Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 2 Winners and LosersJuly 25, 2021
Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 2 Winners and Losers
Sunday's events promised a return to grandeur.
With some of the Games' most prominent athletes taking center stage—Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Simone Manuel and players on the U.S. men's basketball team among them—and newly added sports like skateboarding and surfing on the menu as well, thrills were expected.
Mostly, the slate delivered, though there were some surprisingly underwhelming moments. It's all part of the Olympic experience.
Here's a quick recap of Day 2's roller-coaster ride.
Winner: Team USA in the Swimming Pool
Team USA has won the most total medals in each of the last six Summer Olympics, and swimming has been the biggest reason for that dominance. Heading into these Tokyo Games, USA had won 246 Olympic gold medals all time in swimming. No other nation had more than 60 golds, and the only country with more than 92 total medals was Australia (192).
So, with 12 swimming medals up for grabs on Day 2, it's hardly a surprise that the Americans won half of them.
Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland got that red, white and blue party started by taking gold and silver, respectively, in the men's 400-meter individual medley. Kalisz was trailing New Zealand's Lewis Clareburt at the 200-meter midpoint of the race, but the American dominated the field in the breaststroke and was able to cruise to victory in the freestyle portion of the race. Litherland, on the other hand, made his move in those final 100 meters, coming from behind to win the silver by one-tenth of a second.
In medal event No. 2, Tunisia's 18-year-old Ahmed Hafnaoui stole the show in the men's 400-meter freestyle. He trailed by a slim margin at each 50-meter interval of the race, up until the one that mattered the most. In those final 50 meters, he turned a 0.31-second deficit into a 0.16-second victory, besting Australia's Jack McLoughlin in the home stretch for just the fifth Olympic gold medal in Tunisian history.
But behind Hafnaoui and McLoughlin, USA's Kieran Smith took bronze. It's the fifth time in the past six games that an American won bronze in the men's 400-meter freestyle, but the last USA gold or silver in the event came back in 1984.
In the women's 400-meter individual medley, it was another double-dip for Team USA. Japan's Yui Ohashi took gold rather comfortably, but Americans Emma Weyant and Hali Flickinger rounded out the rest of the podium with silver and bronze, respectively.
And in the final swimming medal event of the day, Team USA took bronze in the women's 4x100 freestyle relay, medaling in that event for the 23rd consecutive time (excluding the 1980 Games in which USA did not compete.) In winning the fifth medal of her Olympic career, Simone Manuel almost brought the Americans back for a silver with her anchor leg. They had no hope of catching Australia for gold, though. The Aussies set an Olympic record and won by more than three seconds.
Loser: Team USA's Shutout Streak in Softball
Runs on the softball diamond have been surprisingly difficult for Team USA to come by. In fact, they've been held to two runs or fewer in each of their first four games of pool play.
But they improved to 4-0 and all but locked up their spot in the gold-medal match (Tuesday at 7 a.m. ET) with yet another dominant pitching performance against Australia.
Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott have been virtually unhittable in this tournament. Through the first three games—a 2-0 win over Italy, a 1-0 win over Canada and a 2-0 win over Mexico—they had a combined line of 21.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 28 K. And through the first seven innings against Australia, Abbott continued racking up the zeroes and the K's, going seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts.
Unfortunately, Team USA was unable to score any runs of its own, this despite Haylie McCleney leading off the game with a triple. As a result, the game went to extra innings and Australia got to start the eighth inning with a runner on second base.
Abbott was still unhittable in that extra frame, but she had a bit of trouble with the strike zone. An intentional walk was followed by two very unintentional walks, pushing across a run and ending Team USA's shutout streak at 28.2 innings.
The bats finally showed up in the bottom of the inning, though. After a McCleney infield single, Janie Reed sacrificed the runners into scoring position for Amanda Chidester to lace a game-winning, two-run double past the diving shortstop.
Winner: USA's 'A Team' in Women's Beach Volleyball Opener
Women's beach volleyball has been a prosperous event for Team USA over the past four Summer Olympics.
Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor won gold in each of 2004, 2008 and 2012, and that's only half of the medal count. There was also Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs taking bronze in 2004, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross securing silver in 2012, and Ross and Walsh Jennings teaming up for bronze in 2016.
Ross is now looking for—and is one of the favorites to win—her third Olympic medal with a third unique teammate. This year, that teammate is Alix Klineman, and Alix and April are often referred to as "The A-Team."
(Don't worry. We'll spare you from any Mr. T puns. At least for today.)
That No. 2 world ranking dynamic duo got out to a solid start in its first match of pool play, beating China's Xue Chen and Wang Xinxin in straight sets 21-17, 21-19 early on Day 2.
They had to overcome a bunch of self-inflicted wounds, though. They had three service faults in each set compared to zero such errors by the Chinese team. But once the ball was in play, the A-Team looked every bit the part of a medal-winning duo.
Their next match will be against Spain's Liliana Fernandez and Elsa Baquerizo at 8 p.m. ET on Monday.
Loser: World No. 1 in First Round of Women's Tennis
Australia's Ash Barty has ended each of the last two years ranked No. 1 in the world. After winning her first career Wimbledon singles title just two weeks ago, she is well on her way to a three-peat of that feat.
But the dream of a Barty vs. Naomi Osaka gold-medal match went up in smoke immediately with Barty losing her first-round match in straight sets to Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4, 6-3.
For Tormo, it's easily one of the two biggest wins she's ever had. She also defeated Osaka in the Fed Cup Qualifying Round in February 2020, but we would argue this was a much bigger result for the Spaniard, who has yet to advance beyond the second round of a major in her career in singles play.
But it was really Barty who defeated Barty in this one.
The Wimbledon champion had 55 unforced errors, while Tormo more or less defended her way into a stunner.
Winner: Yuto Horigome, Japan
It took a long time for skateboarding to make its way into the Olympics, but the inaugural men's street skateboarding event pretty well stole the show during the first five hours of Day 2.
The 2-5-4 format of it was mesmerizing. That's two 45-second runs through the course followed by five individual tricks. Each of those seven elements is given a score between 0-10 by the judges with the summation of the four best scores serving as the skater's total.
Team USA's Nyjah Huston was billed as the favorite for gold, ranked No. 1 in the world in street skating, per WorldSkate.org. And when he was able to land tricks, they were ridiculous. In the finals, though, he missed on each of his final four tricks, finishing in seventh place.
Instead, it was world No. 2 Yuto Horigome of Japan who took home the gold.
Including the qualifying heats, there were only six scores of 9.30 or better in the entire day, but Yuto threw down 50 percent of them over the course of his final three tricks in the finals.
He needed each one of those to defeat Brazil's Kelvin Hoefler (silver) and USA's Jagger Eaton (bronze), too. Eaton was in the lead with a score of 35.35 after the fifth of the seven rotations, but while Eaton fell on each of his final two attempts, Yuto's last two tricks vaulted his score from 33.17 to 37.18.
Loser (?): U.S. Women's Gymnastics
Led by the greatest gymnast in history in Simone Biles, the U.S. women's gymnastics team entered the Tokyo Games as the favorites in most events. But Sunday was an inauspicious start for the group, as Biles shockingly stumbled out of bounds twice, once on the vault and once during her floor routine.
Of course, the Americans are only "losers" relative to expectations. They are still in second place after one day of competition, trailing only the Russian Olympic Committee. The team final takes place Tuesday, and eight teams out of 12 advance to that stage, so the stakes here are rather low.
In addition, Biles is so far above the rest of the individual gymnasts that despite the two aforementioned faults, she still has the best all-around score (57.731). Despite opening-day struggles, Biles, Sunisa Lee and the rest of the team are still expected to clean up on the medal stand.
But their showing today was a reminder not to take it all for granted.
Winner: Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka has been the center of attention this summer. After Roland-Garros officials fined her for skipping press conferences, she withdrew from the French Open and later sat out Wimbledon for personal reasons.
The four-time Grand Slam champion reappeared at the Opening Ceremony to light the torch for her home country Japan, calling it "undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life," but after sitting out competitive play for nearly two months, would she rise to the occasion on the court?
Well, through one round, the answer is a resounding yes. Osaka looked as comfortable as ever in her first matchup with China's Zheng Saisai, recording a 6-1, 6-4 victory. After the match, she talked to reporters, noting that she feels "definitely a little bit refreshed and...happy again."
It's only one match, but the 23-year-old phenom looks and sounds like herself. With the backing of a nation and some fresh legs to boot, the rest of the field better watch out.
Loser: U.S. Men's Basketball
A tumultuous summer for U.S. men's basketball continues.
After dropping two straight exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia and dealing with several personnel changes and absences, the Red, White and Blue fell short once again, losing 83-76 to France. Evan Fournier led all scorers with 28 points, while three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert recorded 14 points and nine rebounds.
With Kevin Durant in foul trouble for most of the game (and eventually fouling out), the Americans failed to maintain any amount of consistency. Jrue Holiday led the team with 18 points off the bench and played sensational defense despite finishing the NBA Finals less than a week ago, while no one else scored more than 12.
Still, for much of the fourth quarter, it looked like a U.S. victory was assured. But France was resilient, countering an 18-5 American run with 14 unanswered points of its own to put the game out of reach.
This was likely the hardest game of the group stage for the U.S. The country's next two matchups come against Iran and the Czech Republic. But if a fourth straight gold medal is to be theirs, it will take an amount of cohesion we've yet to see thus far.
As with skateboarding, surfing was added to the Olympic program in 2016, and it similarly debuted with a bang Sunday.
Thanks to a storm creating bigger-than-average waves at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach (about 60 miles east of Tokyo), surfers were able to execute even more daring and exciting maneuvers. Brazil's Italo Ferreira and the U.S.' Carissa Moore emerged victorious from the men's and women's first heats, respectively, and both seemed thrilled to be there.
"I'm so glad to be here, for sure," Ferreira said afterward. "It's special for the fans, for the surfers. All the surfers are watching at home. It's special for everyone."
As for Moore, she admitted to getting emotional the day before, noting the pressure and nerves, but said she "had more of a sense of calm going into today."
The men's and women's shortboard finals are Tuesday, and we're sure to see even more thrills in the medal round. But for today, just getting the sport to this stage is worthy of celebration.
Winner: Lee Kiefer, Individual Foil
When you think of U.S. Olympic dominance, fencing probably doesn't come to mind, and for good reason. Heading into Tokyo, no individual American had ever won gold.
Well, history has been made.
On Sunday, Lee Kiefer defeated reigning gold medalist and World No. 1 Inna Deriglazova of the Russian Olympic Committee, never trailing in a 15-13 victory.
After finishing 10th in Rio, Kiefer considered enrolling in medical school instead of continuing to fence. In what continues to be an inspiring storyline among American Olympians, Kiefer decided to do both, and U.S. fans are sure glad she did.