RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 8, (AFP): US swimming legend Michael Phelps returned Monday to the hunt for more Olympic glory as swimmer Yuliya Efimova opened her campaign to restore Russia’s battered pride. Phelps earned adulation Sunday when he extended his record gold medal tally on a day of Olympic drama that saw world records, a first title for Kosovo and a heart-stopping crash. Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, inspired the United States to victory in the 4x100m freestyle relay before he starts his personal campaign on Monday.
For two-time doping offender Efimova, the situation could hardly be more different. She was jeered in the heats and will be going for medal honours Monday in the 100m women’s breaststroke with more verbal abuse likely to accompany her efforts. Tempers frayed at the Rio Olympic swimming competition Sunday as athletes tore into the 24-year-old Efimova after she won her breaststroke semifinal. The Russian, who was cleared to compete in Rio after a convoluted drugs case, triggered a chorus of boos when she was introduced and after the race as rival swimmers made their feelings known in no uncertain terms. But it was a day of unadulterated delight for Phelps, the 31-year-old who has now won 19 gold medals after the relay win ahead of defending champions France in silver, with Australia third. Phelps, who came out of retirement for one last crack at the Olympics, will be in the 200m butterfly heats on Monday having seen the relay display cap a superb night of swimming with three world records broken.
Katie Ledecky obliterated her own world best in the 400m freestyle on her way to gold. The 19-year-old touched the wall in 3min 56.46sec, taking nearly two seconds off her previous record. Ledecky is bidding to become the first Olympian since Debbie Meyer in 1968 to win the 200m, 400m and 800m free in the same Games. Britain’s Adam Peaty took more than 1.5sec off the men’s 100m breaststroke world record after Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom also broke the record in the women’s race. The spellbinding action in the pool brought the curtain down on an intense day of sport with 14 gold medals shared out. Among the most popular winners was the hard-as-nails judoka Majlinda Kelmendi from Kosovo, taking part in its first Games after only gaining Olympic status in 2014. The 25-year-old sank to her knees in tears after out-grappling Italy’s Odette Giuffrida to win by yuko in the women’s 52kg final. Kosovo is the 100th country to win an Olympic gold medal. The day began with strong winds wreaking havoc at several Olympic venues.
The entire day of rowing was called off and strong winds also delayed the tennis, which saw a slew of upsets when action resumed. The biggest casualty was world number one Novak Djokovic, bounced out 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/2) in the opening round of the men’s singles by Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro. It was an unexpected win for del Potro, who has struggled with wrist injuries in recent years. In the women’s doubles, Venus and Serena Williams’ long reign as champions came to an end when they lost to Czech duo Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova in the first round. The women’s cycling road race was won by Anna van der Breggen, who overcame the shock of seeing team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten lying stricken on the road after a horrific crash to win gold on Copacabana beach. Van Vleuten was taken to intensive care with cracked vertebrae.
There was more disappointment for hosts Brazil in the Olympic football. They were booed off for a second straight game after a 0-0 draw with Iraq. Meanwhile, Chinese weightlifter Long Qingquan broke the 56kg world record on the way to defeating defending Olympic champion Om Yun Chol of North Korea at the Rio Games on Sunday. A noisy crowd of more than 4,000 at Riocentro roared as Om made his final attempt in the clean and jerk at 169kg to take the lead.
They cheered even louder when Long, the 2008 Olympic champion, hoisted 170kg with the final lift of the night to take the gold medal. He became the first weightlifter to win Olympic titles eight years apart. Vietnam’s Kim Tuan Thach had stood below Om on the podium five times and was expected to take the bronze medal, but he failed with all three clean and jerk attempts. That let in 20-year-old Thai Kruaithong Sinphet, who took third place 18kg behind Long. In related news, Hidilyn Diaz sprung a major surprise in the Philippines by winning a weightlifting silver medal in Rio — the country’s first Olympic medal for 20 years, officials said Monday. Sports analysts in the Philippines had not expected the 1.54-metre (5ft 1/2in) tall Diaz to bag a medal at the 2016 Games after coming up empty in 2008 and 2012 games. “We had high hopes with other sports. So (Cruz’s medal) is a surprise. A lot of people didn’t expect she would take a medal,” said Ronel Abrenica, executivedirector of the Philippine Sports Commission.
But Abrenica said he noticed something from the 25-year-old, who became the first woman from the Philippines ever to win an Olympic medal. “I was watching her before. I saw her sincerity and determination. You could see it in the way she talks. She was determined to win. She had the fire in the belly,” he told AFP. “Before she set off (for Rio), she told me, ‘at least, I can get a bronze’. So this (silver) is a bonus,” said Abrenica. Diaz took the silver in the 53kg class, the first ever by a Filipino weightlifter, Abrenica said. It was also the first Olympic medal for the Southeast Asian nation since boxer Mansueto Velasco took a silver in the 1996 games.
The two Filipino boxers in the 13-member contingent were considered to have the best chances, as boxers had won five of the country’s previous nine Olympic medals, sports analysts had said. President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Martin Andanar, congratulated Diaz, saying “hers is (an inspiring story) about overcoming shyness but for an inspired nation, her road to Rio is a journey of grit, patience and determination.” He also said that Diaz is the country’s first Olympic medallist from Duterte’s home southern region of Mindanao. Diaz’s victory also has monetary benefits as Philippine law provides a five million peso ($107,000) prize to Olympic silver medallists, Abrenica said. He added that the sports commission, which is in charge of funding the country’s sports programmes, was also working with “private partners” to get Diaz additional benefits. Like other Filipino sports heroes, such as boxing hero Manny Pacquiao, Diaz can also likely count on lucrative commercial offers once she returns home, he added.