Kevin Durant led Team USA’s victory over France in the men’s basketball final in Tokyo on Saturday (August 7), avenging a first-round loss and claiming a 16th gold for the country in the sport.
Durant, who in these Games surpassed Carmelo Anthony as the United States’ highest career scorer, led with 29 points in the 87-82 victory at the Saitama Super Arena.
The U.S. team had been slow to start in previous matches, but they kept the heat on France consistently this time. But it was 18 turnovers that proved to be the killer for France.
The championship attracted the biggest crowd yet in these Games to the arena north of Tokyo, with the bottom bowl of seats about half full of athletes, officials, media and volunteers in place of fans due to COVID-19 restrictions.
France earned their third Olympic silver medal in men’s basketball. Slovenia, making their debut at the Games, will play Australia in the bronze medal match later on Saturday.
The U.S. men have historically been the team to beat, with 15 gold medals since 1936 going into these Games. This championship marks their fourth straight gold medal.
But this year’s team proved to be vulnerable, dropping two-straight exhibition games in July and suffering a shock 83-76 defeat to France in the preliminary round of the Games, which was their first defeat on the Olympic stage since 2004.
As a child in western Kenya, Peres Jepchirchir ran more than 3 kilometres to get to school each day.
Her brother noticed her talent and encouraged her to take running more seriously. Soon enough, at 13, she began competing in races at primary school.
And it was as serious as it gets at the women’s marathon in the Japanese city of Sapporo on Saturday, when the child of farmers and two-time world half marathon champion Jepchirchir became an Olympic gold medallist for the first time.
It was a tough, gritty performance, under punishing conditions. The heat and humidity forced runners to repeatedly pick up water from the sidelines to keep cool and hydrated. Athletes poured water over their heads and used towels to rub sweat from their faces, while stuffing ice packs underneath their jerseys.
Toughness is in Jepchirchir’s DNA. In February 2017, she broke the half marathon world record in the United Arab Emirates while a few weeks pregnant. She had her daughter Natalia in October of that year.
She took some time off after having her baby and didn’t rush her return.
She came back more than a year later and was soon back on top of her game. She won the half-marathon in Lisbon in October of 2019 and the marathon in Saitama, Japan, in December with a personal best of 2:23:50.
Once again her comeback showed her steeliness and her strong will to be great, something her manager Gianni Demadonna has said separates her from the rest.
The 27-year old Jepchirchir needed all that tough spirit on Saturday as she endured the scorching heat and humidity in Sapporo that forced some athletes, including world champion Ruth Chepngetich, to drop out of the race.
Jepchirchir was in the leading pack from the beginning and as that group whittled down to herself and compatriot Brigid Kosgei, the world record holder, she demonstrated her will to win once again.
Shoulder to shoulder with Kosgei, she soon broke away with her elegant, purposeful stride, as they hit the 40km mark and widened her lead as she powered to the finish line and grabbed gold with a time of 2:27:20, her best performance of the season.
MEN’S BEACH VOLLEYBALL
Christian Sorum and Anders Mol won gold in the men’s beach volleyball at the Tokyo Games on Saturday to give Norway its first Olympic medal in the sport.
The Norwegians beat Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team 21-17 21-18 in the final, while Qatar’s Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan finished third to take the bronze medal.
The winning point came as a Russian serve got caught in the net, prompting Mol and Sorum to shout in triumph, take off their shirts and raised their fists in victory.
The pair then celebrated with the Norway delegation before the rain started to come down heavily in the Tokyo Bay area, a welcome break from the earlier scorching temperatures at the court.
Earlier on Saturday, Qatar’s Younousse and Tijan defeated Latvia’s Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs 21-12 21-18 to win their country’s first Olympic medal in the sport.
On Friday, April Ross and Alix Klineman won the women’s gold medal for the United States, the birthplace of beach volleyball.
MEN’S CANOE SINGLE 1000M / WOMEN’S CANOE DOUBLE 500M
Brazil’s Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos dominated the Olympic men’s canoe single 1,000 metres event to win the gold medal at the Sea Forest Waterway on Saturday after defending champion Sebastian Brendel failed to reach the final.
The 27-year-old Queiroz dos Santos, the silver medallist in Rio, finished with a time of four minutes, 04.408 seconds, ahead of China’s Liu Hao and Moldova’s Serghei Tarnovschi for his maiden Olympic title.
Brendel’s bid to become the first man to win a record three Games golds in the event ended in disappointment as the London 2012 and Rio 2016 winner was seventh in the second semi-final.
The 33-year-old, who won bronze with Tim Hecker in the canoe double 1,000m on Tuesday (August 3), dismissed questions on his future.
China’s Xu Shixiao and Sun Mengya became the first Olympic champions in women’s canoe double 500 metres, with the event having made its debut in Tokyo.
The world champions finished ahead of Ukraine’s Liudmyla Luzan and Anastasiia Chetverikova, while Canada’s Laurence Vincent-Lapointe and Katie Vincent took bronze.
(Production: Francis Maguire)