Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 12 Highlights
Relative to the thunderous, world-shaking finals of the past week-plus, Day 12 was a lower-key day in Tokyo. Not as many medals were given out, many of the biggest events have already occurred, and most of the popular stars were out of competition.
These being the Olympics, of course, incredible feats were still performed. World records were broken and set once more, new superstars were anointed, and anticipation built for finals later in the week. Again, even the more anticlimactic days of sport in Tokyo showcase the greatest athletes in the world at their absolute best.
Let's break it all down.
Reigning Olympic Gold Medalist Narrowly Misses Repeat in Women's Marathon Swim
Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands took gold in the women's 10-kilometer open water swim five years ago in Rio, and it wasn't even close.
In the men's race that year, the gap between gold and silver was just 0.7 seconds. Even the 18th-place finisher was within 17 seconds of the gold medal. But van Rouwendaal won by a margin of 17.4 seconds. And after taking gold in the women's 10km at both the 2018 and 2021 European Championships, she entered Tokyo as a legitimate threat to repeat as champion.
She spent most of the race in the top seven within 10 seconds of first place and made a major push in the seventh and final lap.
But it wasn't quite enough to bypass Brazil's Ana Marcela Cunha.
Cunha finished almost a full minute behind van Rouwendaal in 2016—and took fifth place in this event as a 16-year-old in 2008—but she pushed ahead of Germany's Leonie Beck in the final lap and was able to ward off van Rouwendaal down the stretch to win gold by 0.9 seconds.
"I said to my coach to win this race will be very difficult for my opponents because I want it so hard, so much, and I'm really well prepared," said Cunha after the nearly two-hour-long swim, per Beth Harris of the AP.
Van Rouwendaal took silver and Australia's Kareena Lee earned the bronze medal.
400-Meter Hurdles World Record Shattered for 2nd Straight Day
Not even 24 hours after both Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin ran the men's 400-meter hurdles in the two fastest times in history, Team USA's Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad did the same in the women's 400-meter hurdles.
Muhammad got out to an incredible start. By the fourth of the 10 hurdles, she had already landed before the next-closest racer had started to jump. Muhammad was still in the lead after eight hurdles. And she finished strong with a time of 51.58 seconds, well ahead of her previous best of 52.16 and more than three-tenths of a second better than the previous world record of 51.90 seconds.
It wasn't enough for the gold, though, as the previous world-record holder shattered her own world record with a time of 51.46 seconds.
Through the first nine hurdles, McLaughlin was neck-and-neck with the Netherlands' Femke Bol in what appeared to be a battle for silver. But over the final 75 meters, McLaughlin showcased that world-record speed, leaving Bol in her rearview mirror and overtaking Muhammad in the home stretch.
Whereas Warholm was in a state of disbelief and jubilation after his record run on Day 11, McLaughlin was all business, looking as though she fully expected to run this race almost half a second faster than any other woman ever had.
McLaughlin is only 21 years old, so don't expect this to be the last time she bests her own record at the Olympics.
Yosozumi Sakura Denies Chance for Youngest-Ever Olympic Gold Medalist
Earlier in these Games, Japan's Momiji Nishiya became one of the youngest Olympic gold medalists of all time, winning the women's street skateboarding event at an age of 13 years and a little under 11 months.
The record holder is Marjorie Gestring, who won gold in diving in the 1936 Games at 13 years, nine months old. And in the women's park skateboarding event, there were two skaters younger than that with a real chance at victory.
For the host country of Japan, that contender was Hiraki Cocona, who won't turn 13 until later this month. Hiraki placed third in the qualifying heats with a best score of 52.46. She then had a pair of sensational runs in the finals, posting scores of 58.05 and 59.04.
For Great Britain, it was Sky Brown, who won gold in women's park less than a month ago at the X-Games. At 13 years, 28 days old, she also had a chance to shatter the previous record for golden youth. She had a run of 57.40 in the preliminaries and a top score of 56.47 in the finals.
But thanks to 19-year-old Yosozumi Sakura scoring a 60.09 on her first run of the finals, Hiraki took silver and Brown had to settle for bronze. Yosozumi threw down a 540 on back-to-back tricks in the middle of her gold-medal winning run, and no one was able to match that.
Thus far, Japan is kicking butt and taking names in the inaugural year of Olympic skateboarding. In addition to gold and silver in women's park, Momiji and Nakayama Funa took gold and bronze in women's street while Horigome Yuto won gold in men's street. That's three-of-three in golds and five-of-nine on the overall medal board with one event (men's park) still to come.
Brazil Will Not Medal in Beach Volleyball for 1st Time at Olympics
Beach volleyball first became an Olympic sport in 1996, and Brazil has consistently been one of the best in the world at that discipline.
Not only had Brazil medaled at each of the previous six Games, it also entered Tokyo having won at least two medals in beach volleyball in every year it was held. The only year the men failed to medal (1996), the two women's teams squared off in the gold-medal match. Similarly, when the women fell shy of the podium in 2008, Brazil's men took silver and bronze.
They had won 13 medals, and Team USA (10) was the only other country with more than three beach volleyball medals.
But that streak of dominance came to a surprising end in a series of losses from Sunday a.m. ET through Tuesday p.m. ET.
On the women's side, Agatha and Duda were shockingly ousted by Germany's Laura Ludwig and Margareta Kozuch 21-19, 19-21, 16-14 in the round of 16. The following night, Ana Patricia and Rebecca lost to Switzerland's Joana Heidrich Anouk Verge-Depre by a similar score of 21-19, 18-21, 15-12. Considering they had two of the four highest-ranked pairs in the world, few could have possibly guessed they would both be gone before the semifinals.
The Brazilian men also had two of the top four pairs in the world, but they, too, got bounced before the final four.
It was a single team delivering those mortals blows, though. Latvia's Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs—who were outscored 83-93 during pool play—knocked out Evandro and Bruno Schmidt in straight sets in the round of 16 (21-19, 21-18) before also eliminating Alison and Alvaro Filho 21-16, 21-19 in the quarterfinals.
Plavins and Tocs will now face Norway's Anders Mol and Christian Sorum in the semifinals. Neither country has ever won gold or silver in men's or women's Olympic beach volleyball, but that's going to change in a few days.
USA Goes 3-of-4 in a Flurry of Team Quarterfinals
From midnight through 2:15 a.m. on the East Coast in the United States, it was a "get out as many screens as possible" type of viewing window of team sports at the Olympics, as the Americans were simultaneously competing in the quarterfinals of women's volleyball, women's basketball, men's baseball and men's water polo.
The women took care of their business without any trouble.
Despite playing without both Jordan Thompson and Jordyn Poulter because of ankle injuries suffered in the past few days, the women's volleyball team defeated Dominican Republic in straight sets 25-11, 25-20, 25-19. Annie Drews scored 21 of the 75 points for the Americans, and it felt like even more than that. They'll need her to continue spiking the opposition into oblivion if those two stars remain unavailable.
In basketball, Breanna Stewart and Co. made quick work of Australia. Stewart scored 11 of Team USA's first 14 points and sparked a 17-0 run in the first quarter. After opening up a 21-6 lead just six minutes into the game, the Americans never let the Australians get the margin back below nine points. Stewart finished with a game-high 23 points while Brittney Griner added 15 points and eight rebounds in a convincing 79-55 victory—their 53rd straight in Olympic play. They will draw Serbia in the semifinals at 12:40 a.m. ET Thursday morning.
On the baseball diamond, Triston Casas mashed a two-run home run to dead center in the first inning, Tyler Austin added a solo shot in the fifth and Scott Kazmir logged five scoreless innings en route to a 3-1 victory over Dominican Republic. There was some late-inning drama when a two-out solo home run by Charlie Valerio was followed by a walk, bringing the game-tying run to the plate (and putting former MLB slugger Jose Bautista into the on-deck circle), but David Robertson closed the door with a strikeout. The Americans will face the loser of Japan vs. South Korea with a spot in the gold-medal game on the line.
The men's water polo team couldn't complete the clean sweep, though, losing 12-8 to Spain. It was a closer match than the final margin suggests, all knotted up at 3-3 and then at 6-6 after each of the first two quarters. The Americans just couldn't find the net in the second half, though. In 21 previous tries, Team USA has never won gold in men's water polo, and that drought will continue for at least a few more years.
Damian Warner Establishes Big Lead in Decathlon
The decathlon doesn't get as much attention as it used to, but it's still arguably the most challenging competition at the Olympics. Ten events over two days is grueling, and on Day 12, the athletes completed their first five challenges.
Halfway through, the top competitors have already separated themselves. Leading the way is Canadian Damian Warner, who won bronze in Rio. He tied his own decathlon world record in the 100-meter dash (10.12 seconds) and broke the decathlon long jump world record (8.24 meters), a distance that would have garnered a bronze in this year's regular long jump competition.
Australia's Ashley Moloney is in second, leading the field in both high jump (2.11 meters) and the 400 meters (46.29 seconds), while Canada's Pierce LePage is in bronze position. He finished top-four in all but one event Wednesday.
Thursday will see the conclusion of the decathlon, with the 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 meters to be completed.
Kenya Takes Gold, Silver in Men's 800 Meters
After two-time gold medalist David Rudisha withdrew from competition in May because of several injuries, the men's 800-meter field was left without its favorite. But Rudisha's loss turned out to be his countrymen's gain, as Kenyans Emmanuel Korir and Ferguson Rotich took the top two prizes in Wednesday's final, respectively.
Korir, 26, is the sixth-fastest of all time in the 800 meters and ran the two laps in one minute, 45.06 seconds, a good but not blazing time historically speaking, while Rotich sneaked in just behind him at 1:45.23. Poland's Patryk Dobek (1:45.39) took bronze, earning a podium spot over Botswana's Nijel Amos, the 2021 world leader. After colliding with American Isaiah Jewett in the semifinal and needing a reinstatement to even run in this one, Amos finished eighth.
Post-race, Korir exclaimed his happiness, saying: "It's amazing, I mean I'm so happy and grateful. This is a big achievement. ... I want to achieve the 43 seconds in the 400m and maybe to do my best and maybe one day 1:40 in the 800m and maybe a world record."
Andre De Grasse Wins Long-Awaited Gold; North America Sweeps Men's 200 Meters
Lamont Marcell Jacobs' surprise gold medal in the 100-meter dash laid bare what many have been thinking: Usain Bolt's retirement has caused the bottom to fall out of men's sprinting. All eight of the 100-meter finalists were candidates to win, and more than half the sprinters in the men's 200 final had a legitimate case for gold as well.
And while two of the 200-meter medalists are Olympic newcomers, the first prize finally went to a perennial second- and third-place finisher in global competition.
Perhaps best known for the sideways glances he shared at the end of the 200-meter final in Rio with Bolt, Canada's Andre De Grasse is a known quantity, frequently on the medal stand but never in the top position. He had won six bronze medals and two silvers in Olympic and World Championship play, including a bronze in the 100-meter final earlier this week.
Day 12 was De Grasse's chance to seize on that Bolt-sized gap, and he did so, running a personal best of 19.62 seconds to win gold. Two Americans—Kenny Bednarek (19.68) and pre-race favorite Noah Lyles (19.74)— filled out the podium, while 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton (19.93), also from the U.S., finished fourth.
Of the four men just mentioned, De Grasse is the oldest, and he's just 26. Men's sprinting may not have the legendary names that it used to, but if this final is any indication, it's still in good hands.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Allyson Felix Set Highly Anticipated Women's 400 Rematch
Shaunae Miller-Uibo's dive to win gold in the women's 400 at the Rio Olympics was an instant flashbulb memory, whether you liked it or not. Many found her effort heroic, a symbolic statement about how the Bahamian was going to leave it all on the track. Others, like silver medalist Allyson Felix, were less pleased, even though Miller-Uibo's dive was perfectly legal.
Now, they have a chance to settle this debate, as both women clinched a spot in the 400-meter final, set to take place Friday. Despite putting plenty of wear on her legs this week, Miller-Uibo ran an easy 49.60 on Wednesday evening, while Felix, the most decorated female Olympian in track and field history, finished second in her heat at 49.89.
Though Friday's final hosts a competitive overall field, all eyes will be on the returning duellists. Can Miller-Uibo defend her title? And in her final Olympic appearance, can Felix win gold in one of her signature events?
No doubt, this will be a fascinating one.