Matt Walls secured Great Britain’s 50th medal of the Tokyo Olympics by taking gold in the men’s omnium race as Liam Heath also won a hard-earned bronze in the men’s kayak single 200m on Thursday.
The pair served up eye-catching moments for Team GB on day 13 of the Games, as did boxer Galal Yafai who won through 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 fifth.
Britain will look to improve their medal tally when Holly Bradshaw competes in the women’s pole vault from 11:20 BST.
Wonder Walls brings up 50
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 spring champion ended when 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.
Heath recovers for bronze
Kayaker Heath – the Olympic champion in 2016 – initially looked like he may come up short after a poor start to his final, 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.
- 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.
What is coming up?
- Hockey: The men’s tournament concludes with Australia taking on Belgium for gold (11:00 BST)
- Pole vault: GB’s Holly Bradshaw will feature in the women’s event (from 11:20 BST)
- 1500m: Great Britain has Jake Wightman, Jake Heyward and Josh Kerr competing in the men’s semi-finals (12:00 BST)
- 400m: Grenada’s Kirani James and American Michael Norman lead the gold-medal contenders in the men’s final.