2016 Olympics Aug. 18 recap: Oregon’s Ashton Eaton defends gold medal in decathlon
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Following a flurry of action across a wide range of sports for the past two weeks, the 2016 Olympics are starting to wind down in Rio. That’s not to say there still wasn’t some intense action on the track, in the gym and beyond on Thursday night.
With a couple more gold medals and a silver added to the total, Pac-12 athletes or alumni have now reached the podium 12 out of 12 days of full competition. Take a look at the top storylines from the Conference of Champions on Thursday in Rio.
MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD
After winning his second straight gold medal in the decathlon on Thursday, Oregon product Ashton Eaton can claim the title of “best athlete in the world” for four more years. He also became just the third Olympic decathlete to ever successfully defend his title.
Eaton carried a lead into Thursday’s second half of the event, which featured the 110m hurdles (2nd), discus (8th), pole vault (3rd), javelin (18th) and 1500m (4th). Once he crossed the finish line with a time of 4:23.33 in the 1500m, Eaton wrapped up the gold medal following two grueling days of competition.
"To win two Olympic golds in a row like [Great Britain’s] Daley Thompson is very special,” Eaton said. “One day, I'm going to have to meet Daley, shake his hand and thank him for giving me something to chase after. My throwing has been bad In the past, but I really got after the discus and shot here. Can I do three in a row? Maybe you should ask Daley."
What a performance by @AshtonJEaton!
— U.S. Olympic Team (@TeamUSA) August 19, 2016
Considering his wife and fellow Duck alum Brianne Theisen-Eaton already brought home the bronze in the women’s heptathlon earlier this week, they’re going to need to clear out some space on their trophy mantle.
USC's Andre De Grasse has emerged as a rising track star so far in Rio. A night after sharing a memorable smiling moment with Usain Bolt while crossing the finish line, the Team Canada sprinter earned the silver medal in the 200m event with a time of 20.02. Meanwhile Bolt collected his third straight 200m title, clocking in with a mark of 19.78. It’s been quite the coming out party for the 21-year-old De Grasse, who also took home the bronze in the 100m.
Former Oregon Duck Matthew Centrowitz qualified for Saturday’s 1500m final by running a 3:39.61 on Thursday night, good for the third-best time in the semis.
WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD
Save the best for last, right?
To cap off the women’s events on Thursday night, USC product Dalilah Muhammad took home the gold medal with a remarkable effort in the 400m hurdles. She burst off the starting blocks and didn’t tire despite her blistering pace, finishing in 53.13 seconds to take home a first-place finish in her first Olympics.
"The reality of winning is even better than the dream," Muhammad said. "Olympic champion, in front of my name. I put my hope and trust in my coach and it paid off. I'm so happy. I tightened over the last hurdle but I got it done. I'm so so happy and proud."
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) August 19, 2016
Cal alum Inika McPherson leaped past the rest of the competition in the high jump preliminaries on Thursday, claiming the top qualifying mark at 1.94 meters. McPherson is set to compete in the final on Saturday night in Estadio Olimpico.
Likewise, Stanford product Ekaterini Stefanidi currently ranks first in the women’s pole vault competition after clearing 4.60 meters in Thursday’s qualifications. Stefanidi, competing in her second Olympics, will go for gold in Friday night’s final.
USC grad and Team USA track star Allyson Felix was involved in a bit of controversy on Thursday morning in the 4 x 100 relay prelims. It appeared that she slipped and fell while trying to hand off the baton to Oregon’s English Gardner, leading to dashed dreams of the Americans in the race. But after USA Track and Field field an appeal, replays showed that Felix was bumped by a Brazilian runner, disqualifying the home country from the competition.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 18, 2016
In an odd sight, the USA relay team ran by itself on the track Thursday night, trying to secure one of the top eight times in the event. Needing to beat Canada’s mark of 42.70 to qualify for the finals, the Americans posted a time of 41.77, the fastest for any team in the prelims.
"It was really weird but when we walked out and people were cheering for us it uplifted us and encouraged us and we were really grateful,” Felix said. “I am probably the last person who would want to be involved in anything like this. It was different. Running without any competition is just strange, but I think we are good.”
Team USA’s aspirations of a gold medal were smashed on Thursday, as Serbia claimed a tough five-set victory to advance to the final.
The Americans dropped the first two sets but stormed back in the fourth to even things up. Despite holding a 12-10 lead late in the final set, the U.S. allowed Serbia to go on a 5-1 run to close out the match and earn the victory.
Serbia upended the Women's @USAVolleyball team in a back-and-forth five-set match.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 18, 2016
"I want to congratulate Serbia on winning that match and earning the right to play for a gold medal in this Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games,” said Team USA coach and UCLA legend Karch Kiraly. “They played a great match and I also want to congratulate our team. I am incredibly proud of the way we battled through some real adversity today.”
Former UCLA star Karsta Lowe repeatedly dropped the hammer on Serbia in the late stages of the match, en route to racking up a team-high 13 kills. Ex-Stanford star Foluke Akinradewo only played the first two sets, chipping in 5 kills, before leaving with an apparent leg injury.
Team USA will play in Saturday’s bronze medal match against the loser of Thursday night’s China-Netherlands contest.
Among the 11 Pac-12 women competing at the Olympic Golf Course, USC’s Candie Kung remains the low scorer (7-under) after shooting at a 68 in Round 2. Kung currently ranks tied for fifth in the 60-woman field.
Spaniards and ASU alums Azahara Munoz (t-13th, minus-5), Carlota Ciganda (t-22nd, minus-3) and incoming Stanford freshman Albane Valenzuela (t-22nd, minus-3) are the next Pac-12 golfers up on the leaderboard. The action continues with Round 3 on Friday and Round 4 on Saturday.
Stanford’s Helena Scutt and partner Paris Henken wrapped up the women’s 49er:FX competition with a ninth-place finish on Thursday afternoon.
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