The greatest athletes in the world had to wait an extra year to display their abilities on the world stage, but the Tokyo Olympics have finally come. The one-year delay due to the pandemic was worth the added anguish for many athletes who have already competed in the six days since the opening ceremonies on July 23rd. Many events are already wrapped up, but there is plenty more action to come through August 8th.
The United States has represented itself well, currently with a commanding lead in the total medal count at 37 (13 gold, 14 silver and 10 bronze), with China, Russia, Japan and Australia rounding out the top five. The U.S. currently trails Japan (15) and China (14) in gold medals earned, but there is plenty of time left to overtake them.
19 service members are in Tokyo representing the United States, of which 17 are Soldiers. Nine of them are competitive shooters. Most notable among them thus far is 1st Lt. Amber English, who was outstanding when the lights were shining brightest. The 31-year-old Army Reserve logistics officer set an Olympic record in skeet shooting, hitting 56 of 60 targets to edge Italy’s Diana Bacosi by only one target, and take home the gold.
Most shooting events have been wrapped up, but track and field, boxing, the modern pentathlon, sailing and wrestling are all still to be decided and will have service members among them. Lt. Nikole Barnes (sailing) is the first active-duty Coast Guard officer, male or female, to represent the United States at the Olympics. The medal rounds for sailing begin Saturday, July 31st. SSgt John Stefanowicz, the only Marine at the Games, joins Spc. Alejandro Sancho and Sgt. Ildar Hafizov on the U.S. Wrestling Team. Their action won’t begin until Sunday, August 1st.
Notable non-service members who have earned gold along with 1st Lt. English include the Men’s 4×100 Relay Swimming Team, the Women’s 3×3 Basketball Team (the inaugural year for the event), Anastasija Zolotic (57 kg Women’s Tae Kwon Do), and Katie Ledecky (Women’s 1500m Freestyle). It was Ledecky’s sixth career Olympic Gold. She also took silver in the Women’s 400m Freestyle.
Of course, with the elation and glory of triumph comes the pain and disappointment of defeat, and there have been a couple of notable ones already. Simone Biles, considered the hands-down best gymnast in the world, shocked everyone and withdrew from competition during the Women’s team final on Tuesday. It appeared she had left the floor after her first vault attempt due to injury, but it was later revealed that she pulled herself from the competition for mental health concerns, saying she wasn’t in the right headspace and didn’t want to risk the team a medal.
“I didn’t want to go into any of the other events second-guessing myself,” Biles said in the press conference later. “So, I thought it would be better if I took a step back and let these girls go out there and do their job.”
Biles’ contributions were sorely missed, as Russia took the gold. The U.S. Women’s team was able to hold on for silver. Biles has also withdrawn from all of the individual gymnastics events that begin Thursday, She had qualified for all four.
The U.S. Men’s Basketball Team, lead by Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard, also continued to struggle. After surprising losses to Nigeria and Australia in exhibition play before heading to Tokyo, most assumed that the Americans would get back on track before the games counted — they were wrong. Holding a 74-67 lead over Team France with 3:41 left to play, Team U.S.A. imploded. The French finished on a 16-2 run that felt like a microcosm of everything wrong with American basketball today. The U.S. played soft defense, missed free throws, and were unimaginative on offense down the stretch, just jacking up three-pointer after three-pointer. The offense dried up and France took advantage.
Team France has five NBA players of their own, including All-Star Rudy Gobert, but nothing anywhere near the level of talent on the American side. It is hard to see the loss as anything but a massive underachievement. Team U.S.A. recovered to annihilate Iran 120-66 yesterday. In all likelihood, they will easily dispatch the Czech Republic in their last game of pool play on Saturday, allowing them to begin play in the eight-team knockout tournament next week. While the loss to France is concerning to say the least, and Iran is hardly a measuring stick for basketball success, the U.S. may have righted the ship in time for a gold medal.
Feature image: Brittany Nelson/ IMCOM Public Affairs