Great Britain celebrated their first gold in the velodrome at Tokyo 2020 on Thursday along with bronze in the canoe sprint and a first ever Olympic pole vault medal.
Matt Walls finally sated the thirst for gold in the velodrome in the men’s omnium, winning the four-discipline event by a comfortable 24-point margin.
It had been a tough day, said the 23-year-old after the 100-lap final race, thanking his friends and family. “When I was younger growing up, [my parents] travelled around the country with me and there’s no chance I’d be here without them,” he said.
Great Britain now have 51 medals, including 16 golds, but have fallen to sixth place in the medal table, after going into fourth at the close on Wednesday.
Liam Heath could not retain the Olympic title he won in the canoe sprint in Rio, but took bronze and kissed his medal on the podium. “The journey has been so incredibly long, so incredibly tough, there have been ups and downs, and I am happy where I have landed,” he said.
There was more for Britain to celebrate in the Olympic Stadium, after Holly Bradshaw won a surprise bronze in the pole vault, with the United States vaulter Katie Nageotte and Anzhelika Sidorova of the ROC in gold and silver.
The 29-year-old Bradshaw managed a first-time clearance at 4.85m to take her first medal outdoors at a global championships at her ninth attempt. “This is what I’ve worked for my whole career,” she told the BBC. “I don’t know what emotion I’m feeling: relief, pure enjoyment, excited, proud of myself for sticking with it. I knew I could get there one day.”
There was also better news on the track as Britain’s 4x100m relay women ran the fastest heat at an Olympics, setting a national record in the process. Dina Asher-Smith – whose Olympic hopes for the 100m and 200m were shattered by a recurring injury – produced a strong performance alongside Asha Philip, Imani-Lara Lansiquot and Daryll Neita, with the British team crossing the line in 41.55sec – faster than the gold-medal-winning times at all but two editions of the Olympic Games.
Britain’s men also qualified second in their heat behind Jamaica in 38.02, while Jake Wightman won his 1500m semi-final with a solid run to go through to the final on Saturday. Josh Kerr finished third and qualified automatically, while Jake Heyward picked up a fastest qualifier spot – meaning that three Team GB men will be in the 1500m final for the first time since 1984.
A day after she was forced to pull out of the heptathlon with a calf injury, Katarina Johnson-Thompson revealed she had refused to get in a wheelchair after pulling up in the 200m despite being in agony, as a gesture of defiance.
“I started the year in a wheelchair and I was not willing to end my Olympic campaign the same way,” she wrote on Twitter. “To make it to the line was a miracle, not only to do that but to be on my way to putting a decent score together is heartbreaking.”
At the Kokugikan Arena British boxer Galal Yafai ensured he will take home at least a silver medal on Saturday, after a thrilling flyweight semi-final victory over Saken Bibossinov of Kazakhstan.“It’s insane, it’s like a dream,” Yafai told the BBC after the bout.
Elsewhere, there was a wealth of eyebrow-raising oddities to enjoy. In the skateboarding, Australian Kieran Woolley took out a cameraman filming the men’s park event, before offering him a fist-bump, while 46-year-old Dallas Oberholzer, once Janet Jackson’s chauffeur, revealed he was once nearly eaten by a jaguar.
The shot-put podium finished with exactly the same line-up as at Rio in 2016 – the first time in the 125-year history of the Olympics that it has featured the same athletes in the same spots in an individual event in consecutive Games. And there are surely nightmares expected for judges at the artistic swimming after the Russian Olympic Committee team transformed, a little too realistically, into a pair of spiders for their gold-medal winning routine.