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The crowd at Rio’s Olympic Arena were treated to a magnificent, nail-biting spectacle at the men’s gymnastics individual all-around competition. The title of “King” Kohei Uchimura, the reigning champion and gold medallist with Japan in the team event two days earlier, came under serious threat from Ukraine’s dynamic Oleg Verniaiev. Verniaiev went ahead after the third rotation and increased his lead with a scintillating performance on the parallel bars. It all came down to the horizontal bar. Uchimura pulled out all the stops, obtained a score of 15.800 and ended up winning by a slender margin of 0.099 points! “I’ve held this title since 2009, but this was the closest it’s been,” said Uchimura, referring to his six consecutive world titles and Olympic gold medal in 2012 in this event. “I got as close as possible to his score as nobody has done before,” said Verniaiev. Max Whitlock won a historic bronze medal for Great Britain.
The men’s and women’s time trials took place on the same day. On the coastal, hilly circuit at Pontal, on the eve of her 43rd birthday, Kristin Armstrong won her third gold medal in this discipline. “I don’t have the words to describe it. When you’ve already been two times at the pinnacle of the sport, why risk coming back for the gold medal? The best answer I can give is that I can. Today, the stars aligned!” Armstrong, the oldest Olympic cycling champion, had already taken gold in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, and had hung up her cycling shoes after each of her Olympic titles! In the pouring rain, Armstrong’s final few kilometres proved decisive to beat Russia’s Olga Zabelinskaya by five seconds and the Netherlands’ Anna van der Breggen by 11 seconds, at the end of a 29.7km course in slippery road conditions.
For his part, Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, just before his retirement from cycling, truly lived up to his status as the time trial master by winning his second Olympic title, after victory in Beijing in 2008. Cancellara clinched the victory by drawing on all his strength in the second lap of the Grumari circuit, and beat off competition from Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin and the recent winner of the Tour de France, Chris Froome. “To leave the sport at the end of this season with the gold medal is just a perfect way to end my career. It was a big scream on the podium. This was the last big time trial of my life!” said Cancellara, nicknamed “Spartacus”.
Katie Ledecky won her third gold medal and stepped onto the podium for the fourth time at the Olympic aquatics centre. After taking silver in the 4x100m freestyle, and then gold in the 200m and 400m freestyle, she secured victory for the USA in the 4x200m freestyle. As the final relay swimmer after Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith and Maya DiRado, she caught and overtook Australia’s Tamsin Cook, and touched the wall to give her team a winning time of 7:43:03, and a decent winning margin. Australia’s Kyle Chalmers, at 18, became the new king of the swim sprint. He won the 100m freestyle final in a time of 47.58, ahead of Belgium’s Pieter Timmers and reigning champion Nathan Adrian from the USA. Chalmers became the first Australian to win over this distance since Mike Wenden in Mexico City in 1968.
Mireia Belmonte Garcia became Spain’s first female Olympic champion in swimming after winning a breathtaking 200m butterfly final. She touched the wall in a time of 2:04.85, beating Australia’s Madeline Groves by 0.03 seconds. The reigning world champion, Japan’s Natsumi Hoshi, took bronze with a time of 2:05.20. In another first, Dmitriy Balandin won Kazakhstan’s first ever swimming gold medal in the 200m breaststroke, beating the USA’s Josh Perot by 0.07 seconds and Russia’s Anton Chupkov by 0.24 seconds.
Great Britain’s Joseph Clarke was crowned Olympic champion in the kayak single (K1) on the white-water course in Deodoro, beating Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer and the Czech Republic’s Jiri Prskavec. He became the first ever Brit to win gold in this discipline.
“I just can’t really put it into words. My words are probably just going to come out in one big blur; I’m just so made up. I have so many amazing memories of this sport and this just tops all of them in one day,” said the new Olympic champion, whose lightning quick, faultless run came when it mattered most!
Haruka Tachimoto and Mashu Baker struck double gold for Japan at the Carioca Arena 2, with Tachimoto winning in the women’s -70kg and Baker clinching victory in the men’s -90kg, bouncing back after his disappointment in London in 2012. Tachimoto beat the triple world champion, Colombia’s Yuri Alvear, with an ippon. She managed to throw her opponent to the floor and pin her down after only 2 minutes 19 seconds. Baker, meanwhile, had to dig deep in the final to overcome Georgia’s Varlam Liparteliani and his unpredictable style of judo. But the young Japanese judoka managed to impose himself with authority, scoring a yuko with an ouchi gari (inner reap throw) and maintaining his lead until the end. “The Japanese long for the gold medal so we have to perform graciously and courageously – we have to win the gold medal,” said Tachimoto.
Having come through the earlier rounds of the women’s singles with commanding performances, China’s Li Xiaoxia and Ding Ning faced each other in the final, as they had done in London in 2012, when Li won 4-1. Four years on, Ding did not make the same mistakes, and gained her revenge with a 4-3 victory (11-9, 5-11, 14-12, 9-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-7). “London made me more experienced. I was able to forget the sad memory of the defeat and focus on the match. Going into the final, I told myself just to fight for my dream. It was a difficult match! When I realised that it was all over, I felt really relaxed and I just started to cry,” explained Ding.
Great Britain’s Jack Laugher and Chris Mears took gold in the men’s synchronised 3m springboard, ending China’s hopes of a potential clean sweep. Scoring a total of 454.32 points, the British duo claimed victory ahead of the USA’s Sam Dorman and Mike Hixon (450.21 pts), while the Chinese pair of Cao Yuan and Qin Kai, the reigning world champions who had comfortably taken the lead after the first two rounds, looked poised to make it four diving golds out of four for China. But they failed to nail their third dive, and a brilliant dive from Laugher and Mears sent them into the lead. The Americans then attempted and flawlessly executed a difficult manoeuvre on their sixth and final dive of the competition to move ahead of the Chinese into second. “I’m just in complete shock really. I mean I’ve dreamed about this for my entire life and to come here and actually do it just feels absolutely surreal to be honest,” laughed a disbelieving Laugher.
Hungary’s Aron Szilagyi achieved an extremely rare feat; the 26-year-old retained his Olympic sabre title, beating the USA’s Daryl Homer 15-8 in the final, in a match in which he was never in any danger. Szilagyi secured his status as one of the sabre greats by doing the double, following in the footsteps of compatriots Jeno Fuchs (1908-1912) and Rudolf Kárpáti (1956-1960); the USSR’s Viktor Krovopuskov (1976-1980); and France’s Jean-François Lamour (1984-1988).
In the women’s foil, reigning champion Elisa Di Francisca was looking to continue Italy’s dominance in the event, which had lasted since the Sydney Games in 2000. She reached the final, where she faced Inna Deriglazova from Russia. Deriglazova took a 12-7 lead, but the Jesi-born fencer pulled it back to 11-12 with three seconds to go. She could not, however, hit her opponent again, and the Russian clinched the win. Tunisia’s Inès Boubakri took bronze – the first fencing medal won by an African woman.
Jin Jong-oh (Republic of Korea) was crowned Olympic champion for the third time in the 50m pistol at the Deodoro shooting centre, beating Vietnam’s Hoang Xuan Vinh, who had already taken gold in the 10m air pistol in Rio, and Kim Song-guk (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). He became the first shooter to win gold at three consecutive editions of the Olympic Games. For his part, Fehaid Aldeehani, who has competed in the shooting events at every Games since Barcelona in 1992, overcame adverse weather conditions to defeat Italy’s Marco Innocenti in the double trap final. Aldeehani, who was competing at the Rio Games as an independent athlete, hit 26 targets (launched two at a time, hence the name of the event) out of 30, compared to his Italian rival’s total of 24. In the all-British bronze medal match, Steven Scott came out on top against Tim Keale, scoring a perfect 30.