Tokyo Olympics Recap: Slow start for Rio hero Van Niekerk, Worthington wins BMX gold

By Sports Desk August 01, 2021

Wayde van Niekerk was one of the great stories of Rio 2016, stunning the world with his record time of 43.03 as he won gold in the 400 metres.

The South African was back on the track on Sunday morning in Tokyo, and he has some work to do if he wants to get back to the medal stand five years later.

Van Niekerk finished third in his heat to qualify for the semi-finals, but his time of 45.25 seconds ranked as the 12th-fastest among all competitors.

"I definitely came with a bit of nerves but I think I handled it well," he said. "I took it by my stride, switched off a bit too soon, but still got the job done."

USA's Michael Cherry had the leading time at 44.82, while the top two finishers in Van Niekerk's heat, Colombia's Anthony Zambrano (44.87) and Steven Solomon (44.94) of Australia, were both among the fastest four athletes.

After his heat, Van Niekerk sounded like a man adjusting to his new reality, as he will not sneak up on anyone this time.

"Walking around again, looking at [the] Olympic record and world record and that's my time, it sometimes feels a bit unreal," he said. "But this time around it’s a new championship, new rounds. I have to totally focus on the mission right now."

In the only medal event of the morning at the Olympic Stadium, China's Gong Lijiao took gold in the women's shot put with a throw of 20.58m, with USA's Raven Saunders second at 19.79m.

But Valerie Adams' bronze medal at 19.62m may have been the most impressive achievement, as the 36-year-old medalled in the event for the fourth consecutive Olympics.

After finishing seventh at Athens 2004, Adams won gold in Beijing and London before taking silver in Rio. She is now the only woman in history to medal in the same field event four times. 

WORTHINGTON TAKES BMX FREESTYLE GOLD

Charlotte Worthington won the BMX freestyle park event Sunday, making Great Britain the first nation to take gold in all five Olympic cycling disciplines.

The 25-year-old from Manchester fell on her first run in the final but landed the first-ever 360 backflip in competition on her second to score a 97.50.

Hannah Roberts of the USA took silver with a 96.10 on her first run before falling on her second and Nikita Ducarroz of Switzerland claimed bronze with an 89.20.

“I'm over the moon," Worthington said. "I’m still sitting here waiting to wake up. I’ve been thinking about this day for the past three or four years, just going in and out of thinking I can, or I can’t do it.

"I’m literally waiting to wake up right now. It feels like a dream.”

Australia's Logan Martin took the first men's gold medal in the event, his 93.30 on the first run getting the better of Venezuela's Daniel Dhers (92.05) and Great Britain's Declan Brooks (90.80).

FIRST MEDAL AT LAST FOR FRATUS

Amid more history-making performances for the American men and Australian women on the final day of swimming competition, Brazil's Bruno Fatus achieved some long-awaited personal glory.

The 32-year-old took bronze in the 50m freestyle behind Caeleb Dressel of the USA and Florent Manaudou of France, his first Olympic medal in his third attempt.

A three-time world championships medallist in the 50m free, Fratus finished an agonising 0.02 seconds off the podium at London 2012, then placed sixth in the event four years later in Rio.

On Sunday, he ascended to the podium at last.

"Winning bronze releases a lot of pressure that was on my back," Fratus said. "I’m so pleased to step on the podium with Caeleb and Florent, two of the best swimmers in history.

"Caeleb has all the potential to beat Michael Phelps’ (records) one day, who knows?

"And Florent is a beast, a monster and one of the best in history. I’m proud to be his friend and share an Olympic podium with him."

Dressel won gold in the 4x100m medley too to reach five Olympic titles in Tokyo, while Australian Emma McKeon also did the 50m free and medley relay double to complete a haul of four gold medals and seven medals in all for the Games. She equalled the haul of gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya at Helsinki in 1952 – the most won by any woman in one Olympics.

IRELAND BOXER WITHDRAWS FROM SEMI-FINAL

Ireland's Aidan Walsh was forced to withdraw from his welterweight semi-final bout against Great Britain's Pat McCormack due to an ankle injury suffered in the quarter-finals.

McCormack moves on to fight for gold against the winner of the other semi between Cuba's Roniel Iglesias and Andrei Zamkovoi of the Russian Olympic Committee.

Walsh will leave Tokyo with a bronze medal and the praise of Ireland's boxing team leader Bernard Dunne.

"What Aidan did this week is an incredible achievement," Dunne said in a statement. "His performance throughout the tournament has been outstanding.

"It is great to see him write his name in the annals of Irish sport. Just over two years ago we selected Aidan for his first major championship, and over the past few months that potential that we had identified has grown and developed into a world-class performance, that reflects greatly on the level of preparation he has put in ahead of these Games."

Walsh's older sister Michaela also fought in Tokyo, falling Monday in the featherweight round of 16.

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    VITALI KLITSCHKO

    The baton passed from the famed heavyweights of the 1990s to the coming generation when Lennox Lewis uncharacteristically slugged his way to victory over Vitali Klitschko in Los Angeles in June 2003. The last man standing from his era after comprehensively beating Mike Tyson, Lewis was given hell by "Dr Steelhammer" but managed to inflict enough damage for the challenger to be stopped on cuts after six gruelling rounds.

    Lewis never boxed again and Klitschko never lost again, winning 13 fights in succession either side of a four-year retirement. He lifted the WBC title and settled a family grudge by stopping Corrie Sanders in April 2004. He was never without the famous green belt in the ring up until he hung up his gloves in 2012 to focus full-time on a political career than now sees Vitali serving at the Mayor of Kyiv.

    WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO

    The younger Klitschko was the first eastern European to lift a heavyweight title in the 21st century when he twice floored Chris Byrd on the way to a unanimous decision to win the WBO belt in October 2000. Byrd became champion in his previous fight when, way down on the cards, Vitali withdrew on his stool due to a shoulder injury. It meant Vitali was returning a favour against Sanders, who demolished Wladimir over two harrowing rounds in March 2003.

    Another knockout loss followed a little over a year with the vacant WBO strap on the line against Lamon Brewster. At that stage, it was impossible to foresee the imperious dominance that would follow a second win over Byrd for the IBF and 18 successful defences. Closing out his career with losses to Fury and Joshua carried a heavy sense changing eras, as with his brother and Lewis a decade and a half earlier.

    NIKOLAI VALUEV

    All the men on this list could lay claim to the moniker of "Beast from the East" but none would be able to pull it off as well as the preposterously proportioned Valuev. Standing at 7ft and tipping the scales at over 300lbs, he became the tallest and heaviest heavyweight champion in history. Valuev's skills were akin to a rudimentary club fighter, but he was just far too big for most opponents to handle.

    Each of his two stints as WBA ruler began with prophetically forgettable points wins over John Ruiz and after a 2008 loss to a pot-shotting David Haye he walked away to a varied post-fight career. Like Klitschko he entered politics, winning election to the State Duma in Russia's 2011 parliamentary election. He also became an unlikely face of children's television in his homeland, presenting the long-running "Good Night, Little Ones!".

    SIARHEI LIAKHOVICH

    Liakhovich's period reign as WBO champion lasted seven months. The Belarusian won a unanimous decision win over Brewster in April 2006, despite taking a knee in the seventh. He was up on the cards when Shannon Briggs dramatically knocked him through the ropes during the closing seconds of his first defence. Briggs was the last American to get his hands on any portion of the heavyweight title before Wilder's WBC reign began in 2015. Two years earlier, the "Bronze Bomber" left Liakhovich quivering on the canvas after a terrifying first-round KO.

    OLEG MASKAEV

    Three months before Briggs' late show against Liakhovich, Maskaev battered one-time Lewis conqueror Hasim Rahman to defeat inside the final minute of their August 2006 rematch in Las Vegas. A product of the Soviet amateur system, Maskaev based himself in the US for the majority of his professional career. He was 37 by the time he ripped the WBC crown from Rahman and, after a successful defence against Okello Peter in Moscow, the Kazakh-born fighter was knocked out by Samuel Peter - the "Nigerian Nightmare" who was himself stopped by a returning Vitali Klitschko next time out.

    RUSLAN CHAGAEV

    If the WBA was a sofa, Chagaev would be the loose change they continue to find lurking between the cushions. He first won the organisation's belt with a majority decision win over Valuev in April 2007, although subsequent illness and injury led to him being declared "champion in recess". As such, the WBA belt was not on the line when his corner waved off a June 2009 shellacking at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko after nine rounds.

    The organisation then elected to install Chagaev not as its champion but number one challenger, and he dropped an August 2011 decision to Alexander Povetkin for the vacant belt. The story did not end there, however, as Chagaev and the unheralded Fres Oquendo were selected to box for the WBA's vacant "regular" title in July 2014. Almost two years and one competitive round later, Chagaev was knocked out by Lucas Browne, who then failed a drugs test. The Uzbek was given back his title, only to be stripped in July 2016 for failing to pay the WBA sanctioning fees for that already barely remembered Oquendo contest, seemingly ending the saga.

    SULTAN IBRAGIMOV

    Not one to linger like Chagaev, Russia's Sydney 2000 heavyweight silver medallist Ibragimov outpointed Briggs in his 22nd professional bout to lift the WBO belt in June 2007. Under the tutelage of Jeff Mayweather, he comfortably beat the great Evander Holyfield in his first defence. A unification showdown with Wladimir Klitschko was most notable for the Madison Square Garden crowd booing a safety-first affair. With that sole defeat, Ibragimov was gone, retiring in 2009 due to persistent injuries to his left hand.

    ALEXANDER POVETKIN

    Another decorated amateur, Povetkin won super-heavyweight gold at the 2004 Olympics and made four defences of the WBA title after beating Chagaev. To repeat a theme, all roads led to an uncompromising Klitschko, with Wladimir sending him to the canvas four times during a landslide Moscow triumph in October 2013. Failed drugs tests did little for Povetkin's wider reputation and put paid to a proposed meeting with Wilder.

    A promising start unravelled to a seventh-round stoppage when challenging Joshua in September 2018, although Povetkin sensationally recovered from two knockdowns to ice Dillian Whyte this year. After losing the rematch, the Russian announced his retirement at the age of 41.

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