Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 8 Highlights

Bleacher Report Olympics StaffFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2021

Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 8 Highlights

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    Petr David Josek/Associated Press

    Wow, sports are great, aren't they?

    Big names took the stage all throughout Day 8 in Tokyo. Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky swam, Novak Djokovic served for bronze, a trio of Jamaican female sprinters ran for history and the U.S. men's basketball team looked to clinch a quarterfinals berth. Almost to a sport, their competitions (plus several more) were hugely entertaining.

    On one of the busiest, most adrenaline-fueled days of the 2020 Olympics, let's recap everything that happened, starting late Friday night in the United States and going all the way through Saturday morning.

Team USA Remains Undefeated in Women's Beach Volleyball

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    Team USA's Sarah Sponcil
    Team USA's Sarah SponcilPetros Giannakouris/Associated Press

    Back in 2012 in London, the Team USA women's beach volleyball tandems of Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh Jennings and Jennifer Kessy/April Ross both went a perfect 3-0 in pool play, ended up on opposite sides of the bracket for the knockout portion of the tournament and did not lose a single match until the former defeated the latter in a gold-medal showdown.

    Might history be repeating itself in Tokyo?

    The "A-Team" of April Ross and Alix Klineman improved to 3-0 on Day 7, and Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil followed suit on Day 8, pulling off a bit of an upset against Brazil's Ana Patricia and Rebecca.

    Claes and Sponcil entered the Olympics ranked sixth in the world, while the Brazilians came into the tournament ranked No. 4.

    Even though both sides had already punched their tickets to the final 16, it was the most anticipated showdown of pool play. And it was an important one for bracket placement, as the winner would get to avoid both the world No. 1 team from Canada (Sarah Pavan/Melissa Humana-Paredes) and the A-Team until at least the semifinals.

    It certainly lived up to the hype.

    In a match where both sides frequently oscillated between savvy placement and raw power, Claes and Sponcil emerged victorious in three sets 17-21, 21-19, 15-11. The turning point came midway through the second set when the Americans went on a five-point surge that included a mishit on a set attempt by the Brazilians, an ace by the Americans and a big-time block by Claes. Brazil was never quite able to recover.

Great Britain, USA and France Medal in First-Ever Mixed Team Triathlon

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    Great Britain's Triathlon Mixed Relay Team
    Great Britain's Triathlon Mixed Relay TeamFrancisco Seco/Associated Press

    Great Britain took silver in both the men's triathlon and the women's triathlon earlier in the week, and that meant the British were in great shape for gold in the inaugural running of the mixed relay.

    Instead of having one person swim 1.5 kilometers, bike 40 kilometers and run 10 kilometers over the course of about two hours, the triathlon mixed relay is 10 teams of four teammates (two men, two women) who each swim 300 meters, bike eight kilometers and run two kilometers.

    To complete that "mini-triathlon," if you will, takes each member of the team around 20 minutes before tagging their teammate, making this event much more of a frantic sprint than a methodical test of endurance. (A sprint made to feel even more intense by its juxtaposition with the only other Olympic event taking place at the same time: the second round of men's golf.)

    Heading into the fourth and final bike-to-run transition, it was anyone's guess whether Great Britain, United States or France would get the first gold medal in event history. Great Britain's Alex Yee was essentially tied with France's Vincent Luis, and Team USA's Morgan Pearson was only about five seconds behind that pair.

    Yee ended up running away with it, winning by 14 seconds. Pearson overtook Luis, though, earning silver for the Americans.

Another Thrilling Night in the Pool

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    Team USA's Caeleb Dressel
    Team USA's Caeleb DresselGregory Bull/Associated Press

    For Team USA's Caeleb Dressel, it was a busy morning in the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

    At 10:30 a.m. local time, his first event was the final of the men's 100-meter butterfly.

    He was the heavy favorite after winning gold in this event at both the 2017 and 2019 World Championships as well as the 2018 Pan-Pacific Championships. And yet, he exceeded expectations with the best swim ever. Not just better than his best ever but better than anyone's best ever, setting a world record with a time of 49.45 seconds. (He broke his own world record of 49.50 seconds set in 2019.)

    After the medal ceremony, it was back in the pool at 11:23 a.m. local time for the semifinals of the men's 50-meter freestyle. While he didn't break any world records in that one, he did qualify for the finals with the fastest time of the 16 swimmers by a margin of 0.11 seconds.

    And half an hour after that, Dressel swam the anchor leg of the mixed 4x100-meter medley relay. Team USA's Lydia Jacoby lost her goggles when diving in for her 100-meter breaststroke leg and swam incredibly well given that unfortunate circumstance. But despite Dressel's valiant attempt to make up an eight-second gap on the women in the pool in front of him on the final leg, the Americans were nowhere close to medaling. Great Britain set a world record while China and Australia took silver and bronze, respectively.

    For the Australians, it was their fourth medal of the day and their 18th swimming medal of these Games. They also had Kaylee McKeown and Emily Seebohm earn gold and bronze, respectively, in the women's 200-meter backstroke, and Ariarne Titmus took silver to Katie Ledecky's gold in the women's 800-meter freestyle.

    Speaking of Ledecky, it was her last swim of Tokyo and the 10th Olympic medal (seventh gold) of her career, but the 24-year-old has no intentions of stopping there. She told NBC's Michele Tafoya that she'll be back in 2024 for the Olympics in Paris.

World No. 1 in Women's Volleyball Gets Smashed in Straight Sets

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    Team USA's Jordan Thompson
    Team USA's Jordan ThompsonFrank Augstein/Associated Press

    If not the singular, clear favorite, Team USA certainly entered the Olympics as one of the top candidates for the gold medal in women's volleyball. The Americans were ranked No. 1 in the world, and they backed it up early with back-to-back wins over Argentina and China by straight sets.

    But after getting a five-set scare from Turkey in their third match of pool play, Team USA was hoping to get back on track with a dominant win over the Russian Olympic Committee.

    To put it lightly, things didn't go according to plan.

    Not only did the Americans fail to blow out the Russians, but they got destroyed in a straight-set loss, 25-20, 25-12, 25-19.

    Losing Jordan Thompson to an ankle injury very early in the second set didn't help matters. Thompson scored 34 of Team USA's 79 points in the match against China and has clearly been the team's MVP. It's little surprise that the second set got so out of hand as they frantically tried to adjust to playing without her.

    Even before she got hurt, though, the Americans didn't much look like the best team in the world. They couldn't seem to block any of ROC's attacks, and they were getting stuffed at the net on a regular basis. The Russians turned a 12-11 opening-set lead into a 21-13 blowout in a New York minute.

    The loss didn't eliminate the Americans, though. In fact, they've already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals and could still win Pool B if they defeat Italy (10:05 p.m. ET on Sunday night) and get a couple of other results to go their way. However, this was an astoundingly poor showing from Team USA.

    And now we wait to hear how badly Thompson rolled that ankle. If she's limited or unavailable altogether during the knockout round, that could be a medal-changer.

Team USA Cleans Up Nicely in Morning Session of Track and Field

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    Team USA's Dalilah Muhammad
    Team USA's Dalilah MuhammadPetr David Josek/Associated Press

    There were no track and field medals awarded during the first half of Day 8, but qualifying rounds were a good chance for Team USA to show what it will be bringing to the table when more hardware is on the line in the coming days.

    Qualifying heats for the men's 800-meter, the women's 100-meter hurdles and the women's 400-meter hurdles were all held to determine which 24 runners will partake in the semifinals. In all three events, three Americans ran and all three qualified.

    Of particular note were Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin in the 400 hurdles, who recorded the fastest and fourth-fastest times, respectively, while not even giving anything close to 100 percent. If and when they reach the finals, it should be fascinating to see if they can go gold-silver.

    In men's pole vault, USA's Chris Nilsen and KC Lightfoot both qualified for the finals with room to spare while Matt Ludwig came up short. Ludwig will have one heck of a story to tell for the rest of his life, though, as he had to jump on a plane and arrive in Tokyo barely 12 hours before the start of the qualifying round when Sam Kendricks was forced to pull out of the event after testing positive for COVID-19.

    And in women's discus, only one of the three American women qualified for the finals, but Valarie Allman did so in dominant fashion. She only threw one disc and she launched it 66.42 meters. No one else topped 64.0. U.S. women have only medaled twice in the Olympics in the past 88 yearsStephanie Brown Trafton's gold in 2008; Leslie Deniz's silver in 1984but Allman is out to a very promising start. Her final is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET on Monday.

Novak Djokovic Falls Short Again

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Favorites have been falling left and right at the 2020 Olympics, and one of the most recent to do so was Novak Djokovic, who lost in both singles and mixed doubles. Amid such a dominant 2021, it seemed like two bronze medals would be a fine consolation prize for the Serbian legend, but playing so much tennis in such little time seemed to take its toll.

    In the sweltering Tokyo heat, Djokovic couldn't find a rhythm against Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, losing 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 and abusing his racket several times throughout the bronze-medal singles match. He also lost his shot at a Golden Slam, having already won the Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon.

    By the end of that defeat, he had played seven matches in four days, which included 16 sets, and was clearly exhausted, dropping out of the mixed-doubles bronze match while citing a shoulder injury. As a result, the Australian team of Ash Barty and John Peers earned a podium spot by default.

    "I'm sorry to [doubles partner] Nina [Stojanovic] for not being able to play, but my body just gave up," Djokovic told reporters. "I played under medicines, unbelievable pain and exhaustion.''

    Though he has 20 major titles and is a certified all-time great, Djokovic only has one Olympic medal—a singles bronze from the 2008 Games. At 34 years old, time is running out for him to win that elusive singles gold.

Men's Soccer Quarterfinals Entertain

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    Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press

    Because of the age restrictions limiting the number of famous players involved, men's Olympic soccer is traditionally not as celebrated as its World Cup counterpart (or perhaps even the Euros). But the 24-and-under nature of the tournament does not mean it's not entertaining. There's a youthful exuberance to this form of the sport that is often muted in other, high-stakes international competitions, and that shone through in Saturday's quarterfinals.

    The scoring started early, came somewhat often and was kicked off in the first match, in which Mexico defeated South Korea 6-3. The former nation led 3-1 at the half and steadily applied pressure, with both Henry Martin and Sebastian Cordova posting their respective second goals in the final 45 minutes.

    Brazil and Egypt's ensuing battle was much more defense-oriented, as Matheus Cunha's 37th-minute strike made all the difference in the 1-0 Brazil win, while a scoreless battle between Japan and New Zealand needed penalty kicks, with the host nation triumphing 4-2.

    The day ended with another battle between Spain and the Ivory Coast, which entered extra time tied at 2-2 but soon devolved, as the Spaniards notched three goals in the final half-hour of play, including a penalty kick from Mikel Oyarzabal in the 98th minute.

    We've still got two stages left, and if the day's results are any indication, the semis and finals will be barnburners.

Elaine Thompson-Herah Breaks Olympic Record in a Women's 100 Meters for the Ages

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    With Elaine Thompson-Herah looking to defend her Rio title and 34-year-old Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce attempting to both win her third gold and become the oldest person to win the event at the Olympics, the women's 100-meter final promised to be a legendary sprint.

    And that, sports fans, it was.

    Both Jamaicans ran like champions in the semifinal heats and raised their game higher under the brightest lights.

    Fraser-Pryce burst out to an early lead, but Thompson-Herah quickly ran her down and motored through the final 50 meters, even emulating countryman Usain Bolt by pointing at her new Olympic record of 10.61 seconds while running past the finish line. With converted 400-meter runner Shericka Jackson finishing third, Jamaicans swept the podium.

    Though Bolt is retired and Yohan Blake may be past his prime at 31, Jamaicans are still a force in the sprinting world. We'll see Thompson-Herah, Fraser-Pryce and Jackson again in the women's 200 meters, which start Monday and promise to be just as thrilling.

Poland Outduels Dominican Republic, US in Inaugural Mixed 4x400 Relay

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The new 4x400 mixed relay has already caused controversy at these Games, as the favored United States team was disqualified during the preliminaries and then reinstated following confusion about the designated handoff zones. But when we got to the actual event, it delivered on promises of excitement.

    The Dominican Republic sped out to an early lead, with the U.S., Poland and the Netherlands trailing close behind. Those four countries held steady through to the final lap, where Poland's Kajetan Duszynski took a lead with nearly 100 meters to go and never relinquished it.

    Alexander Ogando of the D.R. and American Vernon Norwood put in strong efforts down the final straightaway, recording a photo finish for silver and bronze, but didn't have enough to compete with the Poles, who own the Olympic record.

    With so much unpredictability in the first running of the mixed relay, here's hoping it becomes as much a mainstay in Olympic track and field as its single-gender counterparts.

Kevin Durant Breaks American Olympic Scoring Record; US Crushes Czech Republic

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Though there were early struggles yet again for the U.S. men's basketball team, it soon locked in and cruised to a second straight victory, dominating the Czech Republic 119-84.

    After a shaky first quarter, the Americans ran away with the game, outscoring the Czechs 101-59 in the final three frames. Jayson Tatum (10-16 FG, 5-10 3PT) led all scorers with 27, while Kevin Durant scored 23 and passed Carmelo Anthony for the most points by an American man in Olympic play. Blake Schilb led the Czech team with 17 points, while former NBA lottery pick Jan Vesely added 13 points and four assists. 

    It's been a journey for the American men, as they infamously dropped two exhibition games and lost to France to begin Olympic play. But with two consecutive victories of at least 30 points in the bag, they've got a good thing going. Sure, those wins came against Iran and the Czech Republic, but when players of this caliber learn how to play together, it's a scary sight.

    If the U.S. can maintain this level of play against a more competitive team in the quarterfinals, the rest of the field better watch out.

Belinda Bencic Wins Women's Singles Gold

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    After Naomi Osaka lost in the third round, the singles gold medal was up for grabs in women's tennis. And while it took two-and-a-half hours, ninth-seeded Belinda Bencic earned that hardware, triumphing over Czech Marketa Vondrousova 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.

    The first set took almost an hour to complete, with three break points helping Bencic earn a quick advantage, and the tables turned in Set 2, with Vondrousova recording 14 winners. However, the Swiss 24-year-old held strong, surviving a toe injury in the third set to claim the trophy.

    Bencic has a chance to double (pun intended) up, teaming with Viktorija Golubic to try to claim the doubles gold as well. They're unranked and taking on the top-seeded Czech pairing of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova on Sunday for the gold, but if these Olympics have taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected.