Tokyo Olympics: Top 15 memorable moments after week one of the 2020 Games

Cheryl Heng and Mimosa Ngai, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 02 2021 01:51 PM | Updated as of Aug 03 2021 08:11 PM

Halfway through the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, there have been plenty of talking points on and off the field of play. A menu of historic performances, controversy, disappointment and surprises have been served up to viewers watching from around the world and the privileged few who have been able to secure seats inside the venues. Hong Kong athletes have also contributed to the storylines. The following is a compilation of 15 memorable moments from the first eight days.

1. Hong Kong’s first gold in 25 years

Edgar Cheung Ka-long became the city’s new hero when he won the men’s individual foil title for Hong Kong’s first fencing gold medal. Celebrations erupted across the city as the 24-year-old ended Hong Kong’s 25-year wait for a second Olympic gold after Lee Lai-shan’s windsurfing triumph at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Cheung completed an incredible fightback in the quarter-finals to seal a place in the last four, eventually squaring off with defending Olympic champion Daniele Garozzo of Italy, and winning 15-11 to claim the title of world’s best foil fencer.

“I beat an Olympic champion to become an Olympic champion. This medal came a bit fast. I never thought I could win a gold medal today … even a silver medal would have been a surprise,” said Cheung.

2. Siobhan Haughey first Hong Kong athlete to win two medals

Easily interchangeable with Edgar Cheung’s efforts, Siobhan Haughey created her own piece of Hong Kong history by winning two silver medals in the pool. The 23-year-old won silver in the 200m freestyle on Wednesday and claimed another in the 100m two days later.

In doing so, she became the first Hong Kong athlete to win two Olympic medals, and in the same Games. Her efforts also meant that Hong Kong earned more glory in one week than they have in the previous 25 years. The gold and two silvers already surpasses Hong Kong’s pre-Tokyo tally of one gold (windsurfer Lee Lai-shan in 1996), silver (table tennis pair Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching in 2004) and bronze (cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze in 2012).

“I definitely want everyone to see it and feel [the medals]. To touch it and be inspired by it,” Haughey said. “It’s great that Hong Kong is showing so much support to their athletes. I hope this doesn’t only happen once every four years, but continues to bring more awareness to the achievements our Hong Kong athletes are doing.”

3. Angus Ng’s black shirt stirs controversy

Hong Kong badminton player Angus Ng Ka-long found himself whirled into a political controversy after he wore a black jersey that was missing the Bauhinia logo for his opening men’s singles match.

A pro-establishment politician condemned Ng for wearing black – the preferred colour adopted by protesters during the 2019 anti-government protests. In response, the 27-year-old shuttler explained his clothing sponsorship had ended and he was forced to find his own outfit. In his second match, he returned with a “less comfortable” Fila-branded shirt with the Bauhinia emblem, but lost to his 59th-ranked opponent.

The world No 9 did not blame the shirt for his defeat but lamented on an Instagram post that “someone is destined to be the main character of a tragedy”.

4. Simone Biles withdraws from team gymnastics

America’s most decorated gymnast sent shock waves across the globe when she announced her withdrawal from the team final and all-round competition to focus on her mental health. She announced another withdrawal from the floor exercise final on Sunday, meaning she will not feature in five of the six finals she qualified for.

The 24-year-old defending Olympic champion admitted the crushing pressure of being a world-famous athlete: “This Olympic Games I wanted it to be for myself but I came in and I felt like I was still doing it for other people. It hurts my heart that doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.

“For anyone saying I quit, I didn’t quit. My mind and body are simply not in sync as you can see here. I don’t think you realise how dangerous this is on a hard competition surface,” Biles wrote alongside an Instagram video of her dismounting poorly from the uneven bars in training. She also said she “had a little bit of the twisties”, a phenomenon where gymnasts have mental blocks and struggle to control their bodies while mid-air.

5. The Philippines win their first gold

Before the Tokyo Games, the Philippines had 10 Olympic medals – three silver and seven bronze. It was weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz who changed history. The 30-year-old set an Olympic record by lifting 224kg, defeating China’s world record-holder Liao Qiuyun, who took silver with 223kg.

Diaz’s gold sent her country into Olympic raptures. Filipino netizens took to social media to show their support, while boxer Manny Pacquiao and others congratulated her on her special achievement. Diaz, from Zamboanga, won silver in Rio and was among the favourites for gold in Tokyo.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s a dream come true,” Diaz said. “I want to say to the young generation in the Philippines, ‘You can have this dream of gold too’. This is how I started and finally I was able to do it.”

6. Adopted Chinese girl Maggie MacNeil captures gold for Canada

Canada’s Maggie MacNeil made a huge splash when she beat China’s top-ranked swimmer Zhang Yufei for the gold in women’s 100m butterfly. Her victory was Canada’s first Tokyo gold medal, but what intrigued netizens on the mainland more was the talented swimmer’s Chinese heritage.

Born in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, the 21-year-old was reportedly adopted by Canadian parents after being abandoned at a few months old. Her story sparked an outcry in China about its now-scrapped one-child policy, with netizens suggesting that her swimming achievements might not have been realised if she grew up in the mainland.

“I heard my name getting called so I thought I must have done something good, but it wasn’t until I turned around and saw the results that I realised I won,” said MacNeil, who went viral for having to squint to see her score as she does not wear contact lenses nor prescription goggles.

7. Hmong-American Sunisa Lee wins the gymnastic individual all round final

Sunisa Lee, the first Hmong- American to be chosen for the US Olympic gymnastic team, thought she would be there to make up the numbers but ended up covered in individual glory. She stormed to a stunning victory in the women’s all-round competition after favourite Simone Biles dropped out of the event.

Lee’s victory in Tokyo is significant both to her and the Hmong community, which has its roots in China and Laos. During the Vietnam war, many Hmong people cooperated with the US and emigrated to the country for a better life after the war had finished in 1975.

“They are the most supportive people ever, but many people from the Hmong community don’t reach their goals,” the 18-year-old Lee said after her victory.

8. Face of Tokyo 2020 Naomi Osaka loses

Naomi Osaka, Japan’s world No. 2 superstar tennis player, was a major gold medal hope for home fans in the women’s singles but was eliminated in the third round by 42-ranked Czech player Marketa Vondrousova.

Her defeat was a shock to many, especially to the host nation, whose hope to witness the four-time grand slam winner to bring back a gold medal was smashed.

“Everything went wrong on court,” Osaka said afterwards. “How disappointed am I? I mean, I’m disappointed in every loss, but I feel like this one sucks more than the others.”

9. Viral video of Australian swim coach after Titmus win

Australian swimmer Ariarne Titmus is the rising star who beat the “First Lady of Freestyle”, Katie Ledecky, in the 400m freestyle event. Her coach, Dean Boxall, was seen doing a victory dance, pumping his fists, screaming and grabbing at a railing after watching the swimmer’s feat.

The video did the rounds as his celebrations were contrasted by the nearby Tokyo 2020 attendant’s attempts to settle Boxall down and usher him down poolside.

While many netizens found the video amusing Titmus told the Associated Press that her coach is just being himself: “That’s just like Dean. He’s very passionate … he becomes very animated.”

10. China women’s volleyball team bomb

They may be the defending Olympic champions but at the Tokyo Games, China’s women’s volleyball team have struggled throughout and failed to even qualify from their group.

The world No 2 team have been the source of intense national pride over the years, but after three straight defeats in Tokyo – to Turkey, USA and the Russian Olympic Committee – fans are searching for answers.

“It’s been a regretful experience,” tearful coach Lang Ping said after her team beat Italy 3-0 in a win that was too little, too late. “I want to apologise to the fans in China. They never gave up on us even though the outcome here was not proportional to the training.” To change their fate, they must bag victories in the next two matches, but with their star player Zhu Ting beleaguered by a wrist injury and unlikely to play at her best, their medal chances are dangling from a precipice.

11. Momiji Nishiya, 13, takes home the street skateboarding gold

The women’s street skateboarding final took place on Monday and was one of the most intriguing events to watch. Apart from the array of fancy tricks from the skateboarders, it also presented the world with the youngest Japanese Olympic gold medallist.

Despite her young age, Nishiya has been on the podium many times. In 2019, she won a silver medal at the Summer X Games in Minneapolis and secured another one in the world championship in Rome the following year.

“I didn’t think I could win, but everyone around me cheered me on so I’m glad I was able to find my groove,” she said.

12. Japan’s win over China in table tennis mixed doubles

China have dominated table tennis at the Olympics, winning every gold medal since South Korea’s Ryu Seung-min triumphed in the men’s singles at the 2004 Athens Games. But their streak was ended by Japan’s mixed doubles team.

Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito had lost all three of their previous matches against China’s Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen but triumphed 4-3 in a shock result on home soil. Chinese netizens were visibly upset at the loss, fuelling threads of anti-Japanese sentiment online.

“I’m just so proud. We knew the Chinese pair were very strong, and we knew we would have to give 150 per cent. Even then, we weren’t sure if we would have enough to overcome them,” said Mizutani, who is 12 years older than Ito but the pair reportedly met when she was aged four, establishing a chemistry unlike any other.

13. Chinese badminton player’s swearing gone viral on Weibo

Olympic athletes certainly feel the pressure when competing. In a women’s doubles match against South Korea, Chinese badminton player Chen Qingchen was heard swearing loudly after their defeat in the first round by South Korea.

Later, Chen justified her behaviour, posting a statement on Twitter-like Weibo saying it was a “misunderstanding caused by her bad pronunciation”.

Chen’s swearing clips have been shared more than 100,000 times on Weibo.

14. China’s Zhang Yufei wins two gold medals within an hour

A new butterfly star was born in the pool when Chinese swimmer Zhang Yufei left with a pair of gold medals inside an hour.

The 23-year-old Xuzhou native was teary-eyed after her record time of 2:03.86 in the women’s 200m butterfly. But there was more to come. She later joined her teammates in the 4x200m freestyle relay, beating powerhouses USA and Australia with another world record of 7:40.33.

Zhang herself was surprised to learn she was roped into the relay team at the last minute: “I didn’t even know how to swim the 200m free, although I have the training qualities for the 200m distances.”

15. Tunisian swimmer’s shock gold, and validation from Phelps

Ahmed Hafnaoui, an 18-year-old swimmer from Tunisia, became a global star when he stunned the field to win gold in the men’s 400m freestyle.

The athlete said at a news conference after his victory that “he was so surprised and didn’t accept” that he has become an Olympic champion.

Hafnaoui’s effort was validated by the world’s most decorated swimmer, American Michael Phelps, who said he had an “unbelievable swim”.

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