Tokyo Olympics Daily: Athletics enters final stretch with new teams in the lead

Tokyo Olympics updates

The athletics competition at the Tokyo Olympics heads into its final weekend with a wide-open field for the sprint relay races, a fitting end to a Games with one of the most diverse crops of track and field medallists in recent memory.

The top seeds for Friday night’s men’s 4×100-metre race are Ghana, Germany and Canada, while the Netherlands, France and Germany are favourites in the women’s. 

The plurality of competition in men’s sprinting follows the retirement of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the sprinter who dominated the sport and the previous three Olympics. His exit paved the way for Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy to claim an unexpected win in the 100-metre individual men’s competition.

Competitors from 21 countries have already won golds in athletics at Tokyo 2020, one more than did at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 and close to the record of 25 in London 2012

The US leads the table with 20 medals but athletes from Norway, Qatar and Puerto Rico have also won events. Poland and Italy have been among the standouts with 4 and 3 golds, respectively.

Traditional athletics powerhouses such as the US, Britain and Kenya have underperformed, relinquishing medals in events they had expected to dominate.

Kenya’s four-decade streak in the men’s steeplechase came to a close when Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco won gold on Monday and an injury derailed the hopes of Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the defending world champion in the heptathlon.

Team GB have yet to win an athletics gold, though the men’s sprint relay squad hopes to change that on Friday night. The US failed to advance in the 4×100-metre relay after bungling the baton handover in the qualifying rounds.

“No medals are won in the heats,” said Britain’s CJ Ujah, who ran the third leg of Thursday’s qualifying round. “I’m sure we’ll step up our game again and stretch the checks a bit and head for gold.”

Fred Kerley, left, hands the baton to Ronnie Baker of the US in the men’s 4x100-metre relay heats
The US men’s team failed to qualify for the 4×100-metre relay final after bungling the baton handover in earlier rounds © Diego Azubel/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The US will not win a gold in any of the men’s sprinting events for the first time in Olympic history after failing in the relay.

That result has been a scandal at home and prolonged a drought in the event since 2004. The US team has not won a gold since 2000, the result of disqualifications for poor baton handling and positive drugs tests. 

Carl Lewis, the nine-time US Olympic champion, apologised on Friday after ranting on Twitter that the “team did everything wrong”. Lewis said on Instagram: “I just lost it, I just can’t believe these things continue to happen.”

Previous bumbling in the relays has led to a management overhaul at USA Track & Field, the national governing body. This included an internal review called “Project 30” targeting 30 medals in athletics after the team’s performance at the 2008 Beijing Games was deemed a disaster.

Kenya has a chance to boost its standing on the medals table, where it has one gold in athletics, in the men’s 800-metre, with a slew of distance events in the men’s and women’s 1,500-metre, 5,000-metre and marathons in the final days of the Games.


Britain’s Matt Walls, left, competes in the men’s omnium event
Britain’s Matt Walls, left, won the men’s omnium event, restoring Team GB’s success in the velodrome © Reuters
  • The International Olympic Committee cancelled the accreditation of two Belarus coaches over the case of sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who has alleged she was forced to leave the Games before taking refuge with police at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. Artur Shimak and Yury Maisevich were asked to leave the Olympic Village on Friday, with the IOC saying “they will be offered an opportunity to be heard” at a later date.
    Tsimanouskaya has travelled to Poland, a state that opposes Belarus’s repressive leader Alexander Lukashenko. She told reporters there that her compatriots should “not be afraid and, if they’re under pressure, speak out”.

  • Britain finally celebrated success in the Olympic velodrome after Matthew Walls won the men’s omnium on Thursday. Wells faced pressure from Italy’s Elia Viviani in the final race of the four-discipline event but the Briton won by a comfortable margin. “I knew I had the legs and it worked out,” he said.
    The victory will come as a relief for Team GB, which have dominated track cycling events at recent Olympics. This week, a series of unfortunate crashes, technology upgrades on other teams’ bicycles and stunning performances from Dutch and German riders lessened the British advantage. The track cycling medals have been split across 12 different nations.

Japan’s Risako Kawai celebrates after defeating Iryna Kurachkina of Belaurs in the women’s 57kg wrestling final
Japan’s Risako Kawai claimed gold in the 57kg freestyle wrestling a day after her sister Yukako won the 62kg category © AP
  • Japan’s Risako Kawai capped a brilliant week for her family by winning the Olympic title in the women’s wrestling freestyle 57kg category on Thursday, a day after Yukako, her younger sister, won the freestyle 62kg gold. Risako won the 63kg category at the Rio Games in 2016. “Being defending champion is nice, but what makes me happiest is a joint gold medal with my sister,” she said. It has been a stellar Games for Japanese athletes, who have won 22 golds as of Friday morning and sit third in the overall medal table.

  • Poland’s Dawid Tomala won the men’s 50km walk in sweltering morning conditions in Sapporo on Friday. He had previously focused on the 20km event and the Olympics were only the second time he had ever raced the longer distance. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “I work for it my whole life since I was 15 when I thought for the first time during training I would like to be a gold medallist.” Germany’s Jonathan Hilbert claimed silver and Canada’s Evan Dunfee took bronze.

  • Belgium’s men won their first Olympic hockey gold, after defeating Australia in a tense final at Oi Hockey Stadium on Thursday night. The match finished 1-1 in regular time. In the subsequent shootout, Australia’s Jacob Whetton appeared to have missed a crucial shot, leading to wild Belgian celebrations. 
    But a video review spotted an unintentional foul by Belgian keeper Vincent Vanasch and the shot was retaken. Vanasch saved again, sparking rapture for his team, which was forced to settle for silver at the Rio Games five years ago. The women’s final between the Netherlands and Argentina takes place on Friday night.

Click here to see FT’s “alternative medals table” which ranks nations not just on their medal haul, but against how they should be performing against economic and geopolitical factors

Tokyo Olympics Daily is published at 4pm Japan time. It is written by the team behind the Scoreboard business of sports weekly newsletter, with contributions from the FT’s Tokyo bureau. Sign up to Scoreboard here to receive it in your inbox every Saturday morning.

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