Though these Summer Olympics were no ordinary games, athletes still showed up. The Games carried on, and many left Tokyo as record-holders, with all-time best performances and dominant victories. Both China and the U.S. sent their best teams, expecting many golds from their Olympians. Did their athletes deliver? Yes! Throughout the Games, China led in the gold medal count until the very last day of competition when the U.S. edged out the country by one. The total count brought the U.S. to 39 and China 38 gold medals.
Below are some of the top highlights of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Track & Field
Team USA’s women and men captured the gold medal in the 4x400m relay. The lineup was Sydney McLaughlin, Allyson Felix, Delilah Muhammad, and Athing Mu, who finished in 3 mins 16.85 seconds, the fifth fastest time in the history of the event. The win added an 11th Olympic medal for Felix, making her the most decorated U.S. track athlete in Olympic history. Mu became the first American woman to win gold in the 800m at the Olympics since 1968. McLaughlin and Muhammad crossed the line in first and second in the 400m hurdles, both breaking the world record in the event.
The men’s 4x400m victory, with Michael Cherry, Michael Norman, Bryce Deadmon, and Rai Benjamin, marked the first gold medal for the USA men’s track and field team. The foursome finished in 2 mins 55.70 seconds, just shy of the Olympic record of 2 mins 55.39 seconds, which was set by the U.S. relay team in 2008. Rai collected silver, breaking the world record in the men’s 400m hurdles.
In the women’s javelin, Liu Shiying of China made history by becoming Asia’s first female Olympic gold medalist in the event. Not only that, she swept the competition in her first throw: a season’s best of 66.34 meters. No other competitor came close during the remainder of the competition.
Also winning on her first attempt was Valarie Allman of the U.S. in the women’s discus with a throw of 68.98 meters, a distance far beyond any other throw in Tokyo. Her gold made her the first American to win discus since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In the rounds heading into the semifinals of the women’s 3-on-3 basketball tournament, the U.S. women earned the top seed after narrowly beating China. With only 34 seconds left in the game, Kelsey Plum hit a two-point shot that brought her team to first. Team USA went on to win gold in the sport’s Olympic debut. The star of the game was Plum, who scored the most points of her team, finishing with 55 points after the nine games. Team China claimed bronze.
Fourteen-year old Quan Hongchan’s impeccable performance in the women’s 10m platform left spectators speechless. Representing Team China in her first international competition as the youngest diver, she scored three perfect 10s, which brought her to a total of 466.20, smashing the previous world record of 447.7.
China’s men had strong performances in artistic gymnastics, claiming the bronze in the all-around team final. Individually, Liu Yang won China’s first gold medal in the men’s rings with a perfect execution score of 9.0. Zou Jingyuan won the parallel bars with the highest score of any gymnast at the Tokyo Games.
The last shooting event had a world-record breaking performance by 21-year-old Zhang Changhong of China in the men’s 50m rifle three positions. Even in his Olympic debut, Zhang led the competition like a veteran ahead of his competitors.
An Olympic old-timer in men’s skeet, USA’s Vincent Hancock became the first skeet shooter to win three Olympic golds after winning at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games. In a near-perfect performance, Hancock hit 59 out of 60 targets, breaking his own Olympic record.
Two-time Olympian swimmer Caeleb Dressel of the U.S. left Tokyo with five Olympic gold medals--three individual and two group--in the men’s 100m butterfly, 100m freestyle, 50m freestyle, 4x100m medley relay, and the 4x100m freestyle relay, respectively. On top of his wins, Dressel set the Olympic record in the freestyle events and a world record in the butterfly. With his gold medal count, Dressel entered the exclusive club of swimmers who have earned at least five golds during an Olympic game.
China’s swimmers also made their mark in the Olympic pool. China’s “butterfly queen” Zhang Yufei broke the Olympic record and won the gold medal in the women’s 200m butterfly. With a finishing time of 2 mins 3.86 seconds, Zhang hit the platform as the event’s third fastest swimmer ever. She then went on to lead the 4x200m freestyle relay to a world-record time.
Third-time Olympian Wang Shun continued China’s winning streak with a victory in the men’s 200m individual medley. Along with his win, Wang also became number three in the event’s history and broke the Asian record with a time of 1 min 55.00 seconds.
Nicknamed the “big dream,” China’s Chen Meng, also the world’s top ranked table tennis player, outshined the competition in the women’s table tennis singles in her Olympic debut. Treating her pursuit for gold “like life or death,” Chen captured the gold medal as China’s ninth female Olympian to win the title in table tennis.
And for the third consecutive Olympics, USA’s women’s water polo team won gold with the advantage of having a “powerhouse goalie” like Ashleigh Johnson, who blocked 11 out of 15 shots from Spain. That amounts to a 73 percent success rate--unheard of! On top of being one of the best goalies in the world, Johnson is also the first African American woman to make the U.S. Olympic water polo team.
And that’s the wrap! The next Summer Olympics are set to take place in Paris 2024. The French Olympic Committee is organizing two plans--plan A and plan B--depending on how the coronavirus pandemic evolves over time. In the meantime, Beijing will be hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022. Who will bring home the most golds this time? We’ll have to wait and see...