Team GB moved past 50 medals at the Tokyo Olympics as cyclist Matt Walls secured gold in the omnium, while Holly Bradshaw and Liam Heath secured bronze in the pole vault and kayak events respectively.
The trio served up eye-catching moments as Team GB reached 51 medals on day 13 of the Games, equalling the number won at Beijing 2008 with three days of competition to go.
Boxer Galal Yafai, who like team-mate Lauren Price had already guaranteed himself a medal, won a thrilling semi-final to reach the gold-medal match in the 52kg flyweight division.
Dina Asher-Smith made a return to the track as Britain’s 4x100m relay team secured a place in the final, but the relay story was not so positive for the US men’s 4x100m team, who were deemed an “embarrassment” by American sprint legends Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson after being eliminated in their heat.
Elsewhere, 18-year-old Keegan Palmer put on a gripping display to win park skateboarding gold for Australia, who now sit fourth in the medal table, with Great Britain sixth.
GB’s fourth best Olympics
Simon Gleave, head of sports analysis, Nielsen Gracenote:
Tokyo 2020 is now Great Britain’s fourth best Olympics and second best outside the UK, after Rio 2016. The 51 medals so far equal Beijing 2008 but Team GB are already guaranteed two more thanks to boxers Price and Yafai.
Only London 1908 (146 medals), London 2012 (65) and Rio 2016 (67) have produced more medals for Great Britain than Tokyo 2020.
Compared to London and Rio at this stage, Tokyo has not produced as many medals with 52 in London and 55 in Rio by this point.
The 16 golds won so far fall well short of London’s 25 and Rio’s 22 at this stage.
Wonder Walls is ‘dominant’
Walls, 23, improved on the omnium results of Ed Clancy, who won bronze in 2012, and Mark Cavendish, who took silver in 2016, to win Great Britain’s first track cycling gold of the Games.
He ended the event on 153 points, 24 more than silver medallist Campbell Stewart of New Zealand, while Italy’s defending champion Elia Viviani took bronze.
BBC Sport’s 1992 Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman said: “It was a dominant performance from start to finish. He didn’t put a foot wrong anywhere. Tactically and physically he was class.”
Walls, who tested positive for Covid-19 in March, sealed Team GB’s 50th medal in Tokyo and the 16th gold.
“It’s been a hard day but I came into that points race with a bit of a lead and breathing room,” said Walls.
“Thank you to all my family and friends, I wouldn’t be here without them, especially my parents.”
Two-time defending champion Jason Kenny’s nine-year reign as men’s sprint champion ended when he was beaten in the quarter-finals by Dutch world champion Harrie Lavreysen, while Katy Marchant saw her keirin campaign cut short in the quarter-finals after she was caught up in a crash.
Bradshaw ends Olympic medal wait
Bradshaw sought to gain about 5kg in muscle during the Covid-19 lockdowns, and the performance benefits were on show in the lead-up to the Games.
In claiming bronze she secured Britain’s first medal in pole vault at an Olympic Games, and the first global outdoor medal of her career.
The 29-year-old, who came sixth at London 2012 and fifth at Rio 2016, cleared 4.85m to finish behind Russian athlete Anzhelika Sidorova and American Katie Nageotte in what BBC Radio 5 Live’s Allison Curbishley said was “a phenomenal final”.
“This is what I have wanted my whole career,” said Bradshaw. “I am almost emotionless as I don’t know what emotion it is I’m feeling.
“I knew I could get it one day and I can’t express how grateful I am to be involved in this sport and to get an Olympic medal.”
Heath recovers for bronze
Heath – the Olympic champion in 2016 – initially looked like he may come up short after a poor start to his men’s kayak single 200m, only to find a surge that earned him a nail-biting photo finish for the bronze medal.
“I was maybe a bit hesitant off the start and didn’t reach my potential in terms of peak speed,” said Heath, who clocked 35.20 seconds behind Hungarian winner Sandor Totka on 35.03.
“I am still happy with the performance.”
On winning another medal, he said: “It is hard to put into words. It is what you work towards to be at your best for these events.”
Heath, who has previously said retirement after the Games was likely, added: “It has been a roller coaster, over such a long period of time in the extended Olympic cycle. So many highs and lows, so many tests and lessons. I am feeling really good, to be honest.”
From factory to fighting for gold
Yafai also found himself lost for words after progressing to the Olympic final, where he will walk away with at least a silver medal.
The Birmingham fighter started at pace against Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov, scoring a standing count in round one before the contest developed into a thrilling back-and-forth affair.
Yafai hugged a visibly distraught Bibossinov as his narrowest of victories was read. He will now face Carlo Paalam of the Philippines in Saturday’s 52kg flyweight final.
Yafai, 28, is a former car factory worker, and said: “I was doing the rubbish, picking up boxes, delivering parts. Just a skivvy job really. But now I’m on the verge of becoming Olympic champion.
“I can’t believe it. It’s ridiculous, it’s a dream. It’s the Olympic gold isn’t it, man? Olympic gold is crazy. Just imagine being the Olympic champion.”
And BBC Radio 5 Live boxing analyst Steve Bunce remarked: “He just wouldn’t be denied. We’ll get a gold from him on Saturday.”
Track returns and ’embarrassment’
Elsewhere on Thursday, heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson said she would be taking time to “heal my body and spirit” after injury forced her out of the Games.
Big-name injuries have blighted Britain’s medal hunt on the track, including Asher-Smith, who withdrew from the 200m because of a hamstring complaint but chose to compete in the 4x100m relay on Thursday.
Asher-Smith ran leg three and along with Asha Philip, Imani Lansiquot and Daryll Neita set a new British record of 41.55 seconds.
“There was never any doubt in my mind that I’d be lining up here today because the relay’s really important, we got a bronze medal in Rio,” Asher-Smith told BBC Sport.
But Team USA’s efforts in the men’s really were not enough as they finished sixth in a heat featuring some poor baton exchanges.
The US team won the event at the 2019 World Championships but have not won a 4x100m Olympic gold since 2000.
“This isn’t rocket science,” four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson tweeted.
“Trying to get two people running full speed to exchange a baton within a 20m zone requires practice! Especially when you haven’t won this event since Sydney 2000 due to drops and zone violations!Embarrassing and ridiculous.”
Nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis added: “The USA team did everything wrong in the men’s relay. The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable.”
What else happened on day 13?
- An outside medal chance disappeared for Team GB when Andrew Pozzi placed seventh in the men’s 110m hurdles final, clocking 13.3 seconds as Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment took gold in 13.04.
- Team USA’s dominant shot put star Ryan Crouser beat his own Olympic record to win gold, launching 23.30m with his final effort of the day.
- The US basketball team were buoyed by Kevin Durant and Devin Booker as they came from behind to beat Australia and set up a final against France or Slovenia.
- American Nelly Korda shot a superb nine-under 62 to take a four-stroke lead at the halfway mark in the women’s golf.
- Great Britain qualified three men for the 1500m final as Jake Wightman, Josh Kerr and Jake Heyward all got through their semi-finals.
- Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas won gold over 400m, beating Colombia’s Anthony Zambrano into silver and London 2012 champion Kirani James into bronze.
- In the absence of Britain’s injured world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Belgium’s Nafi Thiam retained her heptathlon crown, while Canadian Damian Warner triumphed in the decathlon.
- Belgium’s men won hockey gold after a dramatic shootout with Australia.
- A teenage battle played out in the women’s 10m platform diving as China’s 14-year-old Quan Hongchan edged out team-mate Chen Yuxi, 15, to take gold. Great Britain’s Andrea Spendolini-Siriex and Lois Toulson placed seventh and ninth respectively.
- Callum Wilkinson finished 10th for Great Britain in the men’s 20km walk, while Tom Bosworth was 25th.
- Great Britain’s Hector Pardoe said he thought he had “lost an eye” after being elbowed in the men’s marathon swim and consequently pulled out of the race.