It may have been the penultimate day of in-stadium action at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, but it wasn’t too late to learn new things.
Usain Bolt is a legend
If confirmation was needed, well there it is.
Usain Bolt achieved the highly anticipated treble treble at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, cementing yet again his legendary status. With teammates Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmeade, Bolt – who celebrates his 30th birthday on Sunday – secured his ninth Olympic gold medal as Jamaica won 4x100m gold in 37.27.
Bolt’s anchor was all the more impressive as the Jamaican was handed the baton level with USA, Japan and China. As expected, Bolt ran unchallenged as soon as he hit his comfort zone after about 50 metres and he raised his hands in celebration.
There was another Asian record for Japan in second as the US would later be disqualified for passing the baton outside the exchange zone.
It has now become tradition to celebrate the Jamaican’s heroics with a bit of Reggae music and tonight was no different to when Bolt won the 100m and 200m for the third consecutive time here in Rio. The Brazilian crowds truly love him and the chants of U-SAIN, U-SAIN filled the packed stadium. There was a huge sense of happiness and awe for the man who has left the biggest impression on the past three Olympic Games. His race tonight was his last at an Olympic Games. Thank you, Usain.
Stefanidi can perform under pressure
Pole vaulter Ekaterini Stefanidi had the easiest of qualifications a couple of days ago. She opened at 4.60m, jumped once, cleared and packed her bags.
With Fabiana Murer unable to reach the final, defending champion Jennifer Suhr suffering from health issues and world champion Yarisley Silva having a bad day, the pressure was left on her and US champion Sandi Morris.
The Greek champion, her confidence boosted by her win at the European Championships in Amsterdam last month in difficult conditions, was trailing on count-back after missing her first attempt at 4.80m. She would have to resume her composure and make few mistakes if she wanted to become Greece’s first Olympic champion here in Rio. She eventually cleared 4.85m at the second time of asking. She made just two mistakes tonight, one fewer than Morris. The gold was hers.
"It's one of the hardest events to compete in,” she said. With that we can only but agree.
Lane one is not that bad after all
Although it doesn’t happen very often – and in fact the last time it happened in a 4x100m relay was back in 1972 – the quartet of Tianna Bartoletta, Allyson Felix, English Gardner and Tori Bowie managed to overcome the disadvantage of running from lane one to retain the Olympic title for the USA.
They had to overcome more drama to be able to even qualify for the final after they were impeded in yesterday morning’s heats. The US was given the chance of a re-run after their appeal was successfully heard; they ran a solo race to clock the fastest time and regroup for today’s final.
With the talent on the team, the USA added medal number 10 to their tally. It was also Bartoletta’s second gold following her incredible performance in the long jump and Felix’s eighth Olympic medal, and a record fifth gold. Felix will most certainly return tomorrow to anchor the US 4x400m.
Kenyans have learnt their lesson
It may be difficult to believe, but before today Kenya had never won Olympic gold in the women’s 5000m. Vivian Cheruiyot ended the drought, though, and set an Olympic record of 14:26.17 to take gold tonight in Rio.
Kenya came close in 1996 and Cheruiyot claimed a silver of her own four years ago in London. But tonight Cheruiyot and her teammates Hellen Obiri and Mercy Cherono figured out how to respond to Almaz Ayana’s race strategy.
The Ethiopian world champion who set an impressive 10,000m world record earlier in the week was on pace for a distance double until her sizeable margin started to wither to the team effort of the Kenyan chasing trio. With one-and-a-half laps to go, Cheruiyot and Obiri eventually caught up with Ayana who was unable to respond. Obiri’s 14:29.17 personal best was rewarded with a silver with Cherono paying the hardest price in fourth.
Always believe in your dreams
The 50km race walk is arguably the most gruelling event on the athletics programme and today’s Olympic race wasn’t any different.
Around the spectacular course in Pontal, a coastal bay in the western part of Rio, athletes had to make do with the warm conditions and those who set off too early eventually paid the hard price for their brave efforts.
Since winning the world title in Beijing last year, Matej Toth hasn’t had the easiest of roads to reaching what he describes as being his dream for the past 20 years. In February, the Slovak picked up an injury which affected his training until the beginning of the summer and until a couple of months ago he admits his chances of even making it to the Olympics were only 50-50.
When defending Olympic champion Jared Tallent hit the front, Toth was convinced he would end up with a medal, just not the one he wanted. With only 6km to go, the Australian had amassed a lead of more than 30 seconds and the majority of onlookers, including Toth, thought he would hold on to the win.
But that’s when Toth remembered he had a dream to chase and started pushing for the line. Not only did Toth close the gap but he went on to win with an 18-second margin to become Slovakia’s first Olympic champion in athletics.
Gonzalez is a national heroine
Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez also had a dream of her own.
When she was growing up, she wanted to be a sprinter like her compatriot and idol Olympic silver medallist Ana Guevara. She didn’t quite manage to become a sprinter and in fact spent most of her youth as a boxer, but today she emulated the feat of her idol by winning Mexico’s first Olympic medal since Guevara’s in 2004. Fittingly, she also claimed silver.
Mexico’s strong tradition in race walking is such that all of Mexico’s Olympic athletics medals but Guevara’s have come in the race walk. Gonzalez’s was the nation’s 10th Olympic race walk medal, the first by a woman race walker.
However, it has been a more than 16 years since a Mexican reached a race walk podium at the Olympics and the country feared that their national sport was on the verge of dying.
Following Gonzalez’s race, national newspaper headlines included: ‘She has brought Mexican race walk back to life’ and ‘She deserves a place in the Sanctuary of world athletics’.
Gonzalez’s brave effort split the Chinese pair of Liu Hong and Lu Xiuzhi and she fell short of the ultimate prize by a mere two seconds. ‘The warrior’ of a whole nation, she promised she would fight event harder at the next Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.
Nazarov puts Tajikistan on the athletics map
Dilshod Nazarov secured his country’s first ever Olympic gold medal as he unleashed a 78.68m fifth-round attempt in the men’s hammer final. It is also Tajikistan’s first medal of any sport at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The world silver medallist moved into the lead before the order was reversed and had to survive a couple of stressful moments when Ivan Tsikhan and Wojciech Nowicki hit the 77-metre line. But it became increasingly clear that there would be no denying of him writing the first page of his country’s Olympic books.
“The reaction back home is going to be hard to imagine,” he said. “I've got hundreds, maybe thousands, of 'likes' on my Facebook account, so I think the country was behind me tonight."
The 4x400m final is going to be awesome
Only the 16 best teams in the world were selected to compete in the 4x400m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. There was no question of the calibre of the teams after this evening’s heats in which only two seconds separated first from eighth in the men’s standings.
Tomorrow’s final will be the last event on the programme and it’s expected to be highly contested. Jamaica and the USA have clocked the fastest times while Belgium and Botswana set national records. The British team which also dipped under 2:59 was unfortunately disqualified, making room for hosts Brazil into the final, which will make for a fantastic closing of events at the Olympic stadium.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF