Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 3 Winners and LosersJuly 26, 2021
Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 3 Winners and Losers
In one of the most anticipated events of the Tokyo Olympics, the United States came up short. Katie Ledecky ceded her 400-meter crown to Australia's Ariarne Titmus during a race that highlighted the results from Day 3 of the Summer Games.
Oh, also, Luka Doncic: Good at basketball.
From a U.S. perspective, swimming had a disappointing session. Still, the Stars and Stripes added a couple of medals in the pool while sealing a spot in softball's gold-medal game and putting itself in great position for the podium in women's 3x3 basketball.
Here's a recap of the most notable storylines—both the good and bad, particularly with a Team USA focus—from Day 3.
Winners: Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Beach Volleyball Opener
Just to reach these Olympics, Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil had to overcome some long odds.
Kerri Walsh Jennings had represented Team USA in women's beach volleyball in each of the previous five Olympics, and she and partner Brooke Sweat would have made it in ahead of Claes and Sponcil if they had finished in third place or better at the final qualifier in Ostrava in early June. Instead, Walsh Jennings and Sweat suffered a second-round loss to the Netherlands, paving the way for Claes (25) and Sponcil (24) to become the youngest beach volleyball team in U.S. Olympic history.
And when they had to come from behind in their first match of pool play against Latvia's Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka, they rose to the occasion.
Quite literally rose in Claes' case, as she had several huge blocks during the closing stretch.
The U.S. duo cruised to a 21-13 first-set victory, but the Latvians won the second set 21-16, setting up the tiebreaking set to 15. Team Latvia was also up 11-9 in that third set when Claes and Sponcil went on a six-point tear for victory. Claes had two direct points off blocks and also an indirect one, forcing an error when Kravcenoka missed the back line by maybe an inch when she tried to rainbow one over Claes' outstretched arms.
It was a massive opening win for the Americans, who are in a difficult Pool D with one of the top candidates for a medal, Brazil's Ana Patricia and Rebecca Silva. Now, if Claes and Sponcil can defeat Kenya (Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET), they'll almost certainly reach the round of 16 regardless of what happens when they face that Brazilian duo (Friday at 8 p.m. ET).
Loser: Team USA in the Swimming Pool
Day 2 was an excellent day of swimming for Team USA, when it secured a combined six medals across four events. That included Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland going gold-silver in the 400-meter individual medley.
Day 3 was decidedly less successful for the Americans.
Once again, there were four medal events—women's 100-meter butterfly, men's 100-meter breaststroke, women's 400-meter freestyle and the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay—and it was possible to once again win six medals, with two finalists in each of the men's 100-meter breaststroke and the women's 400-meter freestyle.
However, Team USA was only able to secure two medals, and the G.O.A.T. of women's swimming couldn't get the sixth gold of her Olympic career.
The first event was heartbreakingly close. American Torri Huske was in gold-medal position roughly three-quarters of the way through the women's 100-meter fly, but she was caught from behind by not one, not two but three competitors in the final 25 meters. She only missed gold by 0.14 seconds, but she also missed bronze by 0.01 seconds, finishing behind Canada's Maggie MacNeil, China's Zhang Yufei and Australia's Emma McKeon.
The Americans also took fourth place in the men's 100-meter breaststroke. Great Britain's Adam Peaty not surprisingly won his second consecutive Olympic gold in this event, but Michael Andrew at least had a chance for one of the other two medals. He finished 0.51 seconds shy of a bronze medal.
The third medal event was billed as USA's Katie Ledecky vs. Australia's Ariarne Titmus, and it lived up to the hype. They were neck-and-neck for the entire race, well ahead of the field by the final 100 meters. Ledecky had the lead for most of the middle of the swim, but Titmus pulled ahead and stayed there for the final quarter of the race for the first gold medal (first medal at all) in her Olympic career. Ledecky had to settle for a silver as her seventh career Olympic medal, but rest assured we'll hear from her again in the coming days.
Team USA did win the final medal event of the night with Caeleb Dressel, Blake Pieroni, Bowen Becker and Zach Apple getting gold in the men's 4x100 relay. But that feels like more of a par than a birdie on the scorecard, considering the Americans have taken gold in this event 10 of the 13 times it has been held at the Olympics. (They also got two silvers and one bronze in the three non-gold years.)
One other painful result of note: In the semifinal heats of the men's 100-meter backstroke, American Joseph Armstrong failed to qualify for the final by a mere 0.01 seconds—approximately one hour after Huske missed a medal by the same literal-blink-of-an-eye margin.
Winner: Team USA Softball Finally Goes Deep
Team USA's final game of the round-robin portion of the softball tournament didn't really matter. We were already guaranteed to get USA vs. Japan in the gold-medal match at 7 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning, so the Americans and Japanese were merely battling to determine who would be the "home" team for that game.
Japan is, of course, the actual home team at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. However, the winner would get to bat second in that gold-medal showdown. That could absolutely play a significant factor, given the late-inning drama that has followed Team USA throughout this tournament. Again, though, it was going to be USA vs. Japan no matter what.
Still, it felt like a huge opportunity for Team USA to wake up their groggy bats.
Through the first four games of round-robin play, the Americans had yet to hit a home run, nor had they scored more than two runs in a game. Their undefeated record was almost entirely a product of dominant pitching, and that continued against Japan. Ally Carda, Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman combined for 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 12 K. Through 36 innings, Team USA has allowed two unearned runs.
It looked like it wasn't going to matter, though, as Japan's Fujita Yamato was keeping those American bats asleep with a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
Team USA pushed one run across to tie it in the bottom of the sixth and almost got four more when Delaney Spaulding came about three feet shy of hitting the first grand slam in Olympic history.
After Abbott pitched a perfect top of the seventh, Kelsey Stewart delivered the Americans' first home run of these Olympics for a walk-off victory. They will now be the home team for that rematch on Tuesday.
If it happens, that is.
Reporting on baseball and softball for NBC in Tokyo, Jessica Mendoza said after the game that if the approaching typhoon keeps them from being able to play the gold-medal game in the next few days, this game then becomes the de facto gold-medal game.
Losers: Skateboarders Old Enough to Drive
In late August 2007, the first season of Mad Men was taking the world by storm, Superbad was the highest-grossing movie in USA, Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Top 100 and an Olympic gold medalist was born.
None of that stuff seems that old, right? It was only 13 years and a little less than 11 months ago.
Well, that's how young Japan's Momiji Nishiya is, and she became the second-youngest person in Olympics history to win a gold medal. (The youngest was U.S. diver Marjorie Gestring, who was 13 years and a little less than nine months old when she won gold in the 1936 Games.)
Momiji had the second-best heat in qualifying, but she saved her best tricks for last. After wiping out on her first two attempts, she put down scores of 3.43, 4.15 and 4.66 on her final three attempts to storm back for gold.
Not only did Momiji win gold but an even younger skater took silver. That was Brazil's Rayssa Leal, who was born in January 2008.
I'm pretty sure when I was 13, I couldn't even get all the S-K-A-T-E tapes in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 for Nintendo 64. And I hurt my quad playing slow-pitch softball earlier tonight, so you're not alone in feeling old as dirt while reading this.
Winners: Team USA 3x3 Stays Undefeated
Entering the day at 4-0, the U.S. women's 3x3 basketball team had locked up a spot in the knockout round. But after two more wins, Team USA has sealed a valuable bye in the quarterfinals.
In the first game, Allisha Gray and Stefanie Dolson both scored six points to beat Italy 17-13. Defense carried the U.S. team, especially because it missed all seven long-range (two-point) attempts. Italy mustered just an 11-of-35 mark from the floor.
But against China, an offensive flurry sparked a dramatic 21-19 win.
Team USA scored five points in the last two minutes, including a game-ending two-pointer from Kelsey Plum. The AP women's college basketball player of the year at Washington in 2017, Plum scored a game-best 10 points and also dished a key assist in the late moments.
The victory moved the U.S. to 6-0, which secured the No. 1 finish in the pool and a spot in the semifinals.
Loser: Japan's Late Lead in Men's Gymnastics Final
Host nation Japan had massive expectations for men's gymnastics. During the last four Olympic cycles, Japan has brought home two gold and two silver medals in the team final.
The top-two streak continued, but it wasn't the medal Japan preferred.
Heading into the last routine of the competition—floor exercise from Nikita Nagornyy of the Russian Olympic Committee—Japan sat atop the leaderboard. Anything 14.563 or below, and Japan would earn its second straight gold.
Nagornyy responded to the pressure, turning in a 14.666 and sealing the gold medal. Russia previously won the event in 1996.
The final leaderboard: ROC at 262.500 to Japan's 262.397.
China (261.894) rounded out the podium with a bronze medal. The U.S. team of Brody Malone, Sam Mikulak, Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus posted a 254.594 score to finish fifth.
Winner: Kevin McDowell, USA Triathlete
Kevin McDowell, cancer survivor, is now a U.S. record-holder.
"Ten years ago, I was so sick and I didn't know what was going to happen," he said Monday, per Stacy St. Clair of the Chicago Tribune. "So to be here and competing—not just participating at the Olympics, but actually being in contention—I'm living the dream right now."
Diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma as an 18-year-old, McDowell had a treatment plan that included rounds of chemotherapy. The triathlete returned to training and served as an alternate at Rio in 2016 before making his Olympic debut in Tokyo.
McDowell ended the swim in 47th place, but he finished sixth overall thanks to a strong effort on the bike and while running. He owns the best Olympic finish for a U.S. man in the event.
While the gold went to Norway's Kristian Blummenfelt, McDowell has another chance to medal. He'll be a part of the U.S. contingent in the mixed relay competition Saturday.
Loser: Argentina Trying to Defend Luka Doncic
As waves of criticism crash down on the U.S. men's basketball team, Luka Doncic is hearing nothing but praise.
In leading Slovenia to a 118-100 victory over Argentina, the Dallas Mavericks star poured in 48 points. Doncic set a record for points in an Olympic debut and tied Australia's Ed Palubinskas (1976) for second-most points in a game.
Argentina had no answers for Doncic, who drilled step-back threes, hit off-balance shots inside the lane and showed off his creativity as a passer. Pretty standard game for the All-Star.
Doncic finished 18-of-29 from the floor, burying six of his 14 three-point attempts. He added 11 rebounds and five assists.
"He is the best player in the world, including the NBA," Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said after the game, per Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press.