Summer Olympics 2016: Biggest Surprises from Day 3 in Rio
The Olympics, and sports in general, are rife with surprises and disappointments. That’s what makes the Games the best reality television.
Day 3 in Rio didn’t see any upsets that would register a 7.0 on the Richter scale, but there were lots of results that were by their definition surprising, both positively and negatively.
Team USA saw a bunch of its athletes get bumped and bruised in Brazil. (We're looking at you, men’s gymnastics.)
We’ll go from air rifles to tennis, from the pool to the piste, to see who surprised us the most on Day 3 of the Summer Olympics.
Yana Egorian Slays Silver Medalist
It was Russia vs. Russia in the women’s individual sabre when the 22-year-old Yana Egorian toed the line against the 2012 silver medalist Sofya Velikaya.
Egorian led 2-1, lost the lead, and then didn’t seize it back until she struck Velikaya while tied at 14-14. The point gave her the win, 15-14, as she dropped to the piste, tore off her screen and cried.
Velikaya embraced the young fencer, both with tears in their eyes. For Velikaya, the favorite heading into the match given that she had the silver in her back pocket and the world's No. 1 ranking, it was bittersweet. She saw the gold slip away to a teammate when it looked like it was hers to lose.
The big winner, of course, was Russia, which took the top two spots in the individual sabre.
Missy Franklin 8th in Semifinal Heat, 13th Overall in 200-Meter Freestyle
It’s no surprise that Missy Franklin hasn’t been as sharp heading into Rio as she was in 2012. But when she finished eighth in her 200-meter freestyle semifinal heat, she showed us how far she has fallen from that championship form.
“Tough swim,” said NBC’s Rowdy Gaines during the broadcast. “It’s not going to be the first great champion to go by the wayside. It’s not the end of her career. She just needs to stay positive. She needs to have that ability to pound on the wall.”
Franklin’s time of 1:57.56 (tied for 13th overall) was painfully off pace. She couldn’t keep up her speed early in the race and then proceeded to get out-kicked in a major way in the final 50 meters.
She still has relays and the 200-meter backstroke, so she can redeem this effort. If anyone can stay positive in the face of this kind of defeat, it’s Franklin.
Mariel Zagunis Bows Out in Round of 16
The headline of the day in fencing was Ibtihaj Muhammad’s becoming the first American athlete to wear a hijab in Olympic competition. She reached the round of 16 before losing to Ukraine’s Olena Kravatska. Lots of hype for little return.
The real surprise was two-time gold medalist Mariel Zagunis bowing out in the round of 16 to Russia’s Ekaterina Dyachenko, 15-12
Zagunis fenced in her fourth Olympics in 2016 and failed to medal in 2012 (she lost in the bronze-medal match), but she was supposed to go farther and lead this team.
Zagunis said, per USA Today's Dan Wolken:
She got to an early lead and I just kept making a lot of mistakes. I know what she’s really strong in and I fell into those traps early on and wasn’t able to recover. She’s very, very light on her legs and she can move up and down the strip with a lot of fluidity so I needed to be more patient and not attack so fast.
Zagunis entered the Olympics ranked third in the world and flies home empty-handed.
Madison Keys Pushed Deep in 3-Set Grind with the French
It wasn’t so surprising that Madison Keys, who will eventually inherit the wheel of the American women’s tennis van when Serena Williams retires, won her Round 2 match against France’s Kristina Mladenovic.
It was the way the match played out. It shouldn’t have been this hard. Keys took three sets—three long sets—and two tiebreakers to beat Mladenovic 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5).
The color commentator said during the Bravo broadcast of Keys, “to not get overwhelmed, to stay positive and not overthink it,” would lead to the win.
Keys toughed out this match. She rebounded from losing the second-set tiebreak, where she owned a 4-1 lead, before Mladenovic rattled off six straight points to take Set 2.
In her first Olympics, Keys, the No. 7 seed, will face Carla Suarez Navarro in Round 3.
Team USA a Major Letdown in All-Around
Team USA wasn’t in the same league as China or Japan heading into Day 3’s action in men's gymnastics, but it was realistic to think it could come away with a bronze medal.
Not so for the Red, White and Blue.
It finished fifth* behind Japan, Russia, China and Great Britain with a score of 268.56.
“That first event is so important,” said NBC’s Jon Horton after the team's disappointing finish. “You need three big scores, so you’re not coming from behind.”
That was Team USA’s fate: coming from behind the entire competition, and it was up to Danell Leyva to put up a good number on the horizontal bar to save his team’s medal hopes.
After some harrowing skills displays, it came down to one final move.
“He’s got to catch the bar,” Horton said.
Then Leyva missed it.
He fell to the ground and kneeled for several moments. In that one fumble, the team could not climb back into contention.
“Oh, my goodness,” Horton said. “I can’t remember the last time Leyva missed the bar on that skill.”
That’s pressure, and his team put too much of it on him for him to handle it alone. When he fell, so did Team USA’s chance at a collective medal.
*Team USA got thrashed in nearly all the events. It scored seventh on the vault, sixth on the rings, third on the pommel horse, eighth on the parallel bars, seventh on the horizontal bar and second on the floor exercise.