Tokyo Summer Olympics 2021: Day 14 Highlights
Just one more day of Olympic competition remains, and medals are coming fast and furious.
On Friday, much of the action came at the track, with hardware given out in both sprinting and distance events as well as individual and relay races. The United States' "A-Team" of April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in beach volleyball, and three medals were decided between men's and women's soccer. The daily programs are getting smaller as the Games wind down, but the action remains top-notch.
With so much on the line, it's good to get a refresher on everything that's happened. Here's a recap of Day 14's major events.
'A-Team' Wins Gold in Women's Beach Volleyball
April Ross and Alix Klineman are well-known as the "A-Team" of women's beach volleyball because both of their first names begin with "A." However, in the gold-medal match against Australia's Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy, it was more like the "Ace Team."
Early in the first set, Ross had back-to-back aces to spark a 5-0 run from which the Aussies couldn't recover. The two pairs more or less exchanged scores from that point forward, but the Americans maintained a comfortable lead en route to a 21-15 set victory.
And in the second set, the A-Team doubled down on that 5-0 run with 10 unanswered points, turning an early 2-0 deficit into a 10-2 rout.
Ross had two more aces during that stretch, but it was Klineman's presence at the net that really caused problems. She had a big block to tie the score at 2-2, followed by three consecutive errors by Artacho del Solar—one ball into the net, two balls out of bounds—as she failed in her efforts to avoid another stuff courtesy of Klineman.
The Australian team tried to claw out of that hole, but it was too deep. The A-Team won the second set 21-16 and got the gold medal.
The Americans finished the two-set match with seven aces and four service faults compared to two and seven, respectively, by the Aussies. Fittingly, the match ended on a serve into the net by the Australians, after which Alix and April collapsed into the scorching hot sand in jubilation.
For Team USA, it was the fourth gold medal—seventh overall medal—in women's beach volleyball in the past five Games. For Klineman, it was the first Olympic medal of any color. But for Ross, this completes the full set. She won silver in 2012 with Jennifer Kessy, won bronze in 2016 with Kerri Walsh Jennings and now the 39-year-old has her gold.
In the bronze-medal match, Switzerland's Joana Heidrich and Anouk Verge-Depre defeated Latvia's Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka in straight sets in a battle between countries that had previously never medaled in women's beach volleyball at the Olympics.
Poland's Dawid Tomala Wins the Final Olympic 50km Walk
The men's 50-kilometer walk has always had an egregious misnomer. Calling it a walk makes it sound like a leisurely stroll, but those dudes are booking it, pushing their bodies to the limit and then some.
And in what is scheduled to be the final 50-kilometer walk in Olympic history, Poland's Dawid Tomala pushed his body to the limit better than anyone else, winning the race in a time of three hours, 50 minutes and eight seconds—36 seconds better than his closest challenger.
That margin was much wider prior to the finish line. Tomala began to separate himself from the pack about halfway through the race and led by more than three minutes with five kilometers to go. Because of that cushion, he was able to take his foot off the gas and somewhat cruise to the finish line.
For those of you who prefer the imperial system to the metric system, 50 kilometers is roughly 31.1 miles—4.9 miles more than a marathon. Tomala power-walked the race at an overall pace of 8.1 miles per hour, or 7.43 minutes per mile.
Next time you go to the gym, set the treadmill to eight miles per hour and see if you can even last five minutes without having both feet off the ground at the same time at any point—which would result in a disqualification from this race. Next, imagine maintaining that pace for nearly four hours.
It may not be as physically impressive—and isn't as viewer-friendly—as a 100-meter sprint, an 800-meter swim or a 200-kilogram clean and jerk, but it is the most physically grueling Olympic event. Tomala won't get much fanfare for this gold medal, but he earned our respect.
Nelly Korda Cools Off, Remains in Lead with 1 Round of Women's Golf Remaining
The "Hot in Herre" jokes practically wrote themselves when Team USA's Nelly Korda caught fire in the second round of the women's Olympic golf tournament. Had she birdied the 18th hole, she would've ended up with an historic 59. Instead, she double-bogeyed that final hole and had to settle for a still mighty impressive nine-under 62.
As a result, she stormed into a four-stroke lead at the midpoint of the women's Olympic golf tournament.
Korda wasn't anywhere near that efficient in the third round, but she shot a two-under 69 to improve to 15 under overall and remain in first place.
She started out strong with birdies on three of her first six holes. At that point, she led by five strokes and appeared to be sprinting toward a gold medal. However, aside from a bogey on the par-five eighth, it was nothing but pars the rest of the way.
Still, Korda is three strokes ahead of India's Aditi Ashok and five strokes ahead of a quartet of women sitting at 10-under.
She might be 18 holes away from gold, or it's possible the winner of the 2021 Women's PGA Championship has already finished the job.
There was a LOT of discussion during the broadcast about the likelihood of inclement weather from an approaching tropical storm. If the rain is bad enough, there has already been talk of calling the tournament after 54 holes. That would be an anticlimactic way to end things, but at least Korda is in gold-medal position if it comes to that.
US Women Defeat Serbian Women in Semifinals (x2)
Team USA vs. Serbia in the semifinals of the women's volleyball tournament was expected to be a fantastic match.
After entering the Olympics as one of the top-ranked teams in the world, Serbia won four of its five pool-play matches in straight sets, as well as its quarterfinal matchup with Italy. USA, on the other hand, battled through some injuries and wrapped up pool play with a pair of 3-2 wins over Turkey and Italy and a 3-0 loss to the Russian Olympic Committee.
But with Jordyn Poulter back from the ankle injury that kept her out of the quarterfinal win over Dominican Republic, Team USA cruised to a surprisingly business-like straight-set victory, 25-19, 25-15, 25-23.
Serbia's Tijana Boskovic continued what has been an individually dominant run through this tournament with 19 more points, but USA's multi-pronged spiking assault of Jordan Larson, Annie Drews and Michelle Bartsch-Hackley was just too much for Serbia to overcome.
Taking place at the same time, the USA vs. Serbia semifinal of the women's basketball tournament wasn't expected to be all that close, and it wasn't.
Serbia put forth an impressive defensive effort, bothering the Americans with full-court pressure and physical play in the post. But USA's defense—with the exception of allowing quite a few offensive rebounds—was way better.
The Americans didn't force many turnovers, but they were suffocating. Serbia had to use all sorts of screen action to get even an inch of space, and it rushed/forced shots on a regular basis. Serbia shot just 30 percent from the field and never threatened to make things interesting. USA cruised to a 79-59 victory behind double-doubles from both Brittney Griner (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Breanna Stewart (12 points, 10 rebounds).
Both the women's basketball team (10:30 p.m. ET) and the women's volleyball team (12:30 a.m. ET) will go for the gold on Saturday night/Sunday morning. In basketball, they are seeking a 55th straight win and a seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal. In volleyball, the Americans are hoping to win gold for the first time.
Shaunae Miller-Uibo Defends 400 Meter Title, Allyson Felix Finishes Third
Lots of questions surrounded the women's 400-meter final, particularly around Shaunae Miller-Uibo. Could she defend her 2016 gold medal (and do so without diving)? Would competing in both the 200 and 400 meters put too much wear and tear on her legs? And what about Allyson Felix? Could she make one last bid for the medal stand at the end of a storied career?
Well, if you had questions about Miller-Uibo beforehand, she answered them all as emphatically as possible, winning a second straight gold in about as dominant a fashion as you can win a 400-meter final. She ran a personal best of 48.36 seconds, finishing nearly a full second ahead of second-place Marileidy Paulino (49.20) from the Dominican Republic.
Felix eked into the remaining podium spot at the finish, running the lap in 49.46 seconds and earning her 10th Olympic medal and first bronze. She ties Carl Lewis for the most track and field medals in American Olympic history and can pass him if she runs in the 4x400 relay and medals on Saturday.
We mentioned Thursday that after Steven Gardiner's win, the Bahamas could be the first country to sweep 400-meter gold since the United States in 1984. Well, it's done it, and for a nation that had won 13 total medals prior to the Tokyo Games, that is a major accomplishment.
Faith Kipyegon, Joshua Cheptegei Take Distance Gold Medals
Distance running heavyweights took the track in the men's 5,000 and women's 1,500 meters Friday. Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda looked to add a 5K gold to his silver in the 10,000 meters, while defending gold medalist Faith Kipyegon and 5,000-meter champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands were set for a major duel on the women's side.
The men ran first, and it was a tightly contested race among the medal contenders until about the final 100 meters. There, Cheptegei began to separate from the pack, completing a 55-second last lap to win his second medal of the Games in 12:58.15. A late surge from Canada's Mohammed Ahmed (12:58.61) garnered him a silver, while American Paul Chelimo (12:59.05) staved off exhaustion just long enough to clinch the bronze, collapsing just after the finish line.
As for the women's 1,500, Kipyegon, Hassan and Laura Muir of Great Britain— considered the race's third favorite—took to the front early and began pulling away as soon as the last lap bell sounded. Kipyegon could not be caught, running an Olympic record of 3:53.11 to win gold, while Muir (3:54.50) overcame a gassed Hassan (3:55.86) late. They claimed silver and bronze, respectively, and Hassan's pursuit of an historic treble petered out quietly.
Jamaican Women, Italian Men Claim Victory in 4x100 Relays
Always two of the most energetic, unpredictable races of the Olympics, the 4x100-meter relay finals took place Friday.
On the women's side, Jamaica was the heavy favorite. After all, Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson swept the 100-meter dash medals last weekend, so any other winner would have been a shock.
Jamaica went ahead and won gold, leading comfortably as Jackson took the baton from Fraser-Pryce with 100 meters to go. A blistering final 200 from Jenna Prandini and Gabrielle Thomas clinched a silver for the United States, while 100-meter finalist Daryll Neita ran a strong anchor leg for Great Britain to earn bronze.
However, with the United States out of the men's 4x100 final, that race seemed much more wide open, and going into the last leg, that remained true. A battle between Great Britain and Italy emerged for the top spot, and Filippo Tortu edged Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake to win another track and field gold for Italy, which has five. Two-time Tokyo medalist Andre DeGrasse came out of nowhere for Canada in the final 100 to earn the bronze.
Canada Win Women's Soccer Gold in Dramatic Fashion
If kids want to be athletes, they often dream about winning the biggest championship imaginable in the highest-stakes situation imaginable. In baseball, that's hitting a walk-off home run in Game 7; in basketball, that's swishing a title-winning buzzer-beater; and in soccer, that's scoring a penalty kick to win the World Cup, European title or Olympic gold.
That latter situation came to pass on Friday morning in the women's soccer gold medal match between Sweden and Canada, two countries who could not have been more equal on this day. Sweden won the possession battle 51-49 percent, and each squad scored one goal in the first 120 minutes to send the affair to penalty kicks.
Canada took the early advantage in the shootout but was unable to close, missing three straight attempts and allowing Sweden to take a 2-1 lead. Eventually, Deanne Rose tied the session at 2, and after another Sweden miss, the North Americans stared gold in the face once more.
This time, however, they converted, as 20-year-old midfielder Julia Grosso chipped the ball past Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl to clinch Canada's third Olympic soccer medal and first gold.
Often a threat to the U.S. women's team but rarely considered an equal, Canada has to be taken very seriously as the FIFA Women's World Cup approaches in 2023.