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While it can be easy to see when a U.S. team is having a dominant showing in the Olympics (hello, women’s basketball), it can be a little tougher to keep track when a group of individuals is putting in a great showing across an entire sport. So here’s a round-up to inform you that U.S. wrestling is having its best Olympics in decades.
After a couple of dramatic days on the mat, the U.S. has guaranteed itself at least eight medals in wrestling for the first time since 1996. This comes after winning just three in Rio.
The highlight in Friday morning’s session (U.S. time) was Gable Steveson, who scored two takedowns in 13 seconds, one with literally less than a second left, to topple a three-time defending world champ and win gold. He then did a cartwheel into a backflip, like he did at the U.S. Trials. This man is 275 pounds!
Meanwhile, Kyle Snyder, who became the youngest U.S. Olympic champion ever in 2016, dominated on his way to a second straight final. He will face his rival, the ROC’s Abdulrashid Sadulaev, with whom he has split two previous meetings. And Kyle Dake, who qualified for the Olympics by beating Jordan Burroughs at the U.S. Trials, won a bronze by beating a two-time world champ.
We can add those results to the ones from earlier in the week, which have really piled up.
In Wednesday’s newsletter, I passed along Tamyra Mensah-Stock’s post-match interview, one of my favorites from the Olympics so far, after she won her gold. In addition to that, David Taylor won gold in dramatic fashion. He was down a point with 18 seconds left in the finals, against a former Olympic champ, when he scored two points on a takedown to claim gold himself (NBC has video of the match here).
Adeline Gray, who had won five world championships, finally won the first Olympic medal of her storied career with a silver. Helen Maroulis, who won gold in Rio, lost to a fellow former Olympic champion but battled back to claim bronze. Maroulis dealt with concussions and other significant injuries after Rio, and it was amazing to see her return to the podium. (I had a Q&A with her before these Olympics if you want to know more.) And Thomas Gilman posted some lopsided scores on his way to a bronze as well.
Count them up, and that’s eight medals. Plus Sarah Hildebrandt, who lost a heartbreaker in the semifinals, will have a chance to win bronze. The U.S. hasn’t won nine wrestling medals at an Olympics since 1984 (when the Soviet Union boycotted the Games in Los Angeles).
The three gold medals are also the most for the U.S. since 1996. And a fourth from Snyder would give the U.S. its most since those ’84 Games. It’s been an incredible performance from Team USA’s wrestlers already.
(Hey, speaking of great U.S. wrestling performances, I can offer you a bonus read. Last year I spent a few days in Utah with Rulon Gardner for an SI “Where Are They Now” story on the 20th anniversary of his stunning gold medal. We talked about, well, everything since.)
The A Team officially lived up to its name and finished a dominating journey through the Olympics with a gold medal. On 129-degree sand, April Ross and Alix Klineman pulled off a two-set sweep against a team from Australia. They finished the Tokyo Olympics 7–0, winning 14 out of 15 sets. After dropping one set to a Dutch team in group play, they stormed through the knockout round 2–0, 2–0, 2–0, 2–0. It was, simply put, one of Team USA’s most dominant displays in Tokyo.
A lot of people are likely familiar with their story by now, given that I think all seven games were featured on TV in prime time. But to recap: It’s April Ross’s third Olympic medal and first gold. She won bronze in Rio with Kerri Walsh Jennings and silver in London with Jennifer Kessy (losing to Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor). Klineman was a four-time All-America in indoor volleyball, who switched to beach volleyball in 2017.
U.S. women have now won gold in four of the last five Olympics.
Here’s their interview after the match:
The U.S. jumped ahead early and then scored five runs in the sixth inning to beat South Korea 7–2 in the semifinals. The team will now play against Japan in the finals, which is a rematch of the bronze-medal game in 2008 that the U.S. won. They played earlier in this tournament, and the host country won 7–6 in extra innings, Team USA’s only loss.
One of the cool stories to come out of this game is that Eddy Alvarez, one of the U.S.’s flag-bearers at the opening ceremony, is now guaranteed a medal. Alvarez won a silver medal as a short-track speed skater in Sochi in 2014, so now he’ll become the sixth Olympian ever (and third representing the U.S.) to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
While You Were Sleeping
The U.S. women’s team easily handled Serbia 79–59 in the semifinals to claim its 54th consecutive Olympic win. The team has not lost an Olympic game since 1992, and is now in the gold-medal game for the seventh straight Olympics.
This was a pretty easy one. The U.S. went on a 20–4 run that took up most of the first quarter, ending the frame up 25–12. Even with a spell of cold shooting in the second quarter, the U.S. stretched the lead to 41–23 at halftime and never looked back.
The U.S. will now play the winner of France vs. Japan in the finals, and will be a heavy favorite against either.
As it turns out, two U.S. teams beat Serbia in semifinals overnight: The U.S. women’s volleyball team pulled off the same feat. Jordyn Poulter returned to the lineup for a 25–19, 25–15, 25–23 win in straight sets, and the team will now face the winner of Brazil vs. South Korea for gold.
Volleyball has been played at the Olympics since 1964, and the U.S. women have been relatively successful, but have never won gold. The team has medaled in three straight Olympics and five overall. The U.S. won a world championship back in 2014, but this would be a new level of achievement. If Brazil wins the other semifinal, that would set up a rematch of the ’08 and ’12 gold-medal games. The final will be one of the last events of the Olympics.
This actually happened earlier in the evening, but I will include it below the fold here. The race walk is not exactly considered a premier event of the Summer Olympics, but it is a fascinating sport to watch, and I checked out part of the men’s 50K partly because I knew that distance was being removed from the Olympic program before Paris.
It’s possible this happens every four (or five) years, but I definitely came away with an added appreciation for how grueling this sport is. For those unaware, it is a race, but not a running race. Race walkers must always have one foot on the ground, which makes for an unusual-looking form.
The winner crossed the line in 3:50:08. Yes, that’s nearly four hours of walking, in a brutal heat. I caught the very last walker to cross the line, Ecuador’s Claudio Villanueva Flores. He was alone on the course for the final two laps (they walk 25 times around a 2 km course) and it took him nearly five hours. He has had times much better than that, but had a rough day. You could see just how badly he was struggling but he powered through to the finish line.
His determination showed the Olympic spirit as much as any other athlete out here these last two weeks. Yes, it’s a goofy-looking event, but seeing what the last-place finisher is capable of putting his body through is a reminder of how legit all of these athletes are.
Other finishers immediately fell into wheelchairs that had been brought to the finish line for them. The staff seemed incredulous as Flores refused a wheelchair and stumbled away on his own tired legs.
One more time, here is our latest photo gallery with the best shots from SI photographers yesterday in Tokyo.
What to Watch
Friday night and Saturday morning, all times ET.
Team USA medal events
Golf: The final round of the women’s tournament starts at 5:30 p.m., an hour early because of weather concerns. U.S. golfer and world No. 1 Nelly Korda leads the field by three shots. The typically accurate @TeamUSATracker on Twitter says they would use the 54-hole scores to determine medals if the leaders can’t finish 10 holes.
Marathon: The women’s marathon starts at 5:00 p.m. Friday.
Basketball: The U.S. men play against France in the gold-medal game at 10:30 p.m. Friday. This is a rematch of Team USA’s first game of the Olympics, which France won 83–76.
Canoe sprint: Men’s and women’s medal races start at 10:37 p.m. Friday.
Diving: The men’s 10m platform final starts at 2:00 a.m. Saturday.
Rhythmic gymnastics: The all-around individual final starts at 2:20 a.m. Saturday.
Water polo: The U.S. women play against Spain in the gold-medal match at 3:30 a.m. Saturday.
Cycling: The men’s Madison final starts at 3:55 a.m. Saturday.
Baseball: The U.S. plays against Japan in the gold-medal game at 6:00 a.m. Saturday.
Equestrian: The jumping team final starts at 6:00 a.m. Saturday.
Karate: Women’s and men’s kumite medal matches start at 6:20 a.m. Saturday.
Modern pentathlon: The men’s individual laser run starts at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
Track and field: The session starts at 6:35 a.m. Saturday with all finals: The women’s high jump, women’s 10,000-meters, men’s javelin, men’s 1,500, women’s 4 x 400 and men’s 4 x 400.
Wrestling: Matches begin at 5:45 a.m. Kyle Snyder will have his gold-medal match against his Russian rival and Sarah Hildebrandt will wrestle for bronze.
Other medal events
Beach volleyball: The men’s gold-medal match between Norway and the ROC starts at 10:30 p.m. Friday.
Boxing: Four gold-medal bouts begin at 1:00 a.m. Saturday.
Synchronized swimming: The team free routine final starts at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
Soccer: The men’s gold-medal match between Brazil and Spain starts at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.
Handball: The men’s gold-medal match between Denmark and France starts at 8:00 a.m. Saturday.
Volleyball: The men’s gold-medal match between France and the ROC starts at 8:15 a.m. Saturday.
Caz’s Medal Picks
Every day Brian Cazeneuve will give us a few medal predictions for some upcoming events.
Bronze: Dominican Republic
Japan upset the U.S. when baseball returned to the Olympic program as a demonstration sport in Los Angeles in 1984. Japan also downed the U.S., 7–6 in 10 innings during the qualifying round here in Tokyo.
France stunned the U.S., 83–76, in their opening preliminary-round game in Tokyo behind 28 points from Evan Fournier. The French held Kevin Durant to just ten points.
Track & Field, women’s 4 x 400-meter relay
Allyson Felix gets one final crack at her 10nth Olympic medal in what is likely the final race of her brilliant career.
Water Polo, women’s
Two-time defending champs, the U.S. has won medals at all five Olympics that featured women’s water polo.
• Pat Forde on covering his daughter in the Olympic swimming pool.
• Chris Chavez writes how the U.S. entered Tokyo with the fastest man in the men's 100, 200 and 400, but will leave with no gold medals in those events.
• We’ve seen headlines about how young the skateboarders are, but Alex Prewitt writes that the youngest Olympic medalist in history remains a mystery.
• Michael Rosenberg on a world soccer final without the United States.
• Michael also wrote about karate and how it explains how these Tokyo Olympics were perceived.
Two more days, and lots of medals still to be won. Thanks for reading.