Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 4 Winners and Losers
As competition favorites lost, struggled or withdrew, Day 4 of the Tokyo Olympics will be remembered as a stunning moment.
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lost, and China women's volleyball dropped another match. The U.S. women's national soccer team played to an unappealing scoreless draw, and U.S. gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the team final.
But those astonishing results aren't the only storylines to know. Records fell, streaks continued and droughts were snapped all across the busy Olympic program.
The following recap is an overview of the most notable developments—good, bad and sometimes indifferent, and with a heavy emphasis on Team USA—from Day 4.
Winner: Lydia Jacoby, 100-Meter Breaststroke
From the Last Frontier to first place in the pool, 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby is bringing a gold medal back to Alaska.
Team USA was expected to take gold in the women's 100-meter breaststroke, though the favorite was reigning Olympic champion Lilly King. According to NBC Sports' Nick Zaccardi, King had won 85 consecutive breaststroke races prior to placing second in her Day 3 semifinal. She still took bronze in this final, but Jacoby was the American star of the day.
In her hometown of Seward, Alaska (population 2,773 as of 2019), the watch party went bonkers.
And with good reason. Jacoby not only entered the race as an underdog, but she was in third place 75 meters into it. It looked like a battle between King and South Africa's Tatjana Schoenmaker for gold until Jacoby surged into the lead at the last moment with a big finishing stroke.
Not too shabby for the first-ever Olympic swimmer from the nation's 49th state.
Loser: Several Streaks, Droughts and Olympic Records in the Pool
Lydia Jacoby's gold medal was the most surprising swimming result of the night, but there was also quite a bit of history made in the other three medal events on Day 4.
The first of those events was the men's 200-meter freestyle, in which Great Britain's Tom Dean and Duncan Scott took gold and silver, respectively. It was the first time a man from Great Britain won gold in any Olympic freestyle event—individual or relay—since 1908, when Henry Taylor took gold in the 400-meter freestyle as well as the 1,500-meter freestyle. Great Britain also won the 4x200-meter freestyle relay that year before going even longer between gold medals than the Chicago Cubs went between World Series rings.
In swimming medal event No. 2 of the day, Australia's Kaylee McKeown set an Olympic record with a time of 57.47 seconds in the women's 100-meter backstroke. McKeown was a wee bit excited. (NSFW language disclaimer.) She took gold, Canada's Kylie Masse earned silver and Team USA's Regan Smith got the bronze.
After that was the men's 100-meter backstroke, in which the Russian Olympic Committee's Evgeniy Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov won gold and silver with American Ryan Murphy taking the bronze.
Team USA had won gold in both the men's 100-meter backstroke and the men's 200-meter backstroke in each of the past six Olympics, with Murphy winning both in Rio in 2016. Not only did Rylov's win snap that American backstroke streak, but it was also the first gold medal by an indoor* Russian swimmer—male or female; individual or relay—since 1996 when Alexander Popov and Denis Pankratov combined for four gold medals. It technically doesn't count as a gold for Russia because of the IOC ban, but still a noteworthy development to be sure.
*Larisa Ilchenko won gold in the 10km marathon outdoor swim in 2008.
Winner: Team USA Stays Unbeaten in Women's Beach Volleyball
Back on Day 2, the "A-Team" of Alix Klineman and April Ross won its beach volleyball pool-play opener against China's Xue Chen and Wang Xinxin in straight sets 21-19, 21-17. Team USA's other duo, Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil, needed three sets and a late comeback to win its Day 3 opener over Latvia's Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka, but it got the job done.
And on a rainy, windy, just generally nasty morning for beach volleyball, Klineman and Ross brought Team USA's overall record in women's beach volleyball to 3-0.
As the condition of the court gradually transitioned from feeling like quicksand to feeling like concrete, the Americans were seemingly unfazed by the elements while cruising to a 21-13, 21-16 victory over Spain's Liliana Fernandez and Elsa Baquerizo.
Though they did have a total of seven service faults in the match, Klineman and Ross did not trail at any point in either set.
At this point, they are all but guaranteed a spot in the 16-team knockout portion of the tournament, but that's no surprise. They came into the Games as a heavy favorite to medal. They've merely been backing that up thus far.
Ross and Klineman will draw The Netherlands' Sanne Keizer and Madelein Meppelink in their pool-play finale at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Loser: Bermuda's Olympic Medal Drought
Prior to Day 4 in Tokyo, Bermuda had only won one medal in Olympic history. That was a bronze courtesy of heavyweight boxer Clarence Hill in 1976.
But despite only sending two athletes to these Games, Bermuda's drought ended in emphatic, golden fashion thanks to triathlete Flora Duffy.
At the end of the 1.5-kilometer swim, Duffy was part of the seven-woman lead group, albeit in sixth place about eight seconds behind Great Britain's Jessica Learmonth.
By the end of the 40-kilometer bike ride, that group of medal contenders had been trimmed down to five with Duffy, Learmonth, Team USA's Katie Zaferes and Germany's Laura Lindemann virtually in a four-way tie, a full minute ahead of a 12-athlete cluster for sixth.
But it didn't take long from there for Duffy to literally run away with the gold.
She pulled comfortably ahead within the first half-kilometer and had a 17-second lead over Zaferes after the first of the four 2.5-kilometer laps. She pushed that lead to 47 seconds one lap later. By the end of the nearly two-hour race, Duffy was a full one minute, 14 seconds ahead of Great Britain's Georgia Taylor-Brown (silver) and Zaferes (bronze).
Quite the difference from nine years ago in London when it was literally a photo finish for gold with the bronze medalist finishing just two seconds behind the leading duo.
For Duffy, it was all smiles during the (relatively speaking) leisurely jog to the finish line.
Winner: U.S. Women Earn 50th Straight Olympic Win
Looking back on the 81-72 win against Nigeria, the U.S. women's basketball team won't be thrilled about trailing after the first quarter or committing 25 turnovers. Nigeria put together a late run, too. It wasn't a beautiful performance.
The streak, however, has reached a fantastic milestone.
Team USA earned its 50th straight win in Olympic competition, continuing an unbeaten trend since the 1992 Barcelona Games. The streak has included six consecutive gold medals.
A'ja Wilson paced the U.S. team with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Brittney Griner added 13 and 10, respectively. Sue Bird missed all six shots, but the veteran certainly atoned for her shooting struggles with 13 assists and only two turnovers.
Next up for the Americans is a clash with Japan, which edged France 74-70 in the preliminary opener for both teams. Tipoff is slated for Friday at 12:40 a.m. ET.
Loser: Chinese Women's Volleyball Yet Again
China has medaled in women's volleyball in six of the past nine Summer Olympics, and after taking gold in 2016, it entered Tokyo as the slight favorite to win again. Per Sports Betting Dime, the Chinese women were given +175 odds, followed by Team USA at +225 with Italy (+400) as the next-closest challenger.
But at this stage of pool play, it's unclear if China will even reach the quarterfinals.
They started out with a stunning loss, getting smoked by Turkey 25-21, 25-14, 25-14 on Day 2.
On Day 4 against Team USA, the Chinese women were much more competitive, but they were still unable to win a single set, falling to 0-2 in pool play.
The opening set was a thriller. China led 13-10 at the midpoint, but the Americans came back to take a 24-22 lead before missing on back-to-back set-point opportunities. Team USA ended up winning 29-27, but not before surviving two set-point tries by China.
China again took a three-point lead (8-5) early in the second set, but was unable to keep it. The Americans went on a 10-4 run to erase that early deficit and ended up taking the set 25-22.
The third set went back and forth and back again until the Americans broke an 18-18 tie with four consecutive points, winning the set 25-21 to take the match.
China certainly isn't eliminated yet. It has three matches remaining and merely needs to finish in the top four of its six-team pool to reach the quarterfinals. Two wins might be enough. Win all three and they'll definitely advance. But there's no question this has been a disappointing start for the reigning Olympic champions.
Winner: Down the GOAT, U.S. Gymnastics Takes Silver
The headline is obvious: Simone Biles exited the women's team final.
Her departure sent shockwaves through the Olympic world and sparked a number of questions. What's wrong? Is she injured? Can she compete in the future?
"Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue," USA Gymnastics said in a statement. "She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions."
Those questions will be answered soon enough. But even without the greatest of all time, the U.S. women stayed in the hunt.
While the Russian Olympic Committee ultimately stood atop the podium, the U.S. team of Grace McCallum, Suni Lee and Jordan Chiles earned a silver medal. Lee and Chiles stepped in as last-second replacements for Biles in three rotations.
Understandably, Biles' withdrawal will attract the most attention. However, what her teammates accomplished is incredible.
Loser: Naomi Osaka, Japan
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the torch for the host country during the Opening Ceremony, and she initially carried some of that fire with her into the women's tennis tournament.
Osaka won her opener against Zheng Saisai, 6-1, 6-4. She proceeded to defeat her second-round opponent, Viktorija Golubic, in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2. Between those two matches, she was not broken once, nor did she commit a double fault.
Playing for the first time since withdrawing from the French Open to take care of her mental health in late May, she looked every bit the part of the world No. 2 women's tennis player in those first two matches.
The same cannot be said for match No. 3 against Czech Republic's Marketa Vondrousova.
Osaka had 32 unforced errors and was broken in each of her first two service games en route to a 6-1, 6-4 loss. And it sure felt like a lot more than 32. After saving a pair of match points on her serve and coming back to take the advantage, she lost the match as a result of three consecutive unforced errors.
Osaka looked out of sorts from the outset. USA showed a graphic at one point early in the second set that Osaka's return speed on Vondrousova's second serves was more than 20 kilometers per hour slower than what she had been averaging in the first two matches. Vondrousova's wide left-handed serves, drop shots and unflappable defensive approach just seemed to throw Osaka for a loop.
Upsets have been the name of the game early in this tournament, though. World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty lost in the first round, and world No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka went down in the second round. And with No. 4 Elina Svitolina and No. 5 Karolina Pliskova on a potential collision course in the quarterfinals, that match now looks like it might determine who wins the gold.
Winner: Japan Knocks Off USA for Softball Gold
During the final matchup of the group stage, United States softball celebrated a thrilling 2-1 win over Japan. Kelsey Stewart smacked a walk-off homer to give Team USA the victory.
But with a gold medal at stake, Japan had its revenge.
While trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Team USA had a tremendous chance to score. Amanda Chidester stepped to the plate with runners on first and second, one out. She roped a line drive off the third baseman's glove, and the U.S. could feel a run—or, at the very least, would load the bases.
In a twist of brutal fate, however, the ball deflected to Japan shortstop Mana Atsumi, who turned an incredibly fortuitous double play. Truly, it's sometimes better to be lucky than good.
Nevertheless, Japan was very good in the 2-0 triumph and limited Team USA to only three hits. Japan won its second consecutive softball gold—the other coming at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Loser: USWNT Moves to Knockout Round, I Guess
If this was swimming, NBC analyst Rowdy Gaines would have a simple takeaway for the U.S. women: They found a lane.
After a stunning 3-0 loss to Sweden in the opener, early expectations for the dominant USWNT shifted. The headlines changed from the team's 44-game unbeaten streak to a two-part plan: pad the goal differential in a win over New Zealand, and pick up a result against Australia to reach the knockout round.
The game itself? Leave that scoreless draw in the past.
Unlike usual, the U.S. didn't look to push the ball quickly. Perhaps the team worried about counterattacking chances for Australian star Sam Kerr, but the USWNT didn't press aggressively. Maybe it was just an old roster saving a little energy for the knockout round, but it was not an enjoyable game to watch.
In two games against good/great competition the USWNT hasn't played well. That isn't an encouraging sign with the Netherlands—the Group F winner and runner-up to the USWNT at the 2019 World Cup—waiting in the quarterfinals.
But the U.S. women found a lane. Despite a forgettable group stage, perhaps that's all the USWNT needs.