Rio Highlights: U.S. Megastars Shine Bright — Phelps, Ledecky, Biles

August 10, 2016

The biggest American names in Rio all took home gold on Tuesday.

Simone Biles led the U.S. gymnasts to a victory of historic proportions in the women’s team final, setting the stage for additional gold she’s expected to capture later this week in individual events.

Michael Phelps won the 20th and 21st gold medals of his extraordinary career, exacting revenge in the 200-meter butterfly against South Africa’s Chad le Clos, who forced Phelps to settle for a rare silver four years ago.

And Katie Ledecky was again the swiftest woman in the pool, adding a gold in the 200-meter freestyle to the one she won earlier in the 400-meter freestyle. And there’s more to come.

Here’s a look at Tuesday’s highlights.

U.S. women gymnasts repeat as champs

In one of the marquee events, Biles and her four U.S. teammates lived up to the sky-high expectations and dominated the women’s team competition.

As a squad, the U.S. had the highest score in each of the four events — floor, vault, balance beam and uneven bars. They beat the second-place Russians by a whopping eight points, the second largest margin of victory in Olympic history.

This was the second consecutive gold for the American women, and included two returning members from the winning 2012 team, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.

The Americans have raced so far ahead of the competition in recent years it’s getting hard to remember when it wasn’t this way.

Yet it’s only the third time in Olympic history that the Americans have taken the team title (2012 and 1996 were two previous titles). For decades, the Romanians or the Soviet Union dominated.

The Americans will now chase individual glory in the four separate events and the individual all-around. They have a shot to take all five individual golds, but it’s a tall task, even for this seemingly invincible crew.

Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky win special races

It may not seem like a big deal that Phelps won his second and third golds at these games, and now has 21 overall. The same goes for Ledecky, who won her second in Rio and third overall.

But here’s why Tuesday’s races were very special for both of them.

Throughout his spectacular career, Phelps’ signature event was the 200-meter butterfly. Yet South Africa’s Chad le Clos outreached Phelps by 0.05 seconds in London four years, in one of the most dramatic races at those games.

In a highly anticipated rematch, Phelps led the entire race and held on for a narrow victory, clocking in at 1 minute, 53:36. Le Clos faded to fourth.

At 31, Phelps became the oldest swimmer to win an individual race.

Later in the evening, he won his 21st gold by anchoring the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay.

Ledecky, meanwhile, leaves her competitors in her wake in the distance events, such as the 400 and 800 meters. But to make things more challenging, she has moved down to race at 200 meters as well, an event more suited to sprinters.

It’s not an ideal distance for her, but just to show how dominating she is, she managed a narrow victory over Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom by .35 seconds, in a time of 1 minute, 53.73 seconds.

This was expected to be her toughest individual race. She has one more to go, the 800 meters, where she is virtually unchallenged.

As great as Ledecky has been, she’s still one gold behind Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, who won her third gold in Rio by capturing the 200-meter individual medley on Tuesday.

U.S. men’s rugby defends its gold — after 92 years

The U.S. men defeated France, 17-3, to take Olympic gold at Paris in 1924. Ever since then, the Americans have been waiting to defend their title, and they finally got their chance Tuesday as men’s rugby returned to the Games after a 92-year absence.

The Americans lost their first match in the waning seconds to Argentina, 17-14, but came back later in the day to trounce Brazil, 26-0.

Olympic rugby features fast-paced, high-scoring, seven-on-seven games. The Americans are expected to be competitive, but are not favored to medal in the 12-team field.

U.S. women’s soccer team ties Colombia, 2-2

After two shutout victories, the heavily favored Americans were expecting to pick up a third win against Colombia.

After falling behind by a goal, Crystal Dunn scored on a rebound from a Carli Lloyd shot in the 42nd minute to even things up. The Americans then took the lead in the 60th minute with a goal by Mallory Pugh.

The U.S. remained on top until the 90th – and final – minute of regulation when Colombia’s Catalina Usme scored her second goal, this one on a free kick.

Despite the tie, the U.S. still won the four-team Group G and will advance to a quarterfinal match in the capital Brasilia on Friday. The Americans are going for their fourth consecutive Olympic gold.

Serena Williams follows Venus Williams out the door

It was surprising when Venus Williams lost her her first-round singles match on Saturday. It was shocking when Venus and Serena Williams lost their first-round doubles match Sunday, having won three Olympic golds in three previous tries.

We’re not sure how to describe Serena Williams’ straight-set loss Tuesday to Elina Svitolina, 6-4, 6-3, in just 72 minutes.

The no. 1 seed, Serena Williams beat Svitolina, 6-1, 6-1, just two months ago at the French Open.

“Obviously I’m disappointed,” said Williams, who issued a statement but did not appear at a news conference after the match. “The better player won. It was a great opportunity that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. At least I was able to make Rio, which was one of my goals. It was awesome, but it’s over now.”

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