Djokovic’s golden dream ends on day of upsets marred by doping slur

The Nation  |  Jul 31, 2021

TOKYO - Top-ranked Novak Djokovic had his dreams of tennis gold dashed on Friday while Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega felled the reigning world 10,000 metres Olympic champion, on a day of upsets that saw doping allegations surface at the swimming pool.

Serbia’s Djokovic was aiming to become the first man to complete the Golden Slam - Olympic gold and all four majors in the same year - but was undone by fifth-ranked German Alexander Zverev who fought back after losing the first set. The two men embraced briefly at the net and Zverev appeared to sob into his towel. In the first final of the athletics programme, Barega sprinted the last lap to leave Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, who also holds the 10,000m world record, trailing. 

As viewer data suggested, Tokyo 2020 has so far been less watched than other recent Games, the day was also marked by crashes on the BMX track, including one that saw 28-year-old American favourite Connor Fields rushed to hospital. A sense of unease also spread through the Tokyo Aquatics Centre as American Ryan Murphy said his 200m backstroke final was “probably not clean” following the loss of the title he won in 2016 to the Russian Olympic Committee’s (ROC) Evgeny Rylov. 

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Murphy, who won three golds in Rio, however later backed away from any implication that his rivals had cheated. Held in Tokyo without spectators and after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been characterised by tumult and scandals from the get-go, and have yet to set the ratings alight for global broadcasters. The unpredictable nature of this Games due to COVID-19 disruptions and delay has created high drama at the top of the medal tally in the first week. 

China ended Day 7 of competition with 19 golds, while host nation Japan had 17 ahead of the United States with 14. The on-field excitement has not translated into ratings with data from the opening ceremony and the first few nights showing viewing figures across Europe and America were lower for these Games than other recent editions. TV viewership is up in Australia and Japan, however. 

In other swimming events, the medals were again spread between countries other than traditional powerhouses. South African Tatjana Schoenmaker won the women’s 200m breaststroke in world record time, while Wang Shun’s victory in the 200m medley was China’s first men’s swimming gold. 

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In gymnastics, Zhu Xueying led China to the top two podium positions in the women’s trampoline as Canada’s Rosie MacLennan was denied a golden hat-trick. That sport has also been overshadowed by drama around U.S. star Simone Biles. On Friday, she spelled out her struggles to perform, days after pulling of competitions, but shed no clear light on whether she would take part in further events. 

In fencing, the top four teams in the men’s team epee crashed out in the quarter-finals. One of the day’s biggest surprises, Japan, ranked eighth, defeated top-ranked France, who will miss out on a medal for the first time since 1992. The final day of Olympic rowing delivered thrills when Greece’s Stefanos Ntouskos upset the favourites in the men’s single sculls and Canada ended U.S. dominance of the women’s eights. 

Four-time Olympian Emma Twigg, of New Zealand, ensured her country kept a grip on the sport with another gold in the women’s single sculls. Athletics exploded into life with the women’s 100m round one heats. Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou roared across the finish line with a blistering 10.78 seconds at a hot and spectator-less Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Defending Olympic champion Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah ran 10.82, while compatriot Shelly Anne Fraser-Pryce posted 10.84. 

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Reigning BMX champion Fields, who crashed heavily in the third run of his semi-final, was awake in hospital awaiting further checks to determine the extent of his injuries, an American team spokesperson said. He was close to the front heading into the first steeply banked corner at the Ariake Urban Sports Park and appeared to tangle with another rider, crashing heavily. The semi-finals were marred by other crashes after a 45-minute rain delay, although the course was dry and did not appear to be a factor. 

MEDALS TABLE

Rank Team Gold Silver Bronze Total

 1 China 19 10 11 40

2 Japan 17 4 7 28

3 USA 14 16 11 41

4 ROC 10 14 10 34

5 Australia 9 2 11 22

6 Britain 6 9 9 24

7 South Korea 5 4 6 15

8 Netherlands 3 7 5 15

9 France 3 5 5 13

10 Germany 3 4 9 16

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