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What an afternoon at the Carioca 2 Arena for Japanese women’s wrestling! Three titles up for grabs, and three victories, with, in order of appearance: Eri Tosaka in the -48 kg, Kaori Icho in the -58kg and Sara Dosho in the -69 kg. Tosaka won 3-2 in the final against Azerbaijan’s Mariya Stadnik, adding Olympic gold to the three world titles that she won from 2013 to 2015, leaving Stadnik with another silver to go with the one she collected at London 2012. Icho, meanwhile, has remained undefeated at the Games since the introduction of women’s freestyle wrestling in Athens in 2004! She beat Russia’s Valeriia Koblova 3-1 to become the first woman to win four consecutive individual gold medals, the only one to have won four wrestling titles, and the first Japanese woman to triumph four times at the Olympic Games. This feat is equalled only by US discus thrower Al Oerter and his compatriots Carl Lewis in the long jump and Michael Phelps in swimming. Lastly, Dosho saw off the Russian holder of the Olympic 72kg title, Natalia Vorobieva, with a 3-1 victory.
Like Tosaka and Icho before her, Dosho had to overcome a poor start in the final to take the edge. She then completed the golden hat trick of Japanese women’s wrestling: “It was not our strategy to win like that, with a comeback in the last few seconds. I just did not give up and I just convinced myself of never giving up.”
Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson achieved the first 100/200m double at the Games since the USA’s Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988 in Seoul, winning the 200m, four days after the 100m, in 21.78. Thompson, 24, beat the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers (21.88) and the USA’s Tori Bowie (22.15). In lane 6, the Jamaican got off to a fast start. She came off the bend in the lead, Schippers tried to draw level on the home straight, but Thompson remained ahead throughout, crossing the finish line first by 0.1 seconds. She then seemed incredulous, lying down while she waited for the results to appear on the giant screen. The times flashed up, Elaine Thompson leapt to her feet and gave a great roar! “I’m a warrior, a strong girl. I guess hard work pays off!” said the Rio sprint queen.
Olympic champion and world record holder in the 4x100m relay with the USA in London in 2012, and also two-time world champion in the long jump (2005 and 2015), Tianna Bartoletta, defied the odds, outshining her compatriot, title-holder Brittney Reese, in the sand pit of the Olympic Stadium. A huge jump of 7.17m on her fifth attempt secured the win, with Reese missing the mark by 2cm on her sixth attempt (7.15m). Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic took bronze with 7.08m. “I think my first reaction was to make sure I’m ready for the relay tomorrow,” said Bartoletta. “My work isn’t finished yet, the celebrations can wait until after the relay. I’ve still got to do a job for my country.”
In the 100m hurdles, the Americans achieved a unique hat trick, with Brianna Rollins on the top step of the podium (12.48) accompanied by Nia Ali (12.59) and Kristi Castlin (12.61). Rollins controlled the race from the start and won comfortably with a good lead. It was much tighter behind her: Great Britain’s Cindy Ofili pushed Ali and Castlin all the way, missing out on bronze by 0.02 seconds. “I didn’t feel any pressure and I knew we could achieve something like that,” said Rollins. “We spoke about it a bit before the race but not much. We wanted to stay focused and do our best. It just shows how strong a team we are.”
At 21, Conseslus Kipruto confirmed his status as the latest Kenyan 3,000m steeplechase legend (his country has won all of the men’s titles over this distance since the Games in Los Angeles in 1984), winning with an Olympic record of 8:03.28 ahead of the USA’s Evan Jager (8:04.28) and France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (8:11.52). Unbeaten in 2016, Kipruto manoeuvred himself into a three-man breakaway and then kicked for home with a lap remaining to complete a commanding win that he began celebrating as he cruised down the final straight. “I saw the screen and I saw I was far from them, and I knew nobody was going to catch me,” said the new star of Kenyan steeplechasing. “I knew I was going to win the gold in the final 100m. Even before the race I knew I would win.” His famous predecessor, Olympic champion in 2004 and 2012 and four-time world champion Ezekiel Kemboi, originally finished in third place, but was then disqualified for having stepped outside the lane during the race.
Forty years after the country’s victory at the Montreal Games in 1976, Pénélope Leprévost, Kévin Staut, Philippe Rozier and Roger-Yves Bost provided France with the team show jumping gold medal at the equestrian arena in Deodoro. Perfect in the saddle, riding on Flora de Mariposa on the first day of competition, Leprévost set her team on the right track: fifth with one penalty point, behind Germany, Brazil, the USA and the Netherlands. The following day, 17 August, riders and their steeds came undone one by one, except for the “blues”: Rozier (Rahotep de Toscane) to start, then Staut (Rêveur de Hurtebise), and finally Bost (Sydney Une Prince) cleared their rounds and won, without Leprévost needing to finish with her horse! The USA and Germany also stepped up to the podium. Rozier, son of Marcel, Olympic champion in Montreal, remarked: “The medal is in my father’s living room, and now I have my own. It’s a childhood dream. It has really happened! My father told me that it was the greatest gift he could hope for … 40 years later.” Bost added: “We kept the faith till the end. Horse riding is never over till it’s over. We never thought we’d get the gold. After all, there were four or five better teams – we weren’t the favourites.”
China, with its men’s team of Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike winning against Japan, achieved its third Olympic clean sweep in a row by taking the four titles up for grabs in Rio, as it did in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. The winner of the men’s singles, Ma, brilliantly helped his team to overcome a surprise challenge from the Japanese, particularly in the doubles match, to rack up a 3-1 victory. The bronze medal went to Germany, who beat South Korea 3-1 too. Winner of the match against Xu, Jun Mizutani was looking to capitalise on the experience acquired in Rio: “By competing in the finals during the Olympic Games at this stage and the way we lost to China may be even more valuable to us than the medal. This gave us a great deal of self-confidence by playing the Chinese team, and I look forward to Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the notion that we can beat the Chinese team there.”
South Korea’s Kim So-hui shone in the final of the -49kg, having been given the run around by Serbian teen Tijana Bogdanovic in the third and last round, conceding 4 points, though she had taken the first two rounds. Kim finally won 7-6 and declared: “I didn’t even expect to be the Olympic champion. I really did my best, and I totally feel on cloud nine!” Thailand’s Panipak Wongpattanakit and Azerbaijan’s Patimat Abakarova shared the bronze medals.
China’s Zhao Shuai became Olympic champion in the men’s -58kg category, after beating Thailand’s Tawin Hanprab (6-4) in the final. The Dominican Republic’s Luisito Pie and South Korea’s Kim Tae-hun took home bronze. Zhao burst onto the taekwondo scene to win Olympic gold, his first major title. The athlete, with his streamlined physique (1.88m), dominated this final, even though his Thai opponent threatened him with a kick to the head in the second round. But Zhao never wavered and went on to win 6-4, becoming the first Chinese Olympic taekwondo champion.
In the unique setting of Copacabana Beach, and in front of thousands of Brazilian supporters, German pair Kira Walkenhorst and Laura Ludwig won the first Olympic beach volleyball title for their country, easily defeating Brazilians Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas De Freitas by 2 sets to 0 (21-18, 21-14). The German duo dealt much better with the wind, which picked up just before the final on Copacabana Beach, serving three aces while the Brazilians faulted five times. Ludwig explained that they used this to their advantage. “There was a storm coming and I thought, let's take this storm and make our own storm. We just took care of our own passing and setting, and in this case we did it better. The key point was the effective serving.”
For the bronze, the US pair made up of Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross dispatched the Brazilian world no. 1s Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes in three sets, 17-21, 21-17, 15-9. Triple Olympic champion 2004-2008-2012 with Misty May-Treanor, Walsh-Jennings won her fourth medal, and became the most decorated beach volleyball player at the Games.
Kazakh boxer Daniyar Yeleussinov was crowned Olympic champion in the 69kg category, triumphing 3-0 in the final against Uzbekistan’s Shakhram Giyasov in the ring in Pavillon 6 Riocentro, following a unanimous decision by the judges. France’s Souleymane Cissokho and Morocco’s Mohamed Rabii took home the bronze medals. Yeleussinov, aged 25, bolstered his medal collection, having been world welterweight champion in 2013 and runner-up in 2015. It was only the second time that a country had won gold in the same category at four consecutive Olympic Games, and with four different boxers. Kazakhstan’s Serik Sapiyev took gold at London 2012; he succeeded Bakhyt Sarsekbayev, the winner in Beijing in 2008, while Bakhtiyar Artayev was triumphant in Athens in 2004. “It’s our weight, 69kg, and I’ve just proved it again. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because we are so talented in this great category,” said Yeleussinov.
Indonesians Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir overcame the Chinese badminton mixed doubles reigning champions in the semi-final, claiming the mixed doubles gold medal when they beat Malaysians Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying in the final on the court at the Riocentro Pavillon. Ahmad, aged 29, and Natsir, 30, enthusiastically cheered on by a strong contingent of their nation’s supporters, did not provide any breathing space to Chan and Goh, who were cleanly beaten 2-0 (21-14 and 21-12). “I feel relieved, proud and happy. This is payback for London because Indonesia has always won gold medals in badminton but we didn't then,” said Natsir.
On the turf of the Maracanã, Neymar’s Brazil crushed Honduras 6-0 to win a place in the final. Germany did the same at the Corinthians Arena in São Paulo, beating Nigeria 2-0. Thus, Brazil, who had never won the Olympic gold, would try to succeed on 20 August in front of their home supporters, and also try to erase a painful memory: the 7-1 defeat by the same team in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final in Brazil.