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Michael Phelps secured the 22nd gold medal (and 26th podium finish) of his career by winning the 200m medley. He took control in the 50 metres of breaststroke before increasing his lead in the crawl, in the final leg, to finish almost two seconds ahead of Japan’s Kosuke Hagino. The title-holder in this event since the 2004 Games in Athens, he thus became only the third athlete ever to achieve four consecutive wins in the same individual Olympic event after his compatriots Carl Lewis (long jump) and Al Oerter (discus). Then, less than 40 minutes later, he qualified for the final of the 100m butterfly! “It’s wild to think that, over 20 years ago, I learned to swim. It’s all stopping, competition wise, in the next 48 hours,” the most decorated Olympian of all time observed.
The women’s 100m freestyle produced two Olympic champions: America’s Simone Manuel and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak touched the wall simultaneously in 52.70, ahead of Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström (52.99), who added a bronze to the gold medal in the 100m butterfly and silver medal in the 200m freestyle she had already won in Rio. America’s Ryan Murphy achieved a breaststroke double, winning the 200m after the 100m, in 1:53.62 ahead of Australia’s Mitchell Larkin (1:53.96) and the young Russian Evgeny Rylov (third in 1:53.97, a European record). Lastly, Japan’s Rie Kaneto became Olympic champion in the 200m breaststroke. In 2:20.30, she beat Russia’s Yulia Efimova (2:21.97) and China’s Jinglin Shi (2:22.28).
16.000 in the vault, 15.633 on the beam, 15.733 on the floor: Simone Biles scored the top marks in all three, dominating everything in the individual all-around competition except the uneven bars (15.000, 8th best score). She delighted the Olympic Arena audience with her exploits, particularly in the floor exercise, to Brazilian music, bounding across the diagonals with her special tumbling run, a movement that now bears her name: a double layout with a half twist and blind landing. For her second gold medal in Rio, before the others expected in the apparatus finals, Biles was also delighted to be standing on the podium with her good friend Aly Raisman, who beat Russia’s Aliya Mustafina to the silver medal thanks to an excellent floor exercise. “Congratulations to Simone Biles and Aly Raisman. What a beautiful success,” tweeted the legendary Nadia Comaneci. Did Biles think she was the best female gymnast ever? “Someone could say I'm the best but I just stay out of it. I just do my gymnastics,” the young champion replied.
They were under huge pressure, being the favourites, but they did it! Sixty years after sending their first athletes to the 1956 Games in Melbourne, the Fijians got their archipelago of just 900,000 people on the Olympic medal table, celebrating the return of rugby to the Games, 92 years later, in the form of sevens. Gold was expected for the men from the Pacific, who dominate the world circuit thanks to a combination of physical strength and unrivalled technical ability. Far from being inhibited, they demonstrated the breadth of their talent during the three days of competition, lighting up the tournament with their skilful passing and unlikely moves. These rugby magicians are real artists, and play like no other team. In the end, they destroyed the British seven 43-7 in the final, scoring seven magnificent tries. Thousands of kilometres away, the whole of the Fiji Islands shook with happiness. South Africa took the bronze by beating Japan 54-14.
A busy day on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, with the first rowing finals and no fewer than six gold medals awarded. New Zealand rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray continued their incredible unbeaten run in the men’s pairs, taking their winning streak to eight seasons and 68 international regattas. Holders of the title since their London 2012 victory, the six-time world champions finished their final 2.8 seconds ahead of South Africa’s Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling, with Italy’s Giovanni Abagnale and Marco Di Constanzo 4.81 seconds behind. “It's the nature of being undefeated, because we can't exceed expectations – only match them,” Bond explained.
The final of the women’s double sculls was perhaps the hardest fought battle of the day. Poland’s Magdalena Fularczyk-Kozlowska and Natalia Madaj put in a gritty performance to edge past Great Britain's Katherine Grainger and Victoria Thornley. As a result, Grainger lost the title she had won in London in 2012. But, as the silver medallist, she achieved her fifth podium finish in five editions of the Games, a record for a British athlete. Croatian brothers Martin and Valent Sinkovic won the men’s double sculls and their country’s first-ever rowing gold medal. Germany won the finals of both the men’s and women’s quadruple sculls, with Philipp Wende, Lauritz Schoof, Karl Schulze and Hans Gruhne for the men, and Annekatrin Thiele, Carina Bär, Julia Lier and Lisa Schmidla for the women. Lastly, the Swiss quartet of Lucas Tramer, Simon Schuerch, Simon Niepmann and Mario Gyr won gold in the men’s lightweight fours, after a tough battle with the Danish and French crews, who accompanied them on the podium.
British cycling saddled up for a new gold medal harvest in the track competitions at the Rio 2016 Games in the Olympic velodrome, where the team sprint trio won the first title on offer, and the third consecutive title for the one common denominator: Jason Kenny. Callum Skinner, taking over from Chris Hoy in the anchor role, finished the job started by Phil Hindes and Kenny to beat New Zealand’s reigning world champions by just 0.10 seconds. France took the bronze medal. Kenny thereby won his fourth Olympic gold medal, doubtless hoping to do even better in Carioca country!
Maialen Chourraut added another chapter to Spain’s canoe-kayak slalom Olympic history! Already her country’s first medallist in the sport (with a London 2012 bronze), she improved on that on the Deodoro whitewater course. After posting the third best time in the semi-finals of the kayak single (K1), she paddled faultlessly in the final to beat the unheralded New Zealand kayaker Luuka Jones by three seconds, and Australia’s Jessica Fox, both of whom made one mistake. Fox, a London 2012 silver medallist, thus won her second medal, or even her third, if you count her victory at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. “When I started paddling, my coach, who is my husband now, taught our small team the importance of perseverance. I think that this is the key,” the new Olympic champion explained. For their part, Slovak cousins Ladislav and Peter Skantar won the Olympic C2 title. They finished ahead of Britain’s David Florence and Richard Hounslow, already silver medallists in London in 2012, and France’s Gauthier Klauss and Matthieu Peche, who had placed fourth four years previously.
Kayla Harrison had moved everyone when she won her first Olympic gold in London, in 2012. This time, she impressed them all with her sang-froid to reach the top step of the podium once more in the -78kg category. In the final, she beat France’s Audrey Tcheumeo with an armlock (ude-hishigi-juji-gatame), to secure an ippon after 3 minutes 54 seconds. “I’m just going to live in the moment and be Olympic champion. I’m happy, I’m retiring. Two-time Olympic champion, that’s it,” the world number one announced, bursting with conviction and energy.
Among the men, in the -100 kg category, Lukas Krpalek won the Czech Republic’s first-ever Olympic judo medal. And he didn’t do things by halves, defeating his opponent in the final, Azerbaijan’s Elmar Gasimov, with a magnificent ouchi gari (inner reap throw) after 4 minutes 37 seconds. The two judokas then gave each other a sporting hug, producing cheers from the spectators in the Carioca Arena 2. “We've known each other since the juniors and we're good friends. We’re rivals on the tatami, but in real life we get on well,” Krpalek explained.
Chang Hye-jin (Republic of Korea) won the gold medal in the individual archery competition, four days after winning the team title. Chang, world number six, dominated the final (6-2) against Germany’s Lisa Unruh, world number 16. In the semi-final, she had defeated Korean archery star Ki Bo-bae 7-3, and the five-time world champion went on to take the bronze medal. Ki, who had won everything at the London 2012 Games, thus won her fourth Olympic medal at the age of 28. “I'm very proud of myself for winning the Olympic gold medal,” said Chang. “I kept thinking positively and trying to stay confident to win the final.”
A strong women’s épée nation, Romania finally won its first Olympic title in this discipline, which has been on the programme since 1996. To win the gold, Ana Maria Popescu, Simona Gherman, Simona Pop and Loredana Dinu defeated the USA in the quarter-final with a sudden death win (24-23) from a decisive hit by Popescu; overcame Russia in the semi-final (45-31); and then beat title-holders China, 44 hits to 38. “Fencing is a one-day sport and today was our day, for sure,” said Popescu. “In the bout against the USA they enjoyed fencing and we didn't, and we hadn’t beaten China in the last two years. But it doesn't matter now, it was our moment!”
Winner of the ITTF World Cup in 2015 and world champion the same year in Suzhou (China), Ma Long completed a memorable golden grand slam in the final, dominating his compatriot, Zhang Jike, 4-0 (14-12, 11-5, 11-4, 11-4). And just like in the women’s tournament, the previous Olympic champion was beaten, with the world number one defeating the London 2012 winner. Meanwhile, the bronze medal was claimed by Japan’s Jun Mizutani (world number six), who beat world number nine Vladimir Samsonov from Belarus, again quite easily (11-4, 11-9, 6-11, 14-12, 11-5). “I am very glad not only to complete the grand slam, but to become Olympic Champion alone makes me happy,” Ma said. “I didn't stress too much during the game. I did my best and played free. I'm extremely happy that I could win the gold medal, it's a special moment in my career.”
Germany’s Barbara Engleder took the gold at Deodoro after a closely fought final in the 50m rifle three positions event. Competing at her fourth Olympic Games, this was her first medal. Engleder, 33, was in the lead throughout the competition, in the kneeling, prone and standing positions, ending with a total of 458.6, an Olympic record, but just 0.2 points ahead of China’s Zhang Binbin.