Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer caused one of the biggest shocks in Olympic road racing history with an audacious solo victory in the women’s race as a quartet of Dutch champions apparently paid for a bizarre communications meltdown on Sunday (July 25).
The 30-year-old Kiesenhofer was allowed to build up a lead of around 10 minutes in a five-rider group that escaped right at the start of the 137km route into the hills west of Tokyo.
She then went solo on the approaches to the Fuji International Speedway circuit with around 40km remaining as the favourites, including reigning world and Olympic champion Anna Van der Breggen, failed to organise a proper chase, seemingly unaware of what was happening ahead.
In searing heat, Austrian time trial champion Kiesenhofer, who does not even ride for a professional team, kept her head down and her legs spinning, powering around the undulating curves to protect her advantage in tenacious fashion.
As she ground out the final agonising kilometres Kiesenhofer was clearly suffering and the only fear was that she might cramp after putting in such a monumental effort.
Her earlier escape partners Anna Plitcha of Poland and Israel’s Omer Shapira were caught in the final five kilometres by the chasing pack who belatedly put the hammer down.
Kiesenhofer was straining every sinew and often glancing over her shoulder expecting to an orange armada closing in.
She held firm to claim a wildly-unexpected gold medal in three hours 52 minutes, one minute and 15 seconds clear of Dutch rider Annemiek Van Vleuten who was celebrating like she had won the race as she crossed the line with arms held aloft.
“I thought I was one,” Van Vleuten was heard saying to her team masseur Ruud Ziljmans on Dutch TV. “Ruud have I got that wrong?”
Simone Biles’ shot at a record five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics suffered a blow when the U.S. gymnast failed to qualify for the final on the asymmetric bars.
Already regarded as one of the sport’s all-time greats, Biles arrived in Tokyo targeting a record haul, including the mark of five gold medals at a single Olympics by a woman gymnast.
That target became much harder to hit, however, when she was bumped from the eighth and last spot in the bars final by Germany’s Elisabeth Seitz.
There will now be no room for error if Biles hopes to rewrite the record of four gold’s at a single Olympics she shares with the former-Czech Republic’s Vera Caslavska, Russia’s Larisa Latynina and Hungary’s Agnes Keleti.
The 24-year-old was expected to launch an all-out assault on the podium and record books in Tokyo but might not even match her five-medal effort at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Biles will still have a packed program in Tokyo leading the U.S. defence of their team title and her all-around crown while qualifying for the finals in the vault and floor exercise.
Shi Tingmao and Wang Han earned China their first diving gold medal when they triumphed in the women’s synchronised 3-metre springboard, keeping the country’s winning streak in the sport rolling.
Aiming for a clean sweep of all eight diving golds on offer in women’s and men’s events, the Asian powerhouse struck gold with Shi and Wang leading the five-round final from the very start, finishing on 326.40 points.
Cheers from team mates and coaches rang around the mostly empty venue when the duo plunged into the pool with almost no splash on their last dive, showing once again their dominance of the event.
Russian shooter Vitalina Batsarashkina won the women’s 10-metre pistol event to claim the gold medal that narrowly eluded her five years ago in Rio.
Batsarashkina mounted a spectacular charge over the closing shots to win gold at the Asaka Shooting Range with an Olympic record of 240.3. Bulgarian Antoaneta Kostadinova won silver with 239.4, while the bronze went to Jiang Ranxin of China.
Later, American William Shaner won the men’s 10-metre rifle event with an Olympic record of 251.6, ahead of Sheng Lihao in a battle for the gold between the 20-year-old from Colorado and his teenaged Chinese opponent.
Japanese judoka Uta Abe triumphed in the women’s 52kg category, hours before her brother Hifumi took gold in the men’s 66kg final, making history as the first siblings to win gold medals on the same day.
Uta, 21, dominated her bouts in the 52kg category, but was taken deep into Golden Score overtime in the final against Amandine Buchard of France, eventually pinning her down on her back and holding on for the win.
In the men’s final, Hifumi Abe, 23, defeated Georgia’s Vazha Margvelashvili to take gold. Bronze medals went to Baul An of South Korea and Daniel Cargnin of Brazil.
France got their Olympic men’s soccer campaign back on track as Teji Savanier netted a stoppage-time winner in their 4-3 victory over South Africa.
Les Bleus, hammered 4-1 by Mexico in their Group A opener, trailed 3-2 with 10 minutes left but striker Andre-Pierre Gignac converted an 86th-minute penalty to complete his hat-trick before Savanier’s late goal.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori advanced to the second round of the men’s singles, triumphing over fifth seed Andrey Rublev 6-3 6-4 on home soil.
Nishikori, who won the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, said he was happy to be back playing high-level tennis after struggling with injuries in recent years.
(Production: Andy Ragg)