Shot put winner Gong Lijiao at the Tokyo Olympics (© Getty Images)
Gong Lijiao arrived in Tokyo in the shape of her life, and it showed with a dominant performance to claim her first Olympic shot put title on Sunday (1) morning.
The 32-year-old two-time world champion held command from an opening round throw of 19.95m, and improving nearly round by round. Her third throw landed at 19.98m, a set up for a fifth-round 20.53m bomb that added 10 centimetres to her previous personal best set in 2016. With the victory secured, she threw farther still, improving to 20.58m with the final throw of the competition.
“I'm really excited to win this gold medal. I also got my personal best so all my work has really paid off," Gong said, speaking through a translator. "This is my 21st year of competing in the shot put. And it's really a special moment."
Taking Olympic gold was almost a natural progression for Gong, who took Olympic silver and bronze in 2012 and 2008 and back-to-back world titles in 2017 and 2019 after silver in 2015 and bronze two years before that.
Despite the Chinese star’s dominance this morning, the competition behind her was thoroughly entertaining given the story lines: two-time Olympic champion Valerie Adams competing in her fifth Olympic Games and USA’s Raven Saunders, the fifth-place finisher in Rio, who returned to top form after battling and overcoming a slew of personal problems that arose since the last Olympic Games.
Saunders signalled her podium intent with a 19.65m opener to take firm control of second place, while Adams got the rust out with a modest 18.62m effort. She then improved to 19.49m in the second to move into bronze position, pushing Portugal's Auriol Dongmo, who opened with a 19.29m throw, into fourth.
Competing in brutally hot conditions – the trackside temperature monitor read 37C when the competition began and later peaked at 40C – the throwers forged on.
While Gong extended her lead with a 19.98m effort in round three, Adams continued to apply the pressure, improving to 19.62m, just three centimetres behind Saunders. In the next round, Dongmo applied pressure of her own on Adams, reaching 19.57m, just five centimetres behind the New Zealander.
Saunders – who had a foul in round two that landed beyond 20 metres – improved to 19.79m in the fifth round to solidify her silver position, then fouled in the sixth, again with a throw that landed beyond 20 metres. Adams meanwhile fouled in the fifth and in the final round, with the bronze secure, deflated a bit, reaching just 18.76m. But it didn't matter. Adams flung her arms into the air after becoming the first woman to win four Olympic medals in a single field event.
"Everything I've been through in these past five years has been crazy, crazy,” said Saunders, whose international career began with a silver medal at the 2014 World U20 Championships. “I remember sometimes sitting in my car, crying. It has been a mental journey.
"I gave it everything I had,” she continued. "I was zoned in. I came in here with one goal in mind – to get a medal. I needed to make sure I got a medal because it doesn't represent just me, it represents everybody that's struggling out there in the world, not just America but in the world."
"These Games have been a very tough one for a lot of athletes,” said Adams. “Since the last Games I've had these two humans come out of me. But we're now here today and the feeling of winning a bronze medal was just as good as when I won the gold medal. It just goes to show the strength of a woman. You can be a mom and come back and be a mother as well.
"I'm very grateful to all my team because with my body being a little older and fighting against these youngsters I have to work hard to come through training,” she added, holding up a photo of her children. “They're in my training diary and I have another picture on the wall in the (Olympic) Village. They go everywhere with me on my journey. They are my family."
Further back, Gong's teammate Song Jiayuan reached 19.14m to finish fifth with Adams's teammate, Maddison-Lee Wesche, sixth with an 18.98m lifetime best.
Bob Ramsak for World Athletics
|WOMEN'S SHOT PUT MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Gong Lijiao 🇨🇳 CHN||20.58m PB|
|🥈||Raven Saunders 🇺🇸 USA||19.79m|
|🥉||Valerie Adams 🇳🇿 NZL||19.62m|