Politics, drama as Biles, Belarus and New Zealand’s Hubbard in focus

Published August 3, 2021
Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand in action  on Monday. — Reuters
Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand in action on Monday. — Reuters
JASMINE Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico (third R) leads to win the women’s 100m hurdles final at the Olympic Stadium on Monday.—Reuters
JASMINE Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico (third R) leads to win the women’s 100m hurdles final at the Olympic Stadium on Monday.—Reuters

TOKYO: Three women dominated the focus at the Olympics on Monday — US gymnast Simone Biles, Belarus sprinter Krystsina Tsiman­ouskaya and New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard — as politics and personal issues played out at the Tokyo Games.

China’s women’s team sprinters took the first gold on offer in the track cycling programme, powering to victory and helping solidify China’s leading medal haul. In gymnastics, American Jade Carey won the gold medal in the women’s floor event.

On the track, Puerto Rico won a first ever athletics gold medal and Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan unleashed her sizzling pace in the final lap to leave a gaping distance to the chasing pack and claim the women’s 5,000 metres gold, kicking off her bid for an unprecedented Olympic treble.

Biles will compete in the balance beam competition, officials said on Monday, in what would be the superstar gymnast’s last chance for gold in Tokyo after pulling out of other events citing mental health issues.

Biles shocked the world last week when she withdrew from several events, putting a focus on athletes’ mental health and deepening the drama at a Games that have seen plenty of controversy.

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland after taking refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo. She had refused her team’s orders to board a flight home early from the Games on Sunday.

New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard made history on Monday by becoming the first openly transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games, but suffered disappointment with an early exit from the women’s +87 kg competition won by China’s Li Wenwen.

Hubbard, 43, who was born male and competed as a man before transitioning to female in her 30s, was allowed to compete after meeting International Olympic Committee guidelines on testosterone for transgender athletes.

Her presence on the biggest stage has reignited debate about transgender athletes in women’s sport.

Before a low-key exit from the arena, she made a brief statement to reporters expressing gratitude to the International Olympic Committee and the International Weightlifting Federation for supporting her campaign.

“Of course, I’m not totally unaware of the controversy that surrounds my participation in these Games,” she said.

After pulling out of her first events with the “twisties”, a disorientating mental block, Biles was included on the list of eight finalists for Tuesday’s beam competition.

“We are so excited to confirm that you will see two U.S. athletes in the balance beam final tomorrow — Suni Lee AND Simone Biles!! Can’t wait to watch you both!” tweeted USA Gymnastics.

The 24-year-old Biles, who won four golds at the 2016 Rio Games, dropped out of the all-around, floor exercise, vault and asymmetric bars finals in Tokyo.

CHINA’S Liu Yang competes to win the artistic gymnastics men’s rings final at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre.—AFP
CHINA’S Liu Yang competes to win the artistic gymnastics men’s rings final at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre.—AFP

Even as Biles stole the spotlight, American Carey won the gold medal on floor exercise, Shin Jeahwan of South Korea won the men’s vault, and Liu Yang of China won the men’s still rings.

The Games are taking place without spectators and under strict measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic, an unprecedented event in the history of the modern Olympics.

The Tokyo Olympics have already been hit by public opposition, as polls have shown that most Japanese people oppose holding the Games amid the worsening pandemic.

China has pulled ahead on the medals tally with 29 golds, followed by the United States with 22 and Japan on 17.

China’s cycling team sprinters, Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi, broke their world record in the first round and although they were fractionally slower in the final, it was enough to beat Germany and retain the title.

Fans are allowed into the Izu Velodrome, which is outside Tokyo and the only indoor arena at the Olympics to permit spectators.

AMAZING RECOVERY

Dutchwoman Hassan began the day by falling on the last lap of her 1,500 metres heat, only to spring up and charge through the field to finish first.

Fuelled by caffeine, she returned to the track in the evening and was in total control of a slowly-run 5,000 metres, sitting in the pack before unleashing her trademark last-lap burst to win in a time of 14 minutes, 36.79 seconds. She beat Hellen Obiri of Kenya by nearly two seconds. Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia was third.

“Before the race here I didn’t even care. I was so tired. Without coffee I would never be Olympic champion,” said the Ethiopian-born athlete who is going for a unique triple of 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m.

CANADA’S Jessie Fleming (L) celebrates with team-mates after scoring the winner during their semi-final against the United States at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium.—AFP
CANADA’S Jessie Fleming (L) celebrates with team-mates after scoring the winner during their semi-final against the United States at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium.—AFP

In the 100 metres hurdles, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn won the first Olympic gold medal in athletics for Puerto Rico at the Games.

She exploded off the blocks to finish in 12.37 seconds despite hitting one hurdle, beating American world record holder Kendra Harrison who came in second with 12.52. Jamaica’s Megan Tapper finished third.

“This was what I wanted for this year. I wanted to be a gold medallist,” Camacho-Quinn said. “For such a small country it gives little people hope.”

Miltiadis Tentoglou of Greece won the men’s long jump in spectacular fashion as he leapt 8.41 metres in his final attempt to snatch the gold medal from Cuba’s Juan Miguel Echevarria.

Tentoglou was the world leader coming into Tokyo with an 8.60 metres leap at a domestic competition in May but struggled to find his form and was outside the medals positions as he hit the runway for the final time.

Discus thrower Valarie Allman won the first track and field gold medal for the US. Allman’s winning throw went 68.98 metres to hold off Kristin Pudenz of Germany in a competition that was delayed by rain.

Megan Rapinoe’s world champion US side crashed out to Canada in the semi-finals of the women’’ football tournament, losing 1-0 to Jessie Fleming’s second-half penalty.

“It sucks, obviously, you never want to lose,” said former world player of the year Rapinoe.

The Canadians will face Sweden in the final after they beat Australia by a single goal.

The quest for gold medals is on track, however, for the US women’s basketball and volleyball teams after finishing at the top of their groups in pool play.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2021

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