Summer Olympics 2016: Winners and Losers in Rio on Day 7
Every day of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio has yielded something completely unimaginable, but Day 7 was especially packed with wild winners and losers.
Perhaps the craziest of all came in the final medal event of the night when USA's Anthony Ervin took gold in the 50-meter freestyle—an incredible 16 years after winning the same event in Sydney. And he was even faster as a 35-year-old (21.4 seconds) than he was as a 19-year-old (21.98).
(Did you hear that, Michael Phelps? People can still win gold at 35! Tokyo is calling your name!)
Ervin was one of three U.S. swimmers to win gold Friday night. Maya DiRado shocked the world in the 200-meter backstroke, and Katie Ledecky shocked no one in the 800-meter freestyle. USA also had a silver medalist (Michael Phelps) and a bronze medalist (Nathan Adrian).
This made up for what was otherwise a challenging day for the Americans. The women's soccer team lost in the quarterfinals for the first time in Olympics history, men's water polo was all but eliminated, and the men's basketball team had its second scare in as many games.
Read on for the rest of Friday's biggest winners and losers.
Winner: Almaz Ayana (Ethiopia, Women's 10,000m)
Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot had a fantastic run in Friday morning's women's 10,000 meters. With a time of 29:32.53, she shattered the old Olympic record (29:54.66) and was less than one second away from breaking the 23-year-old world record (29:31.78).
And she missed the gold medal by more than 15 seconds.
That's because Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana destroyed everyone.
For the first half of the race, Ayana was content to sit in second place, drafting off of Kenya's Alice Aprot Nawowuna. But once she decided to take the lead, no one else had any hope of catching her.
With the race only 90 percent complete, NBC's Tim Hutchings was already declaring history:
"What we're seeing here is not just a breaking of the world record, but a complete disassembling of the world record. This, you could argue, ushers in a new era of women's distance running."
Hutchings did note early on in the race that the conditions at the track were perfect for distance running. The temperature was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. It had been drizzling for much of the morning, so the track was damp, even though it wasn't actively raining. As a result, many of the runners set new personal bests, including Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba, who merely earned bronze for finishing 38.19 seconds faster than her gold-medal time from 2012 (30:20.75).
Ideal conditions or not, Ayana shattered the world record by a margin of 14.33 seconds (29:17:45) and gave everyone else on the track zero hope for gold for the final 4,000 meters.
Loser: USA Men's Water Polo
Team USA was never particularly likely to medal in men's water polo, but it sure did make a mess of things in Friday's loss to Montenegro, all but eliminating the Americans before the quarterfinals.
They lost by two goals in the opener to Croatia before a hard-fought, one-goal loss to Spain. But they got back on track with a 6-3 win over France on Wednesday in advance of what was essentially an elimination battle with Montenegro.
Both teams entered in possession of a 1-2 record in pool play with Montenegro holding a goal-differential lead of just one. The winner would be in great shape to make the quarterfinals, while the loser would need a minor miracle on Sunday in order to advance to the bracket stage.
USA trailed 4-3 early in the fourth quarter when Alex Roelse was ejected from the match for punching an opponent. That's a "brutality foul," which forces the offending team to play a man down for four minutes.
Montenegro took advantage, scoring three goals in those four minutes to put the game nearly out of reach by the time USA was back to full strength.
Just for good measure, USA's Tony Azevedo was also thrown out in the final 30 seconds, allowing Montenegro to score an additional insurance goal en route to the 8-5 victory. In total, five of Montenegro's goals came on the power play, so USA only has itself to blame for the loss.
The Americans now trail Montenegro for fourth place in Group B by two points and a differential of seven goals. To make the quarterfinals, USA will need to win Sunday's match with Italy—one of the favorites to medal—have Montenegro lose to Spain and make up the seven-goal gap.
At least USA's women's water polo team is taking care of business.
Winner: Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal was supposed to be done. Washed up. Finished. Choose an adjective.
Since winning the 2014 French Open, the best the 30-year-old lefty has done in any major was a quarterfinals appearance in the 2015 Australian Open and 2015 French Open. Citing a wrist injury, he withdrew from the 2014 U.S. Open as well as 2016 Wimbledon—the latter of which began less than two months ago.
But Nadal has been unbeatable in Rio, playing four matches in the span of about 30 hours and winning them all. He has only dropped three sets all week.
Nadal and teammate Marc Lopez won doubles gold Friday, besting Romania's Horia Tecau and Florin Mergea 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
Because he kept winning and because Wednesday's rain resulted in a condensed schedule Thursday and Friday, Nadal had to withdraw from Thursday's first-round mixed doubles match just to conserve energy. So, technically, he hasn't won all of his matches. When he takes the court, though, he's flawless.
Will it continue through the weekend for a gold in singles, or will Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro topple his second giant in this tournament?
Since tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988, only Chile's Nicolas Massu—who never even advanced to a quarterfinal of a singles major in his career—has won Olympic gold in both men's singles and doubles. Nadal might become the second member of that club.
There are few certainties in the Olympics. Michael Phelps will win swimming golds. China will win every table tennis medal possible. And USA women will advance to the gold-medal match in soccer.
Sweden—which has never medaled in women's soccer nor won a World Cup—went 1-1-1 in pool play, finishing with a goal differential of minus-three to barely sneak into the quarterfinals. As expected, the Swedish were outplayed by the U.S. women's national team. USA had 27 shots to Sweden's six, more than twice as many free kicks, four times as many corner kicks and a possession advantage of 64 percent to 36 percent.
In the end, though, the only stat that matters is goals, and it was tied 1-1 after regulation and both overtime periods, yielding the first penalty-kick shootout in women's soccer in Olympics history. (The sport has only been in the Olympics since 1996, but at eight bracketed matches per year, that's still a streak of 40 in a row without PKs.)
USA's Alex Morgan went first in the shootout and was blocked. Hope Solo had a nice save against Sweden's Linda Sembrant in the third round, but they were tied 3-3 heading into the fifth round. Sweden's keeper guessed wrong on Christen Press' shot, but she chipped it over the goal. Then Sweden's Lisa Dahlkvist buried her shot, and the upset was completed.
USA had never been eliminated before the finals, but just like that, it was ousted in the quarterfinals.
Winner: France's Heavyweight Judokas
Japan won both the men's and women's judo weight classes in play Wednesday, and France followed up by winning Friday's heavyweight classes.
For the men, that was the furthest thing from a surprise. Teddy Riner has dominated men's heavyweight judo for the past decade, winning gold at all seven World Championships dating back to 2007, taking Olympic gold in 2012 and bronze in 2008. He beat Japan's Hisayoshi Harasawa 2-1 on shidos (aka rules violations) in this gold-medal match.
For the women, though, Emilie Andeol's gold medal was a surprising development.
After placing 17th at the 2015 World Championships, Andeol went through Tunisia's Nihel Cheikh Rouhou (ninth at Worlds), China's Yu Song (gold at Worlds) and Cuba's Idalys Ortiz (bronze at Worlds and reigning Olympic gold medalist) in succession to become the world champion. Andeol needed golden time in the final match against Ortiz, but she finished with authority by scoring an ippon.
Prior to Friday, it had been a rough week of judo for France. Women's 63-kilogram judoka Clarisse Agbegnenou took silver in her weight class, and men's 100-kilogram judoka Cyrille Maret earned a bronze medal Thursday, but Riner and Andeol made sure the French didn't go home without a gold in this sport.
Loser: Italy's Men's Team Foil (Fencing)
USA was supposed to be a stone-cold lock to medal in women's soccer, but so was Italy in men's team foil.
The team consisted of Daniele Garozzo, Giorgio Avola and Andrea Cassara, each of whom made it to the round of 16 in Saturday's individual foil tournament. Avola was eliminated 15-14 by eventual silver medalist Alexander Massialas, and Garozzo won gold. Their combined forces should have been plenty to steer Italy to its third consecutive Olympic gold medal in this event.
And early on in the eight-team tournament, all was going according to plan. They smoked Brazil in the quarterfinals by a score of 45-27, while the combined margin of the other three quarterfinals was just 13 touches. France barely got past China 45-42 and should have been mincemeat for the Italians.
Instead, the French were the ones delivering the hammer, sending Italy to the bronze-medal match with a 45-30 whooping. The consolation match against USA didn't go much better, as Massialas and company won 45-31, ensuring the gold-medal favorites wouldn't get any sort of medal.
Save for Garozzo's individual gold, it has been a rough week for Italy in its signature sport. It swept gold-silver-bronze in women's individual foil in 2012 but was only able to secure a silver in this year. Italy was also supposed to do well in individual epee in both genders, but Rossella Fiamingo was upset in the women's gold-medal match, and all three Italian men were gone before the quarterfinals.
There's still women's team sabre Saturday and men's team epee Sunday, but Italy isn't expected to medal in either, which would mean it goes home with just three medals. Quite the letdown after winning seven in 2012.
Winner: Men's Archery
If you weren't watching archery for the past week, you missed some incredible action.
Sure, South Korea won gold in men's and women's individual and team, as expected, but not without some major drama in Friday's men's individual quarterfinals and semifinals.
The afternoon began with Netherlands' Sjef van den Berg knocking off South Korea's Lee Seungyun by going 10-10-10 in the fifth and final set, making Lee's 10-10-9 not enough. The next two matches were both tied through five sets, necessitating a one-arrow shoot-off—closest to the bull's-eye advances.
Both of the semifinals also went to five sets, with the second match between South Korea's Ku Bonchan and USA's Brady Ellison going down to a shootout after they tied in each of the first three sets. As he did in the quarterfinals, Ku advanced with his final arrow.
Ku didn't need a shoot-off in the finals, but it did go five sets before he clinched gold with a 7-3 win over France's Jean-Charles Valladont.
No recap can do justice to how captivating it was. Just trust us when we say you're going to want to make time to watch some archery in 2020.
Loser: Drama in Women's Basketball
There has been drama in many events that weren't expected to have any, but women's basketball isn't one of them.
USA and Canada each entered Friday's showdown with a 3-0 record. Both had won games against Serbia and Senegal. Canada thumped China by a 22-point margin, and USA beat Spain by 40. Thus, if anyone in pool B was going to give USA a game, it was Canada.
For about 12 minutes, Canada delivered. USA led just 18-17 with eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, opening the door for a scare like USA's men had against Australia two days ago. But Maya Moore scored eight points in six minutes and Diana Taurasi sank a pair of three-pointers late in the quarter to give USA a 14-point lead at the half.
From there, they cruised to an 81-51 win.
Canada was the first team to hold USA under 100, though, so maybe the Americans are human after all?
The win was USA's 45th in a row in Olympics play, with 44 of those wins coming by a double-digit margin. Australia would seem to be the team most likely to challenge Geno Auriemma's juggernaut, but that's akin to saying you're more likely to win on a single-zero roulette wheel than you are on the double-zero variety.
Winner: Maya DiRado
Swimming in her first Olympics, Team USA's Maya DiRado had a phenomenal showing. She competed in four events—200-meter individual medley, 400-meter individual medley, 4x200-meter freestyle and the 200-meter backstroke—medaling in all four, including a gold in Friday's backstroke final.
Hungary's Katinka Hosszu had DiRado's number in the 200-meter IM and 400-meter IM and was the heavy favorite to win the backstroke too. But DiRado came from behind in the final 20 meters to out-touch the Iron Lady by six-hundredths of a second.
DiRado just turned 23 this past April. After that type of performance at a young age, we would normally start looking ahead to four years from now to ponder how many medals she might win in Tokyo.
But for DiRado, it's one and done.
She decided before the Olympics that she wanted to start her "real" career after swimming in Rio. According to USASwimming.org, she will become a business analyst with a management consulting firm in the fall.
"Part of the reason why I am swimming so well is knowing that I have a hard stop date," DiRado told Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post last Friday. "I don’t think that's a sign that I need to keep swimming. I think it's a sign that my preparation this year has been really good, and that I'm ready to move on to something new."
She'll have some sweet decorations for her office.
Loser: 800m Hopefuls Not Named Katie Ledecky
Friday began with a distance runner destroying her would-be competition in the process of setting a new world record.
The night ended with a distance swimmer doing the same, as Katie Ledecky won her fourth gold medal of the 2016 Olympics by the most ridiculous margin yet.
Ledecky broke her own world record and probably broke the hopes and dreams of anyone hoping to swim the women's 800-meter freestyle in the next 12 years, finishing with a time of 8:04.79.
Poor Jazmin Carlin. Great Britain's 800-meter swimmer posted a strong time, just 0.63 seconds slower than her personal best. And she took silver 11.38 seconds behind Ledecky.
If you think it's normal for there to be such a margin in a distance race, be sure to note that in Friday's men's qualifying heats for the 1500-meter freestyle, the gap between first place and eighth place was only 10.89 seconds. First and second were separated by just 1.23 seconds.
In a race roughly half that long, Ledecky's margin of victory was more than nine times as wide.
Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Ledecky does not share Maya DiRado's mindset. As far as we know, she'll be back in the pool in Tokyo in four years, probably breaking more records.