Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 13 Highlights
Though it's sad the Olympics come to a close this weekend, that means more excitement from the remaining events. Basically every competition left has a medal at stake.
On the track Thursday, the men's 110-meter hurdles and decathlon and women's heptathlon and pole vault were among the events to award hardware, while men's basketball and women's and men's beach volleyball solidified their medal matchups. We continued to see upsets, new records set and big stars adding to their legacies.
It's not yet time to mourn the end of the 2020 Games. Brilliance is still occurring on a regular basis. Let's break down the highlights of Day 13 in Tokyo.
USA Men's Basketball Team Overcomes Sluggish Start, Reaches Gold-Medal Game
Historically speaking, USA vs. Australia in Olympic men's basketball feels like a No. 1 seed facing a No. 16 seed in the first round of an NCAA tournament. In 18 previous trips to the Olympics, USA has won 15 gold medals and been on the podium every time. For Australia, nary a medal in 14 previous tries.
But if you didn't know any better, the first 15 minutes of that semifinal pairing would've led you to believe Australia was the quadrennial superpower in hoops.
The Aussies jumped out to a 41-26 lead, and it was more than just a "three-point shots weren't falling" problem for the Americans. Australia played as a cohesive unit on both ends of the floor, while USA played basically no defense whatsoever and—outside simply letting Kevin Durant do his thing—couldn't create scoring opportunities on offense.
But the Americans woke up and started asserting their dominance inside the three-point arc, particularly Durant's ability to make nearly impossible mid-range jumpers look semi-automatic.
Team USA closed the first half on a 16-4 run to cut the deficit to three points. And then it was the Durant and Jrue Holiday show to start the third quarter, as that duo scored the first 12 points of the second half.
In the span of nine minutes, a 15-point deficit turned into a nine-point lead for Team USA. They gradually blew the game wide open from there, outscoring the Aussies 32-10 in the third quarter (a 48-14 run overall from the middle of the second). In addition to the drastic change on the scoreboard, Zach LaVine threw down a couple of soul-crushing fast-break dunks as exclamation points.
Durant finished with 23 points and nine rebounds, while Devin Booker added 20 points in a 97-78 victory.
The Americans are now guaranteed a medal. Whether it's gold or silver will be decided at 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday night.
'A-Team' Cruises to a Spot in the Women's Beach Volleyball Gold-Medal Match
Team USA's April Ross and Alix Klineman have made things look relatively easy throughout the women's beach volleyball tournament. During pool play, they only lost one set, and they bounced back from it to win that match comfortably. They proceeded to win each of their first two matches of the knockout portion of the tournament in straight sets.
But in the semifinals against Switzerland's Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre, the "A-Team" really made it look easy.
Though it wasn't quite the biggest blowout of the tournament—Team USA's Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil won a pool-play match 21-8, 21-6—the A-Team's 21-12, 21-11 victory over the Swiss duo was the most emphatic win since the field was whittled down to 16.
And the most famous member of the A-Team has jumped aboard the bandwagon. Mr. T has been tweeting his support for April and Alix over the past couple of days, cheering them on their quest for gold.
For Ross, this will be her second time competing for Olympic gold and her third Olympic medal. She and former partner Jennifer Kessy lost to USA's Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings in the gold-medal match in 2012. Four years later, Ross teamed up with Walsh Jennings to win a bronze medal in Rio.
Perhaps this will be the year she gets that elusive gold.
April and Alix will face Australia's Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy at 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday night. The Aussies already pulled off one major upset, eliminating gold-medal favorite from Canada's Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes in the quarterfinals. It should be a fascinating final.
USA Fails to Even Qualify for the Finals of Men's 4x100-Meter Relay
For decades, the men's 4x100-meter race used to be just about an automatic Olympic gold for the United States.
The Americans won this event eight consecutive times from 1920-56, won four more from 1964-76 and then took gold in each of 1984, 1992 and 2000. If we ignore the 1980 games in Moscow which USA boycotted, that's 15 gold medals in 18 tries.
Since then, though, they took silver in 2004 and have failed to medal in four consecutive Games.
It's a maddening failure to execute, given how many American men are legitimate threats to medal in the 100-meter sprint.
At the 100-meter semifinals earlier this week, USA's Ronnie Baker, Fred Kerley and Trayvon Bromell posted the second, fifth and 10th-fastest times, respectively. No other country had two men in the top 10.
If the relay race was a matter of adding up the four fastest times and awarding gold to the lowest score, America would still be a lock to medal every year.
But it's not that simple, and a botched baton exchange doomed them once again, this time in the qualifying heat.
The handoff from the second runner (Kerley) to the third runner (Baker) was all sorts of sloppy, costing the Americans several meters in a race where they failed to qualify by just two-hundredths of a second. Cravon Gillespie ran an impressive anchor leg, doing his best to overcome the damage done by that disastrous exchange, but it was too little, too late.
Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis was disgusted by what he witnessed.
Gold Medals of Men's Shot Put and Triple Jump Decided in 1st Round of Finals
The beauty of the format of the field events is the ending is inherently dramatic. You watch people jump or throw as far as they can for over an hour, and then there's always a chance that either the last or next-to-last athlete catapults into gold-medal position with a huge effort.
But if you watched until the mid-point of the first round of each of the men's shot put and men's triple jump finals—which were taking place simultaneously—you will have seen the gold-medal effort.
In the shot put, that throw unsurprisingly came from world-record holder Ryan Crouser.
The American set an Olympic record with a toss of 22.83 meters on his initial attempt. No one else was able to eclipse 22.65 meters, so he could have quit after that first throw and still won the gold. But the drama for the remainder of that final became: Could Crouser surpass his own world record of 23.37 meters?
Crouser reset the Olympic record on his second attempt with a throw of 22.93 meters. And on his sixth and final attempt—after the gold medal had already been secured—he dug deep for a throw of 23.30 meters. While it came just shy of the world record he set in June at the U.S. Olympic trials, he demolished the previous Olympic record.
Fellow American Joe Kovacs took silver while New Zealand's Tomas Walsh earned the bronze medal. It's the same 1-2-3 from five years ago in Rio, which has never happened before, according to the official Olympics Twitter account.
And in the triple jump, it was Portugal's Pedro Pablo Pichardo who had an insurmountable mark right off the bat. He went 17.61 meters on his initial attempt, matched it on his second attempt and then went 17.98 meters on his third try. The next-best jump of the final was 17.57 meters by China's Zhu Yaming.
Perhaps the biggest story out of the triple jump, though, was Hugues Fabrice Zango earning the bronze—the first Olympic medal in the history of Burkina Faso. It joins San Marino and Turkmenistan on the list of National Olympic Committees which won their first-ever medal this year.
Lisa Carrington Wins Her 3rd Gold Medal in 3 Days
If you haven't been watching the canoeing and kayaking events in Tokyo, you've missed out on a woman who just became the most decorated Olympian in her country's history.
That woman is New Zealand's Lisa Carrington, who won two gold medals in the span of a little over an hour on Day 11, won a third gold medal on Day 13 and might win a fourth on Day 15.
The first two wins were in the K-1 200 meters and K-2 500-meter final. (K-1 means solo kayak; K-2 means she was paddling with a partner, Caitlin Ryan.)
The most recent gold came in the K-1 500-meter final. She posted the fastest time in the semifinals and then won the final by just over six-tenths of a second a couple of hours later.
Carrington now has five gold medals in her Olympic career, putting her at No. 1 on New Zealand's all-time leaderboard and putting her in a tie for the third-most gold medals won in canoeing/kayaking, behind only Germany's Birgit Fischer (eight) and Sweden's Gert Fredriksson (six).
She'll have a chance to tie Fredriksson and pad her New Zealand lead in the K-4 500-meter finals at 11:12 p.m. ET Friday night.
Elsewhere in canoeing/kayaking, Team USA's 19-year-old Nevin Harrison won gold in the women's C-1 200-meter event.
Hansle Parchment Upsets Grant Holloway, Takes 110-Meter Hurdles Gold
In an unpredictable Olympics, we may have gotten the biggest upset yet Thursday.
Grant Holloway had not lost in the 110-meter hurdles in 2021. He nearly broke the world record at U.S. Olympic Trials in June and boasts a blistering start that usually proves fatal for his opponents. Not only did it appear his victory was a foregone conclusion, but Aries Merritt's world record of 12.80 seconds also hung in the balance.
Holloway got out to a fast start Thursday but seemed to run up awkwardly on several of the middle hurdles. By the time the 10 barriers had been cleared, Jamaica's Hansle Parchment was ahead and edged the American for first prize. Parchment ran a 13.04, so Merritt's record remains safe.
The confident 23-year-old took responsibility for missing out on gold, saying he "got a little bit excited towards the end of the race, and my form kind of broke down." And credit must go to Parchment for running the perfect race to beat a heavy favorite. Hopefully, the two of them will get to battle once more at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
USWNT Bounces Back, Claims Bronze in Back-and-Forth Affair
As has been the case in the USWNT's recent losses (and several of their wins), the bronze-medal match was not pretty. But the American women avoided an Olympics without a medal, outlasting Australia 4-3.
With star goalie Alyssa Naeher out of the lineup with an ankle injury, the Americans' defense seemed like a weakness Australia could hone in on, and a 17th-minute strike from Sam Kerr tied the match at one apiece. Unfortunately, the Matildas couldn't stop the U.S. either. Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe notched two goals apiece by the 51st minute to stake the Red, White and Blue to a 4-1 lead. Lloyd's two goals were historic, making her the highest scorer in USWNT Olympic history.
Australia made a late bid to send this one into extra time. A second-half strike from Caitlin Foord narrowed the deficit, and a 90th-minute goal from Emily Gielnik put a charge into the final moments. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.
Team leaders like Lloyd, Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have been outspoken about their squad's lack of cohesion. Thankfully, the team has time for a mental reset before mounting a Women's World Cup title defense in 2023.
Steven Gardiner Wins Men's 400 in Under 44 Seconds
After a 2019 World Championship title, Bahamian Steven Gardiner looked to add Olympic gold in the 400 meters to his trophy cabinet. It wouldn't be easy, as he was up against a competitive field led by two-time Olympic medalist Kirani James, Americans Michael Norman and Michael Cherry, and Colombian Anthony Jose Zambrano, who's been in top-tier form all year.
Gardiner proved up for the challenge. Norman got out to a fast start, but Gardiner is a patient, methodical runner who surged over the last 150 meters as his competitors stagnated or slowed. When the dust settled, the 25-year-old had run the lap in 43.85 seconds, besting Zambrano and James, the silver and bronze medalists, respectively.
With Shaunae Miller-Uibo poised to defend her Rio title Friday, the Bahamas could be the first nation to sweep 400-meter golds since 1984, when Alonzo Babers and Valerie Brisco-Hooks each won for the United States.
France Seizes on Luka Doncic No-Show, Advances to Gold-Medal Game
Despite a minimal break between the NBA season and Olympic training camp, Luka Doncic has been dominant in Tokyo. Heading into Thursday's matchup with France, he was averaging 26.3 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting and leading Slovenia in assists. Though Kevin Durant is a better NBA player than Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks superstar has been peerless through the past two weeks of play.
However, Doncic was bound to have an off night, and it came at the worst time imaginable—the semifinal game against France. He suffered a wrist injury in the third quarter, but Doncic didn't look right throughout the evening, shooting 5-of-18.
To his credit, Doncic still recorded a triple-double with 16 points, 18 assists and 10 rebounds, but Slovenia couldn't replace his scoring firepower, especially against a cohesive, motivated French squad.
Bolstered by 63 points from Evan Fournier, Nando de Colo and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and a stellar game-winning block from Nicolas Batum, France survived and advanced to the gold-medal match. It'll take on the United States, a country it defeated in the group stage and one its stars feel comfortable playing.
Damian Warner Wins Decathlon, Sets Olympic Record
Canada's Damian Warner established a big lead on the first day of the decathlon and maintained it throughout a grueling second half, winning gold and setting a new Olympic record of 9,018 points.
Though not medal-worthy in the final three events, Warner finished first and set Olympic decathlon records in both the 110-meter hurdles (13.46 seconds) and long jump (8.24 meters). With a better showing in any of the pole vault (11th place, 4.90 meters), javelin (seventh place, 63.44 meters) or the 1,500 meters (fifth place, 4:31:08), he could have challenged the world record of 9,126 points, set by Frenchman Kevin Mayer in 2018.
Mayer finished with the silver and 8,726 points, while Ashley Moloney of Australia failed to keep up his second-place position after one day, reaching no greater than fourth in any of Thursday's events. He took the bronze.
Most humans would probably fail to complete a decathlon program, even over two days. For Warner to not only do that, but to also set an Olympic record, is proof he's a special kind of athlete.