The U.S. men’s basketball team suffered a shock 83-76 defeat at the hands of France on Sunday (July 25), losing at the Olympics for the first time since 2004 and for just the sixth time in the history of the tournament.
The French had upset the U.S. men when they last met in the 2019 FIBA World Cup quarter-finals and they had their number again on the first day of group play at the Saitama Super Arena, powered by a game-high 28 points from Evan Fournier.
The Americans got out to a good start in the first half, leading 45-37 at the break on the back of their defensive energy, but were outscored 25-11 in a disastrous third-quarter with France taking the lead.
Team USA clawed back to briefly regain the lead in the fourth quarter, but the French wouldn’t go away and took their first ever Olympic win versus the United States.
The United States is always the team to beat at basketball – they now have a 138-6 record and have won gold 15 times since joining the Olympic programme in 1936 – boasting more depth than any other country with their star-studded NBA line-ups.
But their recent form suggested reaching the top of the podium would not be as easy as in the past, after they dropped two straight exhibition games this month including a surprise loss to world 22nd-ranked Nigeria.
Preparations were also disrupted by the absence of players due to this year’s late NBA playoffs and late replacements due to COVID-19 tests and injury.
China claimed two Olympic gold medals in men’s weightlifting as Chen Lijun and Li Fabin won the 67kg and 61kg categories.
With Zhihui Hou winning the women’s 49kg category on Saturday, China has collected all three gold medals so far at the Tokyo Games.
Chen won his first gold with a combined lift of 332kg, seven kg short of his own world record.
Colombia’s Luis Javier Mosquera Lozano took silver with 331kg and Italy’s Mirko Zanni bronze with 322kg.
China’s Li won the gold and amused the small audience at Tokyo International Forum with his signature “flamingo” move.
Indonesia’s Eko Yuli Irawan won the silver medal, the 32-year-old becoming his country’s most decorated Olympian after adding to his silver in Rio and bronzes at the London and Beijing Games. He also became only the fifth weightlifter in history to win four Olympic medals.
Kazakhstan’s 22-year-old Igor Son took the bronze medal.
U.S. fencer Lee Kiefer clinched her first ever gold medal in the individual women’s foil fencing event, beating defending champion Inna Deriglazova in the final.
Deriglazova, who was ranked no. 1, was a favourite to win the gold medal and steadily won her bouts throughout the tournament.
In the final, the two went point for point, with Kiefer maintaining a slight lead throughout the match.
Deriglazova sometimes attacked with vigor, pushing Kiefer to the edge of the piste, but Kiefer fought back with decisive stabs, the cheers from her team mates growing louder with each point.
After her win, Kiefer screamed with joy and hugged her coach, before rushing to the stands to hug her husband, fellow U.S. foil fencer Gerek Meinhardt.
In another upset, French fencer Romain Cannone, ranked 47th, rose through the ranks to beat top-ranking Hungarian Gergely Siklosi and take the gold medal.
His win was secure when he and Siklosi both lunged, Siklosi missing his target while Cannone landed his blow on Siklosi’s back.
Cannone took his mask off after the last point and raised his arms in stunned silence. His team mates rushed over onto the piste to crowd around him, jumping in excitement before throwing the gold medalist into the air three times.
Uzbekistan’s Ulugbek Rashitov and the United States’ Anastasija Zolotic won gold in taekwondo but Iranian Kimia Alizadeh took the spotlight as she came up just short of nabbing the first medal for the Refugee Olympic Team.
On the second day of the taekwondo tournament, top Chinese and South Korean athletes lost their chance of gold, putting the focus on Alizadeh, one of three athletes competing under the Refugee Team’s white flag.
Though she missed her chance to make history – for a second time – Alizadeh was a clear favourite throughout the day in the Makuhari Messe arena, entering each time to applause and cheers from team members and others in the venue at which no general public spectators were allowed.
Five years ago in Rio, Alizadeh became the only Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal when she took bronze. She fled to Germany last year, saying she was fed up with being used as a propaganda tool.
Alizadeh’s first three matches were all notable: the first, against erstwhile compatriot Nahid Kiyani Chandeh – coached by her previous instructor – and the second against double Olympic champion Jade Jones of Britain.
In the third, the 23-year-old refugee defied the odds by beating Chinese gold medal favourite Zhou Lijun, who paced around the octagonal mat in disbelief as she conceded the match.
Alizadeh ultimately lost to Turkey’s Hatice Kubra Ilgun in the bronze medal match. She left the tournament without speaking to media, covering her face with a towel as she walked past reporters.
Her victories over Jones and Zhou were among many upsets on day two of the four-day taekwondo competition. Gold medal contenders in the men’s -68kg category, South Korea’s Lee Dae-hoon and China’s Zhao Shuai, both lost a chance for the crown.
The silver medals went to Tatiana Minina of the Russian Olympic Committee and Britain’s Bradly Sinden.
In the men’s football tournament, Spain winger Mikel Oyarzabal ended his country’s 21-year wait for an Olympic goal in a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Australia in Group C.
(Production: Andy Ragg)