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It was an evening of giants at the Olympic aquatics centre in Barra da Tijuca, starting with the biggest: Michael Phelps. In one hour, the most decorated Olympian of all time won his 20th and 21st gold medals. First, he reclaimed the 200m butterfly title that that had been taken from him by the South African Chad le Clos in London in 2012. With a superb winning time of 1:53.36, he beat Masato Sakai from Japan by 0.041 seconds, while Le Clos finished in fourth place, outside the medal positions. Phelps, who won this event in 2004 and 2008 and came second in 2012, became the first swimmer to step onto the podium four times for the same individual race at the Games. But it was about to get even better, as Phelps took gold again – this time in the 4x200m freestyle relay event. As the final relay swimmer after Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte, he brought home the victory for the US team, which won by some distance in a time of 7:00.66, ahead of Great Britain and Japan. Phelps immediately received a deserved ovation from the crowd at the Olympic pool. Having climbed out the water, he sat down on his starting block – exhausted but content. And aware that he had become, in the space of an hour, one of the heroes of the Rio Games.
Katie Ledecky and Katinka Hosszu, however, were not to be outdone. The American claimed victory in the 200m freestyle, 48 hours after winning the 400m. With a time of 1:53.73, she beat off competition from Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström (1:54.08) and Australia’s Emma McKeon (1:54.92). “I’m pretty sure that’s the closest I’ve come to throwing up in the middle of a race,” said Ledecky, who had to dig deep to clinch victory. Hungary’s “Iron Lady”, meanwhile, claimed her third gold medal in Rio. Following the 400m medley and the 100m backstroke, Hosszu won the 200m medley with a new Olympic record of 2:06.58. “Three gold medals! Incredible!” she exclaimed.
Having already shone in the gymnastics competitions at the Olympic Arena, the five members of the US women’s team (Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman) ensured that there was no chance of suspense in the women’s artistic team all-around competition. They got themselves ahead right from the start, in the vault, and continued to increase their lead. Biles received the highest scores in the vault (15.933), the beam (15.300) and the floor exercise (15.800). Kocian and Douglas were the most outstanding performers on the uneven bars (15.933 and 15.766 respectively). Finally, good friends Biles and Raisman performed, in turn, magnificent routines in the floor exercise. Biles dazzled spectators and judges alike with her incredible poise, flexibility, energy and artfulness, in a display set to Brazilian music, and ended up with a score of 15.800! Ultimately, the “Final Five”, as the US team nicknamed themselves, carved out a lead of more than eight points (8.209) over the Russians, who took silver ahead of China.
The individual and team equestrian eventing competitions concluded in Deodoro on 9 August with the two jumping courses. Ultimately, the French quartet of Astier Nicolas (Piaf de B’Neville), Karim Laghouag (Entebbe), Thibaut Vallette (Qing du Briot) and Mathieu Lemoine (Bart L) claimed victory ahead of Germany and Australia. Nicolas and Germany’s Michael Jung (double Olympic champion in London in 2012 with Sam, who he was again competing with in Rio) battled it out for individual gold in the jumping final. Jung produced a faultless performance, while Nicolas knocked down one bar. And so, after three days of competition, Nicolas took home one gold medal and one silver, and Jung won one silver and one gold! These victories gave France and Germany their first gold medals at the 2016 Games.
The final of the women’s -63kg lasted 1 minute 45 seconds. That was when Slovenian judoka Tina Trstenjak threw her French opponent, Clarisse Agbegnenou, to the floor and kept her pinned down to achieve the ippon. It was Trstenjak’s third consecutive ippon in the competition after the quarter-final and semi-final. “I didn’t make the best of starts, but things just got better and better, and it went perfectly in the last fight!” she said. The final of the men’s -81kg ended after 2 minutes 45 seconds, when, countering a move by his American opponent Travis Stevens, Russia’s Khasan Khalmurzaev threw him to the mat with a textbook uchi-mata. An ippon and a classy victory for the 22-year-old reigning European champion, who said that he was “happy for the people of Russia”.
With a flawless run on the churning white-water course in Deodoro, France’s Denis Gargaud Chanut secured the quickest time to become Olympic champion, succeeding his compatriot, the three-time champion (2000, 2004 and 2012) and IOC member Tony Estanguet, who presented Gargaud Chanut with his gold medal. Gargaud Chanut narrowly beat Slovakia’s Matej Benus by 0.85 seconds, but was not troubled by his other rivals, with Japan’s Takuya Haneda more than three seconds behind in third place. “At the bottom of the run I was on fire!” said the new champion.
Having done the high diving double twice (individual and synchronised in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012), Chen Ruolin added to her gold medal haul with a fifth title. Together with 18-year-old Liu Huixia – making this the third time she had won gold with a different partner, following her victories in the synchronised 10m platform at the two previous editions of the Games – Chen clinched the victory, managing to hold off the Malaysian team of Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong, whose inspired performance saw them take silver. Canada’s Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion, bronze medallists in London in 2012, obtained the same result in Rio. Chen was full of praise for her partner at the Carioca Games: “I think that she is doing very well, especially since these are her first Games! It's normal for her to be nervous, but she still did very well.”
He dreamt at night about doing it, and he actually went on to do it! Park Sang-young had to move mountains to become the first fencer from the Republic of Korea to win the épée event at the Games, and overcame his biggest obstacle in the final – veteran Hungarian Géza Imre, who won his first Olympic medal in Atlanta in 1996. The reigning world champion, 41, stormed into the lead and was one touch from victory at 14-11. But Park scored five points in a row to win 15-14. “Imre is very experienced and very flexible when competing but I had speed on my side. And it was with speed that I decided to enter this match and tried to win that way,” said a delighted Park. Bronze was won by France’s Gauthier Grumier.
Greece’s Anna Korakaki was crowned Olympic champion in the 25m pistol, beating Germany’s Monika Karsch 8-6 and winning her country’s first gold medal since the Athens Games in 2004. Korakaki, 20, claimed her second medal in Rio, after taking bronze in the 10m air pistol. At the shooting centre in Deodoro, Switzerland’s Heidi Diethelm Gerber won the bronze medal after coming out on top against China’s Zhang Jingjing (8-4) in the third-place match. The champion from Greece managed to hold her nerve throughout the competition, particularly in the final against Karsch, when the German drew level to make it 6-6 and everything came down to the final five shots.
The weightlifters from the People’s Republic of China won their second and third gold medals at the Riocentro Pavilion 2: Deng Wei in the women’s -63 kg – setting a new world record for good measure – and Shi Zhiyong in the men’s -69kg category, taking the title won by his namesake in 2004 in Athens! Deng achieved an Olympic record in the snatch (115kg) and then world records in the clean-and-jerk (147kg) and the total (262kg). Performances that were very much needed to beat the young weightlifter from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Choe Hyo-sim, who finished on 248kg. Shi lifted 352kg, one kilogram more than Turkey’s Daniyar Ismayilov.
Fresh from her victory at Wimbledon, where she equalled Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles, reigning Olympic champion and world number one Serena Williams failed to make it past the third round in Rio. She was eliminated by Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in two sets (6-4, 6-3) having already lost in the first round of the women’s doubles with her sister Venus. At the same time, in Deodoro, the rugby wizards from Fiji got going in style in the men’s rugby sevens tournament, with victories over Brazil (40-12) and Argentina (21-14). The first round of the women’s football reached its conclusion, with Brazil, Australia, the USA, Sweden, Canada, France, China and Germany making the quarter-finals.