Tokyo 2020 Olympics briefing: Sunisa Lee leaps into the spotlight

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Today in a nutshell: swimming, rowing and canoe slalom dominated a day that saw the first golds of these Games for Ireland and New Zealand, a new champion emerge in the gymnastics and, ominously, a Covid scare in the athletes’ village.

Tomorrow’s key moments: there are medals at stake in the tennis, the final day of rowing, and we’ll get the first athletics gold in the men’s 10,000m race, as the starting gun is finally fired on athletics in the Olympic stadium.

In the high-profile absence of Simone Biles, it was an opportunity for someone to step up and carve a name for themselves in Olympic history as the women’s all-round gymnastics champion. That person, it turned out, was 18-year-old Sunisa Lee. The first Hmong American to represent the US, she produced a brilliant performance to secure gold ahead of Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade in silver and the ROC’s Angelina Melnikova, who won bronze. Jessica Gadirova was Great Britain’s best finisher in 10th.

“It feels crazy, it is so surreal,” said Lee after winning gold. “It’s a dream come true. I don’t even know what to say. It hasn’t even sunk in. … The past two years with Covid have been crazy. There was one point I wanted to quit.”

There was a frantic morning of paddling at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre. Jess Fox of Australia, widely considered the best individual female paddler in history, finally got her gold, to become the first ever Olympic women’s C1 champion. She’d been a vocal campaigner for gender parity in the sport and the event’s inclusion. Mallory Franklin took silver for Team GB. Current world champion Andrea Herzog earned bronze. I saw journalist Jacob Whitehead on Twitter sum up the thrill of it all succinctly: “How good is it that the biggest sporting moment of your career involves you getting launched down a set of massive rapids?”

Jess Fox on her way to gold.
Jess Fox on her way to gold. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

In less choppy waters, 22-year-old Zac Stubblety-Cook won the men’s 200m breaststroke final for Australia and broke the Olympic record in the process. Tom Dart was at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre for us, and writes how, with another gold medal secured this morning in the men’s 100m freestyle, Caeleb Dressel is beginning to fill US swimming’s post-Phelps void.

Caeleb Dressel reacts after winning the men’s 100m freestyle final.
Caeleb Dressel reacts after winning the men’s 100m freestyle final. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Ireland claimed their first ever gold medal in rowing, with Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy winning the lightweight men’s double sculls. Asked how it felt to be an Olympic gold-medal-winning athlete, O’Donovan said: “It’s alright, yeah. You can’t complain about it really. I wouldn’t go around introducing myself like that, though.”

We will, though. Olympic gold-medal-winning athletes Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan.
We will, though. Olympic gold-medal-winning athletes Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan. Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

There was to be no fairytale finish for Helen Glover. She’d described returning to rowing and competing in the Olympics to defend her title as “a lockdown project that’s gone too far”, and ended up fourth in the women’s pair alongside Polly Swann. Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler won New Zealand’s first gold of the Games in that race.

There was also the kind of development that organisers didn’t want to see before Friday’s big day in the stadium: Australia’s entire track and field team were sent into isolation as a precaution after American pole vaulter Sam Kendricks tested positive for Covid-19. The two-times world champion has withdrawn from the Games. The Australian team have subsequently been given the all-clear, but Argentinian pole vaulter Germán Chiaraviglio has also withdrawn. Sean Ingle writes for us that athletes now fear a domino effect.

Trap shooting asks competitors to hit, from a distance, a moving target that’s about 10cm across and is travelling at 120kph. It’s the kind of Olympic sport I watch and my mind just boggles at even attempting to do it. The men’s event was dominated by the Czech Republic, with a gold for Jiri Liptak and silver for David Kostelecky after a dramatic shoot-off. Team GB’s Matt Coward-Holley took bronze.

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Picture of the day

Alessandra Perilli won bronze in the women’s trap shooting, to take the first ever medal won by San Marino in the summer Olympics in 15 attempts since the tiny European country first participated in 1960. Slovakia’s Zuzana Rehak Stefecekova won silver in the event in 2008 and 2012, missed the last Olympics after giving birth to her son, but returned in Tokyo to take gold. Kayle Browning of the USA finished third.

Alessandra Perilli during the trap women’s final.
Alessandra Perilli during the trap women’s final. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty Images

🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 Team USA update

Tumaini Carayol has been at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre today, and he reports for us on the continued developments with Simone Biles. The star of the US team has been struggling with a dangerous condition where gymnasts lose their sense of spatial awareness. He writes:

So much of gymnastics is mental and where the sport differs from many others is that if gymnasts are not in the right frame of mind to execute their dangerous skills, they will not simply run slower or strike a ball into a fence. Each complex skill comes with the risk of serious injury, and it is something they are keenly aware of each day. By preserving her mental health, Biles is also protecting herself physically.

The US women’s rugby sevens team were one of several nations to come through their opening two pool matches with a 100% record, almost certainly guaranteeing a quarter-final berth. New Zealand, France and Australia also won both their matches.

🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧 Team GB update

British Athletics’ Christian Malcolm has insisted that Dina Asher-Smith has the same aura about her as Linford Christie and can win the 100m and 200m in Tokyo despite not having the fastest times on paper.

You might have spotted the other day that Tom Daley had knitted an adorable little tea-cosy to keep his medal safe. Now LoveCrafts have produced a free downloadable pattern so you can knit your own adorable little Tom Daley. I mean, if you can knit, obviously.

🇯🇵🇯🇵🇯🇵 The hosts and beyond

The German Cycling Federation’s sporting director Patrick Moster has been sent home after shouting a racial slur during yesterday’s men’s time-trial. Germany’s Tokyo delegation leader Alfons Hörmann said: “We remain convinced that his public apology for the racist remarks he made yesterday is sincere. With these comments, however, Moster violated the Olympic values. Fair play, respect and tolerance are non-negotiable for Team Germany.”

The International Olympic Committee has praised the weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s “courage and tenacity” as she prepares to become the first openly transgender athlete to compete in an Olympics on Monday.

It’s tight at the top of the golf after the first day of the men’s competition. Austria’s Sepp Straka leads on eight under, with Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond second a shot back. Thomas Pieters of Belgium and Carlos Ortiz of Mexico are both on six under.

Sepp Straka of Austria in the golf.
Sepp Straka of Austria in the golf. Photograph: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Neil Duncanson is the author of The Fastest Men on Earth: the Inside Stories of the Olympic Men’s 100m Champions, and for us today he has run the rule over who will be competing in Sunday’s men’s 100m final – the sprinters hoping to step into Usain Bolt’s shoes.

🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺 Australia update

Kieran Pender has been at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre for us, and today he has written about Kyle Chalmers, who fell agonisingly short of retaining his Rio crown in the 100m men’s freestyle.

Kieran has also written about Jess Fox, saying that having narrowly missed gold in the women’s kayak slalom at three consecutive Olympics, she was a fitting victor today. He reports that her mum – also her coach – came running to the waterfront ecstatic with joy when Fox won – and ended up taking a swim. “Fourth time lucky,” her father Richard sighed with relief on television back home in Australia. “To deliver that performance, at that level, in that moment.”

Did you know?

Before 1924, Irish athletes competed at the Olympics as part of the Great Britain team. One of the first notable acts of protest at an Olympic Games came in the special Athens event in 1906, when, having finished second in the long jump, Ireland’s Peter O’Connor climbed up the flagpole during the winners’ ceremony to replace the British flag with an Irish one he had smuggled in.

Key events for Friday 30 July

Related: Tokyo 2020 Olympics: complete event schedule

All events are listed here in local Tokyo time. Add an hour for Sydney, subtract eight hours for Glasgow, 13 hours for New York and 17 hours for San Francisco. Confused? Surely not by now.

🌟If you only watch one thing: 9am-9pm Athletics – in some ways it never feels like the Olympics have truly got under way until there are people throwing things, jumping over things and running round in circles chasing each other in the main stadium. Call it athletics, call it track and field, whatever you want to call it, the real deal begins on Friday. There are qualifying rounds for the women’s 100m, 800m and 5,000m. Men go in qualifiers for the 400m hurdles, 4x400m relay and the 3000m steeplechase. There’s also men’s discus and high jump action, and the women are doing triple jump and shot put. The first track and field medal race will start at 8.30pm when the men race in the 10,000m. I can’t wait.

  • 2am Tennis – the first medals are doled out in the men’s doubles final: an all-Croatian affair 🥇

  • 7.45am-10.35am Rowing – the final day at Sea Forest Waterway should end with the men’s and women’s finals in the single sculls and the eights 🥇

  • 9.30am-4.45pm Archery – it is the women’s individual contest on Friday 🥇

  • 10am-11.50am Cycling BMX racing – there are three runs of semi-finals, and then by 11.40am we are into the men’s final followed by the women’s final 🥇

  • 10.30am-11.42am Swimming – there are four finals scheduled this morning. The men go in the 200m backstroke and the 200m individual medley. For women it is the 200m breaststroke and the 100m freestyle 🥇

  • 1pm-2.50pm Trampoline gymnastics – blink and you miss it, the trampoline gymnastics starts today, and almost immediately gets straight into the women’s final 🥇

  • 2pm-4pm Canoe slalom – it is the men’s kayak semi-final followed by the final 🥇

You can find our full interactive events schedule here. As well as telling you what is coming up, it carries scores and results throughout the day, like a live dashboard of whatever is happening. It’s brilliant.

As it stands

Here’s how the emoji table stood at 11.15pm Tokyo time

1 🇨🇳 China 🥇 15 🥈 7 🥉 9 total: 31
2 🇯🇵 Japan 🥇 15 🥈 4 🥉 6 total: 25
3 🇺🇸 USA 🥇 14 🥈 14 🥉 10 total: 38
4 ◽️ Not Russia 🥇 8 🥈 11 🥉 9 total: 28
5 🇦🇺 Australia 🥇 8 🥈 2 🥉 10 total: 20
6 🇬🇧 Great Britain 🥇 5 🥈 7 🥉 6 total: 18
7 🇰🇷 South Korea 🥇 4 🥈 3 🥉 5 total: 12
8 🇫🇷 France 🥇 3 🥈 5 🥉 3 total: 11
9 🇩🇪 Germany 🥇 3 🥈 3 🥉 7 total: 13
10 🇮🇹 Italy🥇 2 🥈 7 🥉 10 total: 19

Get in touch

I couldn’t help notice yesterday when Barry Glendenning was at the helm of our live blog that there was some debate about how the medal table is calculated. Rick Leskowitz had been in touch and was less than enamoured with the current system that prioritises number of golds over total number of medals. He was suggesting it should be based on three points for a gold, two for a silver and one for a bronze. Having quickly done the maths in my head, that would leave us at the moment with a table that had the US in front with 80 points, China on 68, Japan on 59 and Not Russia on 55.

What do you think? Does the current medal table work for you or do you think it, as Leskowitz put it, “it’s time for a re-do”? You can get in touch with me about that, or anything else Olympic-related that you fancy, at

Oh, and while I have you here, can I just give a shameless plug to the very silly quiz that I do on Thursdays for the Guardian website? You can find this week’s edition here, and I often hang around chatting in the comments underneath it. There are a couple of Olympics questions this week and I shall very much be expecting you to get them right.

The last word

Simone Biles competes in the vault event of the artistic gymnastics women’s team final.
Simone Biles competes in the vault event of the artistic gymnastics women’s team final. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

The outpouring love and support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics, which I never truly believed before. – Simone Biles on social media

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