The Olympics have always been a chance for nations to showcase themselves on the grandest of stages.
Italy capped a historic week on Friday by winning a shock gold in the men’s sprint relay, while Canada won their first gold medal in women’s football after previously taking the bronze in 2012 and 2016.
On Friday night, American Allyson Felix also became the most decorated track and field athlete in Olympic history and Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan’s dream of an unprecedented games treble disappeared.
Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon relegated Hassan to bronze in retaining her 1,500 metres title, while Shaunae Miller-Uibo was another repeat winner in the women’s 400 metres.
Italy, who had a night to remember when they lifted the individual 100 metres and men’s high jump on Sunday, had already enjoyed a good start to the day when Antonella Palmisano won the women’s 20km walk, her training partner Massimo Stano having taken the men’s event on Thursday.
But that was a mere antipasto for an incredible main course of a 4×100 metres relay that demanded a full house instead of a few noisy team-mates in the stands.
In the absence of the United States and with Jamaica fumbling their changeovers, Britain looked nailed on for victory with metres to go, only for Filippo Tortu to somehow surge past to take gold by one-100th of a second.
With Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Italy’s shock 100 metres champion, running second, the Italians set a national record of 37.50 as they won the event for the first time, having last reached the podium 73 years ago.
It took their athletics tally of gold medals this year to five – surpassing their previous best of three.
New 200 metres champion Andre de Grasse brought Canada home strongly for bronze.
If that race was a surprise, the women’s relay went as widely predicted as the three individual medallists in the 100 metres – Elaine Thompson-Herah, who now has all three available sprint golds at Tokyo, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Shericka Jackson – along with Briana Williams, ran a national record 41.02 seconds.
They marked Jamaican Independence Day by finishing well clear of the United States and Britain.
Felix makes history
Five years ago, 400 metres champion Miller-Uibo literally dived across the line to pip Felix, but this time she was miles ahead after delivering her trademark second-half surge.
Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic took silver but for once all eyes were on the battle for bronze, which Felix won to overtake Merlene Ottey as the most decorated female track and field Olympian with 10 medals.
She has also equalled fellow American Carl Lewis’s Olympic medal count and could add to it in Saturday’s 4×400 metres relay final.
Meanwhile, in the women’s 1,500 metres, Kipyegon turned on the afterburners 300 metres out and Hassan, looking tired after her gruelling week, was unable to respond as the Kenyan came home in an Olympic record 3:53.11 minutes.
“I knew it was going to be a fast race because of Sifan. We are all strong and I know it could [also] be a tactical race. It is always crazy in championships races. I did not expect I was going that quick,” she told reporters after her victory.
Hassan, the 5,000 metres champion, could still double her gold tally in the 10,000 metres on Saturday but had to settle for bronze on Friday after Laura Muir blasted past her for a British record to take the silver.
Canada win football gold
Canada won their first Olympic gold medal in women’s football, beating Sweden 3-2 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw.
Julia Grosso, just 20, converted the winning penalty kick, putting her shot off the right hand of goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
Jessie Fleming made Canada’s first kick in the shootout, but Ashley Lawrence, Vanessa Gillies and Adriana Leon all failed to convert.
Kosovare Asllani hit a post with Sweden’s first kick, and Nathalie Bjorn and Olivia Schough built a 2-1 Sweden lead. Anna Anvegard was saved by Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe and with a chance to win the gold, Caroline Seger put her kick over the crossbar.
Deanne Rose tied the score for Canada, and Jonna Andersson’s sixth kick for Sweden was saved by Labbe, who dived to her left.
Grosso then won the gold for Canada, which took the bronze in 2012 and 2016.
Stina Blacksteinius had put Sweden ahead in the 34th minute from Asllani’s cross. The shot by the 25-year-old striker appeared to deflect off Gillies and just past the outstretched right arm of Labbe.
Fleming tied the score with a penalty kick in the 67th minute.