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Tokyo 2020 Olympics briefing: Sunisa Lee leaps into the spotlight

Postat la Jul 30, 2021

Today in a nutshell: swimming, rowing and canoe slalom dominated a day that saw the first golds of these Games for Ireland and New Zealand, a new champion emerge in the gymnastics and, ominously, a Covid scare in the athletes’ village.

Tomorrow’s key moments: there are medals at stake in the tennis, the final day of rowing, and we’ll get the first athletics gold in the men’s 10,000m race, as the starting gun is finally fired on athletics in the Olympic stadium.

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In the high-profile absence of Simone Biles, it was an opportunity for someone to step up and carve a name for themselves in Olympic history as the women’s all-round gymnastics champion. That person, it turned out, was 18-year-old Sunisa Lee. The first Hmong American to represent the US, she produced a brilliant performance to secure gold ahead of Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade in silver and the ROC’s Angelina Melnikova, who won bronze. Jessica Gadirova was Great Britain’s best finisher in 10th.

“It feels crazy, it is so surreal,” said Lee after winning gold. “It’s a dream come true. I don’t even know what to say. It hasn’t even sunk in. … The past two years with Covid have been crazy. There was one point I wanted to quit.”

There was a frantic morning of paddling at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre. Jess Fox of Australia, widely considered the best individual female paddler in history, finally got her gold, to become the first ever Olympic women’s C1 champion. She’d been a vocal campaigner for gender parity in the sport and the event’s inclusion. Mallory Franklin took silver for Team GB. Current world champion Andrea Herzog earned bronze. I saw journalist Jacob Whitehead on Twitter sum up the thrill of it all succinctly: “How good is it that the biggest sporting moment of your career involves you getting launched down a set of massive rapids?”

Jess Fox on her way to gold. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

In less choppy waters, 22-year-old Zac Stubblety-Cook won the men’s 200m breaststroke final for Australia and broke the Olympic record in the process. Tom Dart was at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre for us, and writes how, with another gold medal secured this morning in the men’s 100m freestyle, Caeleb Dressel is beginning to fill US swimming’s post-Phelps void.

Caeleb Dressel reacts after winning the men’s 100m freestyle final. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Ireland claimed their first ever gold medal in rowing, with Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy winning the lightweight men’s double sculls. Asked how it felt to be an Olympic gold-medal-winning athlete, O’Donovan said: “It’s alright, yeah. You can’t complain about it really. I wouldn’t go around introducing myself like that, though.”

We will, though. Olympic gold-medal-winning athletes Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan. Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

There was to be no fairytale finish for Helen Glover. She’d described returning to rowing and competing in the Olympics to defend her title as “a lockdown project that’s gone too far”, and ended up fourth in the women’s pair alongside Polly Swann. Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler won New Zealand’s first gold of the Games in that race.

There was also the kind of development that organisers didn’t want to see before Friday’s big day in the stadium: Australia’s entire track and field team were sent into isolation as a precaution after American pole vaulter Sam Kendricks tested positive for Covid-19. The two-times world champion has withdrawn from the Games. The Australian team have subsequently been given the all-clear, but Argentinian pole vaulter Germán Chiaraviglio has also withdrawn. Sean Ingle writes for us that athletes now fear a domino effect.

Trap shooting asks competitors to hit, from a distance, a moving target that’s about 10cm across and is travelling at 120kph. It’s the kind of Olympic sport I watch and my mind just boggles at even attempting to do it. The men’s event was dominated by the Czech Republic, with a gold for Jiri Liptak and silver for David Kostelecky after a dramatic shoot-off. Team GB’s Matt Coward-Holley took bronze.

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Picture of the day

Alessandra Perilli won bronze in the women’s trap shooting, to take the first ever medal won by San Marino in the summer Olympics in 15 attempts since the tiny European country first participated in 1960. Slovakia’s Zuzana Rehak Stefecekova won silver in the event in 2008 and 2012, missed the last Olympics after giving birth to her son, but returned in Tokyo to take gold. Kayle Browning of the USA finished third.

Alessandra Perilli during the trap women’s final. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty Images