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Michael Phelps had returned to competition in 2014 following his retirement from swimming after his 18th gold medal in London, in 2012. He won his next in the final of the 4x100m freestyle relay, where he played a decisive role against France, the unbeaten titleholders throughout those four years, swimming the second leg. A clear victory by 61/100ths of a second over the French relay quartet, with Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Held and Nathan Adrian, about which he commented: “It was crazy, I was standing on the block while Caeleb was coming in, and I actually thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. The younger guys [Ryan Held and Caeleb Dressel] started crying, and I started crying. Having the amount of excitement cheering in the stands during that race I don't know if I have heard anything like it.”
The most medalled Olympian in history was not the only one to get the crowd on its feet at the Barra de Tijuca Aquatics Stadium on this second day of competition. His compatriot, Katie Ledecky, knocked two seconds off her 400m freestyle world record, taking it down to 3:56.46, and was unbeaten in the individual swimming events. Britain’s Adam Peaty did even better than the previous day in the heats, improving on his 100m breaststroke world record (57.13) to win Team GB’s first men’s swimming gold medal since 1988! Lastly, Sarah Sjöström became the first Swedish woman to win Olympic swimming gold, and in the process shaved 16/100 of a second off her world record (55.48) in the 100m butterfly.
China’s Wu Minxia became the first woman ever to win five Olympic diving titles, with a victory in the 3m synchronised event, alongside Shi Tingmao, at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre. This was her fourth consecutive title in this event, but with three different partners. Wu and Shi beat Italy’s Tania Cagnotto and Francesca Dallape, with Australia’s Maddison Keeney and Anabelle Smith taking the bronze medal. Wu Minxia thus overtook America’s Greg Louganis and her “big sister” and compatriot Guo Jingjing with seven Olympic medals (the other two being a silver and a bronze). At 30, Wu Minxia is also the oldest female Olympic swimming champion. In the final, Wu and Shi were untouchable with a total of 345 points, 31.7 higher than the Italian pair.
South Korea’s female archers were unflinching in their quest to retain the Olympic team archery title. In doing so, they repeated their male compatriots’ achievement the previous day, in the fantastic setting of Rio’s Sambadrome. Choi Misun (world number 1), Ki Bo-bae (number 3) and Chang Hye-jin (number 6) were strong and precise, beating Russia’s Tuiana Dashidorzhieva, Ksenia Perova and Inna Stepanova 5-1 in the final. South Korea’s women have never yet lost the team title since its first appearance at the Games – in Seoul in 1988 – making eight consecutive Olympic gold medals!
The women’s road race produced a heart-stopping finish beside Copacabana beach. The Netherlands’ Anna van der Breggen became an Olympic champion at the age of 26, beating Sweden’s Emma Johansson and Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini only in the last few seconds of the race. America’s Mara Abbott, who had been leading almost to the end, was caught just 150 metres from the line by the Van der Breggen/Johansson/Longo Borghini trio. Van der Breggen then proved the strongest by crossing the finish line first. “I focused and got in the race. This is the result of years of hard work, riding and training,” declared the fourth Dutchwoman to win this event since 1988.
World number 1 in the -52kg category and strong favourite, Majlinda Kelmendi didn’t miss her chance to give Kosovo its first-ever Olympic title. She won all her bouts authoritatively through to the final against Italy’s young Odette Giuffrida, whom she dominated comprehensively before receiving her gold medal from IOC President Thomas Bach. “That means so any things,” she said. “The people, especially the children, in Kosovo see me as a hero. I just proved to them that if they want something they can have it,” she said. “If they want to be Olympic champions, they can be. Even if we come from a small country, a poor country!” Among the men, Italy’s Fabio Basile was a spectacular Olympic champion in the -66kg category, producing a devastating ippon (decisive move) against the reigning world champion, South Korea’s An Baul. His victory celebrations were equally exuberant, encouraged by the cheers of the crowd in the Carioca Arena 2, as he declared: “It's hard to believe that it's not still a dream!”
With a combined age of less than 50, Italy’s Daniele Garozzo and America’s Alexander Massialas faced off in the men’s foil final on the five-piste star in the Carioca Arena 3. Garozzo quickly opened up a lead, to find himself one point from victory at 14-7. But Massialas then threatened him with four successive hits. But Garozzo had the last word after the break between the second and third periods. He won the final period 15-11, took off his mask and joyfully jumped his way down the piste! Garozzo and Massialas represent the future of this discipline, and both can certainly expect to meet up again in Tokyo in 2020!
Zhang Mengxue won China’s first title in Rio with a win in the 10m pistol final against Russia’s Vitalina Batsarashkina, who had dominated the previous rounds. Zhang finished comfortably with a score of 199.4, a new Olympic record. In the women’s trap competition, Australia’s Catherine Skinner, world number 13 and taking part in her first Games, got through to the final, where she beat New Zealand’s Natalie Rooney by hitting 12 of the 15 targets, when her rival missed one more. She thus became Australia’s second female trap champion, after Suzanne Balogh in 2004 in Athens.
Chinese Taipei weightlifter Hsu Shu-ching won the gold medal in the women’s 53kg category, benefiting from Chinese favourite Li Yajun’s failure in the clean-and-jerk, while China’s Long Qingquan won his second Olympic title in the men’s 56kg, with a world record to boot. For her part, the 25 year-old Hsu, London 2012 silver medallist and 2015 world champion, lifted 100kg in the snatch, then 112kg in the clean-and-jerk to make a total of 212kg, ahead of silver medallist Hidilyn Diaz from the Philippines, with 200kg, and South Korea’s Yoon Jin-Hee, who took the bronze with 199kg. Long Qingquan’s second Olympic title (after Beijing in 2008) in the men’s 56kg category came with a new world record of 307kg (previous record: 305kg). By lifting 170kg in the clean-and-jerk on his last attempt (after lifting 137kg in the snatch), the 25 year-old Long beat North Korea’s Om Yun-chol, the title-holder, by four kilograms.
There were two major upsets on the second day of the tennis competition on the Olympic Park courts in Barra de Tijuca. World number one, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, fresh from his non-calendar year Grand Slam (from Wimbledon 2015 to the French Open 2016), was knocked out in the first round by the “comeback kid”: Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, almost absent from the courts since his London 2012 bronze medal because of a serious wrist injury. “Delpo” won the match 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/2), and announced: “I'm surprised with the level I showed. It was one of the best matches in my career, perhaps even better than at the Games in London,, where he had previously beaten the “Djoker”! And then… the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, unbeaten at the Games since Sydney 2000 and triple Olympic champions (not having been in Athens in 2004) were knocked out in the first round of the ladies’ doubles by Czech pair Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova (6-3, 6-4).
Simone Biles was back: the 10-time world champion and still a teenager dominated the women’s artistic gymnastic qualifications in everything except the uneven bars, scoring 16.000 on the vault, 15.633 on the balance beam and 15.733 on the floor exercises. That left her first in the all-around and on her way to four individual finals, plus one other: the team event, in which the Americans (Simone Biles, Madison Kocian, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez) finished first, ahead of China and Russia. But there was plenty more to come!