Karate gold for host Japan as sun torches volleyball sands, diplomacy intrude

06 August 2021 - 16:45 By Reuters
Silver medalist Yin Xiaoyan of Team China, gold medalist Jovana Prekovic of Team Serbia, and bronze medalist Merve Coban of Team Turkey and Giana Lotfy of Team Egypt, pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for Women’s Karate Kumite -61kg on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Nippon Budokan on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Silver medalist Yin Xiaoyan of Team China, gold medalist Jovana Prekovic of Team Serbia, and bronze medalist Merve Coban of Team Turkey and Giana Lotfy of Team Egypt, pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for Women’s Karate Kumite -61kg on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Nippon Budokan on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Image: Harry How/Getty Images

Beach volleyball players roasted on the sands of Tokyo Bay and Olympic race walkers broiled in Japan’s supposedly cooler north  on Friday, while organisers removed two Belarusian officials  after sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya defected.

With solar and political heat clinging to athletes in their final three days of the Games, Team USA claimed the women’s volleyball gold for the birthplace of the sport, as did Japan for karate.

Belarus’s athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich and team official Artur Shumak were asked to leave the Olympic village, the International Olympic Committee said, days after they ordered Tsimanouskaya to pack and go to the airport against her will.

In a saga reminiscent of Cold War sporting defections , Tsimanouskaya refused to board the Sunday flight home and sought Japan police protection before fleeing to Poland, where she was offered a humanitarian visa and was reunited with her husband on Thursday.

She told Reuters the two officials had said the order to send her home came from “high up”  in Belarus.

The 24-year-old’s case threatens to further isolate Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is under Western sanctions after a crackdown on opponents since last year and whose son heads the national Olympic Committee.

Back in Tokyo, the boxing gold went to a dominant Cuba as Julio la Cruz outclassed Russian world heavyweight champion Muslim Gadzhimagomedov to win his second Olympic title and his country’s third gold of the five awarded so far.

Laura Kenny became the most decorated female Olympic cyclist in history with a fifth gold, destroying the field in the first women’s madison event at an Olympics.

On the athletics track, men’s 5,000 metres world record holder Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda added gold in that event to last week’s 10,000m silver, while Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas snatched the women’s 400 metres gold.

 45°C AND NO SHADE

Outdoor athletes continued to suffer from Japan’s punishing summer weather.

Sapporo in the far north was chosen for the 50km race walk for some respite from the heat of the capital, but Dawid Tomala of Poland had to fight Tokyo-level temperatures to take gold with a dominant second half.

Tomala, 31, switched this year from the 20km because he was “bored and needed new challenges“, he said. “It’s the second 50 in my life and a gold medal is crazy, right?“ More on the walkers’ minds than heat, perhaps, was anger that the event may have been its last — it has been dropped from the Paris 2024 Games because there is no equivalent race for women.

Enduring air temperatures of up to 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) — and a higher 45°C (113°F) on the shadeless sand at Shiokaze Park — April Ross and Alix Klineman from the United States won the women’s beach volleyball.

They regained the gold for the sport’s birthplace for the first time in nine years, to chants of “U-S-A” from 20 team staffers in an otherwise empty arena.

A native of karate’s birthplace , Ryo Kiyuna from Japan’s Okinawa, grabbed the gold in his sport, after his air-splitting punch, sharpness and precision on the tatami drew gasps in the kata event at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan, the spiritual home of Japanese traditional martial arts.

MENTAL HEALTH AND DIVERSITY

In addition to international politics, the Olympics that end on Sunday have highlighted mental health, transgender rights and equality — including even the clothes that women athletes wear, from mandated skimpy bikinis for beach handball players to gymnasts being allowed to wear what they choose.

The Olympics were supposed to showcase Japan’s growing ethnic diversity, but the Games have dragged into the international spotlight a domestic debate about whether the country can be both multicultural and Japanese.

Judo gold medallist Aaron Wolf, NBA basketballer Rui Hachimura and tennis superstar Naomi Osaka — with fathers from the United States, Benin and Haiti, respectively — are playing for their mother country in a team that would have been unthinkably diverse a few decades ago.

But like many countries, Japan still has much to do.

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