THE United States continued their reign over Spain with a grinding 82-76 win on Friday to put them through to the gold medal final of the men’s basketball tournament for a third straight Olympics.
The Americans will ride a 24-game Olympic winning streak into tomorrow’s final where they will face the winner of Australia and Serbia.
With the two top-ranked teams, number one U.S. and number two Spain, both packed with NBA talent, the game had the familiar buzz of a gold medal final.
As it should have, the countries having met to decide the gold at the previous two Olympics in London and Beijing, the U.S. coming out on top both times.
Led by 22 points from Klay Thompson, the U.S. led from the start and never trailed.
Italy’s men’s volleyball team put an end to a U.S. winning streak and ousted the Americans from the Rio Games in a five-set battle on Friday to go through to the final seeking their first Olympic gold medal.
Italy beat the United States 30-28 26-28 9-25 25-22 15-9 and will face defending gold medalists Russia or defending silver medalists Brazil tomorrow.
The Americans, seeking their fourth gold in the sport, went down to Italy in four sets in the preliminary round, and came back from the brink of elimination after a stunning win over hosts Brazil. But their run of four straight victories ended at the hands of their nemesis Italy.
With unstoppable spikes and ace serves by their top scorer Ivan Zaytsev, the Italians took the hard-fought first set.
The United States recovered the lead in the second set despite a barrage of killer spikes by Osmany Juantorena, a former Cuba national team wing spiker now playing for Italy.
The Americans streaked ahead with a 15-point run in the third with its top scorers outside hitter Matt Anderson and main server and setter Micah Christenson having a field day.
But Italy came back to secure victory with aces by Zaytsev and Juantorena in the fourth set and tie-breaker.
U.S. coach John Speraw, who brought a young team to Rio with eight players who had never competed in the Olympics, said Italy was playing the finest volleyball in the Games, and his men responded to the challenges well.
The crowd in Rio’s Maracanazinho stadium favored the Italians, roaring “Italia, Italia!” in support. The stadium speakers blared “Volare” when the Italians scored and “YMCA” when the Americans scored.
Reversing the result, the U.S. women’s water polo team won a gold medal and became the first ever to defend its Olympic title on Friday, defeating Italy by 12-5.
U.S. starting goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson blocked several attempts on goal including a high-speed penalty shot to deny Italy points, while the young team showed the depth of its talent on offense, as eight different U.S. players scored goals, versus four for Italy.
With the victory, the defending world champion team became the first to capture back-to-back gold medals after prevailing at the 2012 London Games. They also kept their streak alive of winning a medal at every Games since women’s water polo was added to the Olympics in 2000.
In other sports, France’s Estelle Mossely celebrated her 24th birthday by winning the women’s lightweight boxing gold medal on Friday after she had watched boyfriend Tony Yoka reach the super-heavyweight final.
Yin Junhua, beaten on a split decision after the four rounds had ended with the two boxers level on the three judges’ scorecards, took silver for China’s first medal of the boxing competition.
Losing semi-finalists Mira Potkonen of Finland, a 35-year-old mother of two, and Anastasia Belyakova of Russia took bronze medals.
In track and field, China’s Liu Hong won women’s 20km walk final on Friday, fending off Mexico’s Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez in a thrilling final kilometre dash to the finish line to snatch gold.
World champion Liu was touted as the hot favourite heading into the Rio Games and she lived up to the billing, powering away from Gonzalez as the finish line came into sight to win in 1:28:35.
Gonzalez entered the final kilometre in the lead but she was powerless to stop Liu’s late onslaught on a hot and humid day, crossing the line 0.02 seconds behind the 29-year-old world record holder.
American Connor Fields powered to a gold in the men’s BMX final ahead of Dutch rider Jelle van Gorkom. Colombia’s Carlos Alberto Ramirez Yepes was third in a photo-finish.
Colombia’s Mariana Pajon retained her Olympic BMX title with a faultless performance as she led from the start gate in Rio’s X-Park track. American Alise Post came second, while Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela clinched bronze.
Russia’s double Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva announced her retirement on Friday, adding that whoever won the women’s pole vault in her absence would not have achieved a proper gold medal.
Isinbayeva, along with over 100 of her team mates were barred from competing at the Rio following revelations of systematic state sponsored doping.
Nick Skelton of Britain, riding on Big Star, clinched gold in the equestrian show jumping event in his seventh Olympic appearance. Sweden’s Peder Fredricson won silver, while Canada’s Eric Lamaze took bronze.
Canada beat home favourites Brazil 2-1 to win their second consecutive bronze medal in the women’s football competition. Canada’s Deanne Rose opened the scoring after 25 minutes, and provided an assist for Christine Sinclair for the second goal.
Beatriz pulled one goal back for Brazil in the 79th minute.
China’s doubles pairing of Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan held their nerve and saved two match points in a marathon third set to beat Malaysia’s Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong 16-21 21-11 23-21 to win gold in the men’s doubles badminton final.
Meanwhile, International Olympic Committee member Pat Hickey has been taken to Bangu maximum security prison, civil police said. The Irish official’s appeal for bail was denied by a Brazilian judge.
Hickey was arrested in connection with an investigation into illegal resale of Olympics tickets.