Publish date:

As Olympics Enter Knockout Stage, Three U.S. Teams Reach Semifinals

It's like every sport reached the playoffs at the same time.
Very Olympic Today

Very Olympic Today is SI’s daily Olympics newsletter. You can receive each issue for free in your inbox by subscribing here. To continue reading the newsletter at SI.com every day, along with the rest of our Olympics coverage, readers can subscribe to SI.com here.

The Olympics are winding down, now entering their fourth quarter, and you can feel a shift in the schedule. Yes, new short-run sports are beginning in these final days—climbing, karate and rhythmic gymnastics—but the list of sports that have concluded runs much longer. Rugby, surfing, taekwondo, judo and many more are fully behind us.

But beyond which sports remain in action, the notable change is that the sports which hold competition for the majority of the Olympics’ 16-plus days are all in the knockout stage. It’s like every sport reached the playoffs at the same time, and we’re into the games that really count.

The schedule thinned out noticeably over the last week, as we went from a time of 64-person archery brackets and long lists of badminton and table tennis games down to the medal rounds.

Now every game you watch—from handball and field hockey to soccer and beach volleyball—has the chance to propel some team to a medal or stop its run cold. This includes three Team USA wins late Tuesday night in baseball, women’s basketball and women’s indoor volleyball, plus a loss in men’s water polo, as you’ll read more about below.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the early rounds and preliminaries. I love the underdog stories and the athletes representing countries that have never won a medal in a particular event before but keep coming to try.

But it’s exciting to be at this stage of the Games. There are fewer matches on the calendar, but they mean more. We still have plenty of prelims and heats on the track, but the team sports are sprinting through the tape.

X163738_tk1_037780

Track and field

There must be something about the 400-meter hurdles. A day after the men treated us to one of the greatest races ever at that distance, the women gave us a thrilling follow-up. The last four times Dalilah Muhammand and Sydney McLaughlin have raced each other in a major final, one of them has broken the world record. This time it was McLaughlin, like it was as the U.S. Trials, with Muhammad also coming in under world record time to win silver. Greg Bishop wrote more about the race and their rivalry.

Earlier in the day, Athing Mu became the first U.S. woman to win the 800 meters since 1968.

I have written about Raven Saunders a few times during these Olympics. The silver medalist in the shot put made headlines for her colored hair, her hulk mask and more, then raised her arms to make an “X” on the podium. Her mom, Clarissa Saunders, died on Tuesday, while she was in Orlando for a Team USA watch party. “My mama was a great woman and will forever live through me,” she wrote on Twitter.

Simone Biles

NBC got Taylor Swift to narrate a video about Simone Biles before they showed her bronze-medal return to the balance beam in prime time.

They also tweeted back and forth with each about the video.

Wrestling

On Tuesday morning (U.S. time) Tamyra Mensah-Stock became the second U.S. woman to win gold in wrestling. After the match, she gave probably my favorite interview of the entire Olympics so far. She literally jumps up and down bursting with all sorts of emotions. I saw a few clips on Twitter, but it’s 100% worth the 4 minutes and 23 seconds to watch the full version on YouTube.

For a little more context, here’s another emotional interview she gave upon qualifying for the Olympics in April.

A couple of other wrestling updates: Adeline Gray, the five-time world champ who was still looking for her first Olympic medal, won silver. She wanted gold, but was thrilled to medal. Helen Maroulis, who won gold in Rio, lost her semifinal to Japan’s Risako Kawai, who also won gold in Rio at a different weight. And David Taylor won his semifinal and will compete for gold.

Swimming

The open-water swim is a fascinating event to watch. I will admit I didn’t watch the full two hours, but I made sure to tune in for the end of the race because I remember how wild the finish was in Rio. They swim for nearly two hours, with the leaders remaining very tightly bunched, and finish just seconds apart. It’s incredible to see them push themselves that much and come down to the wire like that.

The men’s race starts at 5:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday. (With Rowdy Gaines on the call, by the way!)

While You Were Sleeping

Basketball

The Olympics hosted a Breanna Stewart show and gave Australia a ticket. Remember that Team USA lost an exhibition game to this same team shortly before leaving for Tokyo. Within the first five to seven minutes, it was clear they were not playing around or letting this one stay close. Stewart scored 10 points in the first five minutes, as the U.S. jumped out to a 26–12 lead after the first frame. They coasted from there, to a 48–27 halftime lead and an eventual 79–55 win, with no starter needing to play more than 23 minutes.

Team USA has now won 53 straight Olympic games, and sits two wins away from a seventh consecutive gold medal. The semifinal game will be against Serbia, which knocked off previously unbeaten China.

Baseball

The wacky, barely-worth-explaining-at-this-point structure of the Olympic baseball tournament has been a little tricky to follow, but the headline at this point is that Team USA is one win from reaching the gold-medal game.

Scott Kazmir started and pitched five shutout innings against a Dominican Republic lineup with familiar names like José Bautista and Melky Cabrera. Triston Casas staked the team to a 2–0 lead with a homer in the bottom of the first inning, and the U.S. kept the DR off the board until the ninth. Former Yankees All-Star David Robertson came in to protect a 3–0 lead in the ninth. With two outs, he allowed a home run and then walked a batter to bring the tying run to the plate, but he struck out Yefri Perez to end the game.

The U.S. now awaits either South Korea or Japan, which would be a rematch of the extra inning loss that forced the U.S. into the repechage two days ago.

Volleyball

Despite playing without two injured starters, the U.S. women swept the Dominican Republic in straight sets (25–11, 25–20, 25–19) to advance to the semifinals. U.S. coach Karch Kiraly said both Jordyn Poulter and Jordan Thompson—who was a star in the early games—could return soon, but it was good to get them a couple more days of rest.

Team USA began pool play with a pair of three-set wins, but things had gotten much harder of late. The final three games before the knockout stage consisted of a three-set loss to ROC and a pair of wins in five sets. But the team started this match out energized and confident, and won comfortably.

The U.S. has medaled in three straight Olympics, but has never won gold. The team will play Serbia in the semifinals.

Water polo

Three U.S. teams successfully punched tickets to the semifinals in the middle of the night, but one fell short. The U.S. men’s water polo team lost 12–8 to Spain to end its bid for a medal. Spain won silver at the 2019 world championships and went a perfect 5-0 in group play.

The U.S. kept it close, with the score tied 6–6 at halftime, but failed to score at all in the third quarter and couldn’t make a late comeback. The U.S. women’s team is a gold-medal favorite and remains alive.

Skateboarding

The teenagers were back in action, with the women’s park final. Once again, my Twitter timeline was full of people in their twenties and thirties lamenting that they’ll never be as cool as the Olympic skateboarders.

The average age on the medal stand was 15.134 years. According to Bill Mallon, that would have been a record—except the average age at street earlier in these Olympics was 14.523 years old. And NBC’s Nick Zaccardi points out that Kokona Hiraki and Sky Brown, who were born in 2008, are the youngest Olympic medalists since 1936.

Snapshots from Tokyo

Check out SI’s latest photo gallery from our photographers on the ground in Tokyo. There’s a reason I plug this every day.

X163736_TK1_00600

What to Watch

Wednesday night and Thursday morning, all times ET.

Medals

Swimming: The men’s 10K open-water swim starts at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The winning time should be around 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Track and field: The evening session starts at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, with medals given out in the men’s triple jump, men’s shot put and men’s 110-meter hurdles. The men’s 20km race walk starts at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, and then the full morning session starts at 6:00 a.m., with medals in the women’s pole vault and men’s 400 meters.

Karate: Another sport makes its Olympic debut Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. A second session culminates in medals at 6:30 a.m. Thursday. You can read more about the format here.

Canoe sprint: The men’s 200-meter kayak single final is at 10:42 p.m. Wednesday, with three other medal races to follow.

SI Recommends

Skateboarding: The men’s park final starts at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, with prelims at 8:00 p.m.

Diving: The women’s 10m platform final starts at 2:00 a.m. Thursday.

Boxing: USA’s Duke Ragan fights ROC’s Albert Batyrgaziev in a gold-medal bout at 2:35 a.m. Thursday.

Soccer: The USWNT plays against Australia for the bronze medal at 4:00 a.m. Thursday.

Sport climbing: The men’s speed climbing starts at 4:30 a.m. Thursday, followed by bouldering and lead. Medals will be awarded after lead, which starts at 8:10 a.m. (I’ll be watching for sure.)

Cycling: A full evening session ends with the women’s keirin final at 4:45 a.m. Thursday and men’s omnium points race right after.

Field hockey: The men’s gold-medal game between Australia and Belgium starts at 6:00 a.m. Thursday. Oi, oi, oi, Kookaburras, whom you may remember I drafted and have been dutifully following. This is our moment.

Table tennis: The women’s team gold match between China and Japan starts at 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

Wrestling: David Taylor will have a gold-medal match in the Thursday morning session, likely in the 7:00 a.m. hour.

Team USA

Golf: The second round of the women’s tournament starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Beach volleyball: April Ross and Alix Klineman have a semifinal against Switzerland at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday.

Wrestling: The session starts at 10 p.m. Wednesday, with Kyle Dake, Gable Steveson and Jacarra Winchester in action. Dake is the wrestler who beat Jordan Burroughs at U.S. Trials.

Basketball: The U.S. men have a semifinal against Australia at 12:15 a.m. Thursday.

Water polo: The U.S. women have a semifinal against ROC at 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

Modern pentathlon: Everyone’s favorite old-time combination of sports begins with women’s fencing at midnight and men’s fencing at 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

Baseball: The U.S. has a semifinal at 6:00 a.m. Thursday against the winner of the South Korea vs. Japan game taking place Wednesday morning.

Caz’s Medal Picks

Every day Brian Cazeneuve will give us a few medal predictions for some upcoming events.

Track and Field, men’s shot put

Gold: Ryan Crouser (U.S.)
Silver: Tomas Walsh (New Zealand)
Bronze: Joe Kovacs (U.S.)

Two-time world champ Kovacs is coached by his wife, Ashley. At the Olympic trials in June, Crouser established a new world record, 23.37 meters, breaking the mark held by Randy Barnes since 1990.

Track and field, women’s pole vault

Gold: Katerina Stefanidi (Greece)
Silver: Anzhelika Sidorova (ROC)
Bronze: Katie Nageotte (U.S.)

The defending Olympic champ, Stefanidi attended Stanford and is coached by her husband, Mitch Krier, an American whom she met at a pole vaulting summit.

Field Hockey, men

Gold: Australia
Silver: Belgium
Bronze: India

Indian men won field hockey medals in 11 of 12 Olympics between 1928 and 1972, but have not been on the podium since 1980.

Table tennis women’s team

Gold: China
Silver: Japan
Bronze: Hong Kong

Combining singles, doubles and team events, China has won 16 of 17 gold medals awarded in women’s table tennis at the Olympics.

SI’s Best

• Yesterday I wrote about how much I enjoyed watching sport climbing. Today Greg Bishop went to the event and wrote about how much he liked it.

• And Stephanie Apstein has a dispatch from the skateboarding.

• Stephanie also wrote Tuesday’s SI Daily Cover on Simone Biles’s beam performance.

• Here’s Greg on Sydney McLaughlin and a U.S. track and field youth movement.

• Jon Wertheim wrote plenty about Novak Djokovic in his weekly tennis mailbag.

• Dan Falkenheim introduces us to Bryce Wettstein, the 17-year-old ukulele-playing skateboarder in Tokyo.

As a reminder, this newsletter is free if you sign up to receive it in your inbox. You can also subscribe to SI.com for unlimited access to all the other great stories on our site.

You heard me–it’s the fourth quarter. No letting up here; we’ll have plenty of coverage of it all. Thanks for reading.

—Mitch