaststroke in world record time of two minutes, 18.95 seconds, while Wang Shun’s victory in the 200m medley was China’s first men’s swimming gold.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” said Schoenmaker, who added to her silver in the 100 breaststroke. “It couldn’t have been a better race. It still just doesn’t sink in, maybe one day.”

Australia’s Emma McKeon claimed her fourth medal in Tokyo as she blazed to the women’s 100m freestyle title in a new Olympic record of 51.96sec.

JAMAICA’S Elaine Thompson-Herah (R) competes in the women’s 100m heats at the Olympic Stadium on Friday.—AFP
JAMAICA’S Elaine Thompson-Herah (R) competes in the women’s 100m heats at the Olympic Stadium on Friday.—AFP

GOLDEN TRACK

As the athletics began in an Olympic Stadium deprived of spectators by anti-coronavirus measures, Barega timed his run to perfection to win in 27 minutes, 43.22 seconds and upset Cheptegei. Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda was third.

Jamaican sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made an impressive start in the 100m as she attempts to become the first woman to win an individual Olympic athletics event three times.

The Jamaican, champion in 2008 and 2012, accelerated out of her blocks and strode over the line for a first-round victory in 10.84sec.

One of her rivals, the Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou, blasted to 10.78sec and reigning champion Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica recorded 10.82sec on what looks to be a fast track.

The semi-finals and final of that event take place on Saturday.

A faulty exchange in the Olympic debut of the mixed 4x400 relay cost the US a spot in the final. The US breezed to a victory in the first qualifying heat of the relay, but were disqualified because of a bad pass between Lynna Irby and Elija Godwin. The ruling said Irby had positioned herself outside the zone to receive the baton from Godwin.

World record-holder Karsten Warholm of Norway strolled through his heat of the 400m hurdles heat, an event that could be one of the highlights.

Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba eased through but said he felt the absence of spectators: “It was really, really difficult. I really missed the crowd.”

ROW THE BOAT

The final day of Olympic rowing delivered thrills when Greece’s Stefanos Ntouskos upset the favourites in the men’s single sculls and Canada ended US dominance of the women’s eights. Four-time Olympian Emma Twigg, of New Zealand, ensured her country kept a grip on the sport with another gold in the women’s single sculls. New Zealand also won the men’s eight.

In gymnastics, Zhu Xueying led China to the top two podium positions in the women’s trampoline as Canada’s Rosie MacLennan was denied a golden hat-trick.

France’s judo superstar Teddy Riner came up short in his bid to win a historic third consecutive heavyweight title, losing to Russia’s Tamerlan Bashaev in the quarter-final. Czech Lukas Krpalek won gold while Riner had to settle for bronze.

Women’s heavyweight Akira Sone won Japan’s ninth gold medal in judo at the Games after she beat Cuban veteran Idalys Ortiz in the final.

In fencing, the top four teams in the men’s team epee crashed out in the quarter-finals and world number eight Japan secured the gold with a 45-36 victory over the Russian Olympic Committee.

Megan Rapinoe scored the crucial spot kick as the US women’s football team stayed alive in a penalty shootout victory over the Netherlands after the match ended 2-2 following extra time. The Americans play Canada in the semi-finals.

Australia beat Great Britain 4-3 after extra time and will face Sweden in the other semi.

AMERICAN AWAKE AFTER CRASH

Colombian Mariana Pajon’s long reign as queen of women’s BMX racing was ended by British underdog Bethany Shriever in a gripping final on an accident-marred day in which Fields was taken to hospital

The reigning gold medalist slammed into the turn coming off a jump and was hit by two other riders at the Ariake Urban Sports Park. A team official later said that Fields was “awake, stable and awaiting further medical evaluation” in hospital.

The men’s gold was won by Dutchman Niek Kimmann who edged out Britain’s Kye Whyte in another thriller.

Chinese badminton players turned up the heat on their rivals, winning mixed doubles gold — after Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping beat favourites Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong 21-17, 17-21, 21-19 — and staying unbeaten in singles competition.

Olympic and world champion Ma Long celebrated exuberantly as he retained his men’s table tennis singles title, beating compatriot Fan Zhendong 4-2. It meant that Chinese men have swept the table tennis gold and silver medals in singles for the fourth straight Olympics.

Elsewhere, An San of South Korea won her third straight archery gold medal in the women’s individual event and Russian shooter Vitalina Batsarashkina won the women’s 25m pistol.

The Czech Republic’s Jiri Prskavec won the gold medal in the men’s kayak slalom on the final run of the event.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2021

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