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Most of the headlines on the track in the last 24 hours haven’t been positive for Team USA, which has not seen a male sprinter win a gold medal in Tokyo so far.
The most head-scratching performance came from the U.S. men’s 4 x 100-meter relay team, which was eliminated before the finals. The team hasn’t medaled in the event since 2004, and a fresh disappointment was used as an opportunity to unload.
Carl Lewis, who won gold in this event in 1984 and ’92, tweeted: “The USA team did everything wrong in the men's relay. The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw.”
But anyway, my colleague Greg Bishop wrote plenty about those disappointments.
To focus on the positive … how about shot put? This was one of the more anticipated events in the field. As detailed in Chris Chavez’s comprehensive track and field preview, Ryan Crouser won gold at the 2016 Olympics, then fellow American Joe Kovacs beat him out on the final throw of the ’19 world championships, then Crouser broke both the indoor and outdoor world records in ’21.
In the end, the podium looked exactly the same as in Rio: Crouser, Kovacs and then New Zealand’s Tomas Walsh in third. And I love this Olympics fun fact: It is the first time in Olympic history that the three podium spots went to the same three people, in the same order, in consecutive Olympics. That seems impossible to have never happened before, but it hadn’t. So congrats to those three for reaching the pinnacle of their sport and staying there for five years. (See you all in Paris?)
The A Team, April Ross and Alix Klineman, are on to the finals. The pair won its sixth straight game and will play against Australia’s Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar for gold. They won in straight sets for the third straight knockout round game and have only lost one set the entire tournament—when they fell behind a Dutch team in group play.
Ross has guaranteed herself a third Olympic medal, after having won silver with Jennifer Kessy in London and bronze with Kerri Walsh Jennings in Rio. The final will be played at 11:30 a.m. local time, which means the heat is going to be an issue.
And I meant to pass this along earlier in the Olympics, but if you’ve been watching them play and wondering why they hug after every single point: It’s actually a strategic tactic. They do it to get a little extra rest, because the 12-second serve clock doesn’t start until the hug is over.
To follow up on two news stories we’ve been following: Connor Fields, the U.S. BMX rider who suffered a horrible crash, has been released from the hospital. And Simone Biles identified and publicly thanked the gym in Japan that let her train for her comeback. The details, and the work that went into helping her get right to compete on the beam are pretty cool.
While You Were Sleeping
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: The U.S. got off to a slow start and trailed by double figures in the second quarter, but Kevin Durant led the way as the team pulled ahead for a mostly stress-free fourth quarter and another win. Sounds familiar.
This time the opponent was Australia, and this time the U.S. missed its first 10 three-point attempts of the game. The U.S. trailed 24–18 after the first quarter and might have gotten buried in that second quarter if not for Durant hitting shots from all sorts of angles to stay in striking distance. A 16–4 run to finish the second quarter cut it to three at the break, and a buzzsaw 32–10 third quarter flipped the game totally on its head.
It's been sort of a maddening tournament. The team has definitely shown its vulnerability, but you could argue the U.S. is talented enough that the early struggles haven’t really mattered. It certainly felt like the team’s run for a fourth straight gold medal was in danger, but I suppose you could look at that quarter and argue it never really was. In any event, the U.S. has clinched a medal and will advance to the final against the winner of France vs. Slovenia.
Speaking of slow starts, the U.S. women’s water polo team also got into trouble early, trailing ROC by three goals in the first half. But the team took its first lead at 9–8 in the third quarter and pushed in front to win 15–11. The U.S. advanced to its fourth straight Olympic final, and will now play against the winner of Spain vs. Hungary for a chance to win a third straight gold medal. Spain would be a rematch of the 2012 finals. Hungary would be a rematch of the game earlier this tournament that snapped the U.S.’s winning streak that had stretched back to the ’08 gold-medal game.
The USWNT bounced back from a disappointing loss (and, honestly, a pretty dispiriting tournament overall) to win a bronze medal. Before the game, The New York Times’s Andrew Das called it Senior Night, and it had that feel to it, with several of the big-name stars who have been crucial to this team’s run of success potentially/likely playing in their final major tournament. It was a nice way to send the era off. Megan Rapinoe scored twice early, Cali Lloyd scored twice late, and the team held on to win 4–3.
I’m sure the team is disappointed not to have won gold, but it’s much better to leave with a bronze medal than to go home empty handed (like it did in 2016). And I’m sure that will go down as a memorable day for many of them, in some careers full of memorable games.
Nelly Korda got to the 18th tee with a chance to shoot 59 for the second round. Even with a double bogey on the final hole to finish at -13 for the tournament, the No. 1 golfer in the world leads the field by four strokes. She is trying to follow up Xander Schauffele and give the U.S. both gold medals in golf, and she did it with a blistering run in which she went six under in a span of five holes, nine under in a span of 10 holes, and 11 under in a span of 13 holes. The 18th was her only hole above par.
Her sister, Jessica, is tied for 11th place, nine shots back.
I love this story of Nevin Harrison, a 19-year-old who had never paddled a canoe until five years ago, had to give up her track career because of a hip injury and then won gold in a new event (for women) in 2020. The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin has more on her.
One of the most memorable parts of the Tokyo Olympics will be how many new sports made their debuts, so I made sure to check out karate as it joined the list. I knew going in that there were two forms of karate: kata, in which individuals would be judged on their performance; and kumite, in which competitors would spar against each other.
Just one man’s opinion: I didn’t find the kata particularly grabbing. I know I enjoy sports like gymnastics or figure skating, where an athlete is similarly judged for a solo performance. So maybe I could grow to like it if I became more familiar with the moves. But I just wasn’t hooked within 14 seconds like I was on sport climbing.
The kumite, however, was definitely more fun to watch. There are a handful of other combat sports already in the Olympics, and this one had a distinct flavor, with each athlete taking tiny hops up and down as they tried to land kicks and punches. This one I can get into.
Check out this dive and these scores for 14-year-old Quan Hongchan of China. Even if you know nothing about how Olympic diving is scored, the commentary helps put things in context.
Just minutes before the newsletter was sent off to inboxes on Thursday morning, the U.S. won two more gold medals: David Taylor in wrestling and Katie Nageotte in pole vault.
Snapshots from Tokyo
Yes, it’s my daily plug for SI’s photo gallery with our photographers’ best snapshots from the ground in Tokyo.
What to Watch
Thursday night and Friday morning, all times ET.
Race walk: This is technically part of track and field, but I’ll list it separately. The men’s 50K starts at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and the women’s 20K starts at 3:30 a.m. Friday. I think a lot of people point and laugh at the race walk, but it’s a fascinating event, and the 50K is very grueling. The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman had a good 10-minute podcast about the event if you want to learn more.
Beach volleyball: The U.S. duo of April Ross and Alix Klineman play in the gold-medal game against Australia’s Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar at 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
Cycling: The women’s madison final starts at 4:15 a.m. Friday and the men’s sprint finals start at 5:35 a.m.
Sport climbing: The women’s speed climbing starts at 4:30 a.m. Friday, followed by bouldering and lead. Medals will be awarded after lead, which starts at 8:10 a.m.
Field hockey: The women’s gold-medal match between the Netherlands and Argentina starts at 6:00 a.m. Friday.
Karate: The men’s kata and women’s kumite medals begin at 6:30 a.m. Friday.
Modern pentathlon: The women’s individual laser run starts at 6:30 a.m. Friday.
Table tennis: The men’s team gold medal match starts at 6:30 a.m. Friday.
Soccer: Sweden and Canada will play in the women’s gold-medal final at 8:00 a.m. Friday. The game was moved to the evening in Tokyo because of the heat.
Track and field: The morning session starts at 7:25 a.m. Friday, with medals in the women’s javelin, men’s 5,000-meters, women’s 400-meters, women’s 1,500-meters, women’s 4x100 relay and men’s 4x100 relay. There is no evening session.
Golf: The third round of the women’s tournament starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Team USA’s Nelly Korda leads the field by four shots.
Canoe: A full session of men’s and women’s canoe and kayak starts at 8:30 p.m.
Rhythmic gymnastics: The first day of rhythmic gymnastics starts with the individual all-around qualifications at 9:20 p.m. Thursday.
Wrestling: The session starts at 10 p.m. Thursday, with Sarah Hildebrandt and 2016 Olympic champ Kyle Snyder in action.
Volleyball: The U.S. women play a semifinal against Serbia at midnight.
Basketball: The U.S. women play a semifinal against Serbia at 12:40 a.m. Friday
Boxing: Keyshawn Davis has a semifinal against Armenia’s Hovhannes Bachkov at 1:32 a.m. Friday.
Diving: The men’s platform preliminaries begin at 2:00 a.m. Friday.
Water polo: The U.S. men are out of the running for a medal, but play against Italy at 5:20 a.m. Friday with a chance to get into the fifth-place game.
Equestrian: The jumping team qualifier starts at 6:00 a.m. Friday.
Caz’s Medal Picks
Every day Brian Cazeneuve will give us a few medal predictions for some upcoming events.
Beach volleyball, women’s final
Gold: April Ross and Alix Klineman (U.S.)
Silver: Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artachio del Solar (Australia)
Bronze: Anouck Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich (Switzerland)
Ross won gold in 2012 with Jennifer Kessy and bronze in 2016 with Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Boxing, men’s heavyweight (91kg)
Gold: Julio Cruz (Cuba)
Silver: Muslim Gadzhimagomedov (ROC)
Bronze: Abner Teixeira (Brazil)
Bronze: Pat McCormack (Great Britain)
In the ring, Cruz loudly celebrated his quarterfinal victory over Enmanuel Reyes Pla, a Spaniard who defected from Cuba, by shouting, “Homeland and Life. Homeland or die! We’ll win!”
Field Hockey, women
The Dutch settled for silver in Rio after a penalty shoot-out against Great Britain. Argentina has won two silvers and two bronzes, but never gold.
Track and field, women’s 400 meters
Gold: Shaune Miller Uibo (Bahamas)
Silver: Staphanie McPherson (Jamaica)
Bronze: Marileidy Paulino (Dominican Republic)
If there was ever a sentimental pick for a medal, it would be Allyson Felix who is eyeing her tenth Olympic medal in her final individual race.
• Once again, here’s Greg Bishop on the struggles of the U.S. men’s sprinters.
• And Greg has a fascinating look at whether diving helps sprinters get to the finish line faster.
• Pat Forde wrote about how the heat and humidity is making things tougher on athletes.
• And Forde also wrote Thursday's Daily Cover, about the experience of watching his daughter win a silver medal in Tokyo.
• Stephanie Apstein on the A Team over in beach volleyball.
• Chris Mannix wrote more words than I did on Kevin Durant and USA Basketball.
• Michael Rosenberg wrote about Noah Lyles’s bronze medal in the 200, and his reaction to it.
• And Avi Creditor, who knows much more about soccer than I do, wrote about what’s ahead for the USWNT.
Hard to believe I’m leaving you with the Friday morning schedule. We’re flying toward the final weekend and gold-medal games are everywhere. Thanks for reading.