- Athletics: Mark English wilts in 800m heats; Sarah Lavin seventh in 100m hurdles heat; Irish mixed relay team finish eighth in the 4x400m
- Equestrian: Ireland 13th in dressage team event as Sarah Ennis laments format.
- Swimming: Daniel Wiffen and Danielle Hill round off best Games in the pool since 1996.
- Hockey: Ireland miss out on quarter-finals after 2-0 loss against Britain; Former Ireland coach Graham Shaw steers Kiwis into knockouts.
- Golf: Xander Schauffele leads Hideki Matsuyama by one, Rory McIlroy three off leader (67); Shane Lowry four off pace (68).
Every Olympic race has a subplot called regret and Mark English discovered that side of his 800 metres heat during another melting hot session inside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Saturday morning.
Admittedly in the form of his life, confidence seemingly searing, English simply left himself with too much to do in the final 100 metres, his hopes of advancing ending after he finished fourth in a time of 1:46.75. No comeback from that.
English started the fifth of the six heats knowing the top three were guaranteed to advance, plus the next sixth fastest times, only his heat ended up the slowest of the six (the only non sub-1:46), so it was Games over.
Tactically it certainly wasn’t perfect, and English admitted that afterwards too: despite getting out well, he was pressed to the inside and the back at 200m. After 300m Dennick Luke from Dominica hit the ground, and it stayed rough like that until the bell, which English passed in seventh.
Coming into the homestretch English did kick hard, only the three runners in front of him weren’t for catching - Jesus Lopez from Mexico taking the win in 1:46.14 ahead of Eliott Crestan of Belgium and Patryk Dobek of Poland, who finished just .17 of a second ahead of English.
“I’m gutted,” English said. “I was ready for that race. I just got outkicked, there’s nothing else to say, really. “The plan was to stay in contention without wasting too much energy. I felt like kind of got to the front at 200m and then they all just closed in and got in front of me. At that point, I didn’t feel like it was worth wasting energy to move out but over time I might regret that. It’s tough to take to be honest.”
As expected qualification was intense: World bronze medallist Ferguson Rotich from Kenya won the first heat in 1:43.75, the fastest time at the Olympics outside of a final; in second, Peter Bol from Australia clocked an Oceanian record of 1:44.13.
For English, the 28-year-old who took time out his medical profession to focus on Tokyo, there was also an admission he might have run things a little differently: “I probably would have kicked when from the Belgian (Eliott Crestan) kicked but everything is easier in hindsight. I know I had the quality to make it but it’s always the case with an 800m runner, it’s a different thing doing it. Lots of guys have the potential. But I just didn’t have it today unfortunately.
“Look coming into the year my two goals were to qualify for the Olympics and get a new Irish record and I did that. To ask for anything else was always going to be a bonus. If I’d made the semi-final it would have been a bonus but it’s just like I felt like I could have made it. I’ve had luck in my career, today I didn’t. It’s a different thing when you go into a championship and you know you’re not in shape and you crash out.”
Later in the morning Sarah Lavin lined up in her heat of the 100m hurdles with another daunting task in terms of qualifying, particularly with world record holder Kendra Harrison in her heat. The American duly took the win in 12.74 seconds, as Lavin finished seventh in 13.16 seconds.
Only the top four places were automatic, although if Lavin had matched her best time of 12.95, run last month, she would have gone through.
“Disappointing, there’s no other way around it,” she said. “The one thing I pride myself on is bringing my best on the biggest day, to not do that is gutting. I think a final is beyond my reach but I do think a semi-final is within it and if I had been 12.95 I’d have been through. It’s my second fastest time ever but yeah, it’s disappointing.
“I can’t quite put my finger on it. The legs felt like jelly after, and normally they feel alive after a race. I was nervous but no more nervous than usual. It’s hard to say, I want to do better, I want to make Ireland proud, I want to do everyone around me justice as to the work they put in. It just wasn’t there today.”
The Irish interest concluded with the Irish team of Cillin Greene, Phil Healy, Sophie Becker and Chris O'Donnell finishing eighth in the final of the 4x400m mixed relay.
In a hectic event involving nine teams, the Irish team did well to avoid trouble to come home in a time of 3:15.04, with Poland going on to take gold in a time of 3:09.87 in the debut staging of the event.
Saturday morning also brought news of the first high-profile doping bust in Tokyo, Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare pulled from her 100m semi-final later in the day after the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) announced she had tested positive for human growth hormone back on July 19th.
Okagbare, at 32 old for a sprinter, won her heat in 11.05 seconds on Friday: it’s also the latest twist the latest twist in a troubled track and field campaign at the Olympics for Nigeria, as on Thursday, the AIU said 10 Nigerian athletes were among 18 competitors prevented from entering competition in Tokyo after failing to meet requirements for out-of-competition testing.
The world and Olympic medallist failed an out-of-competition test taken on July 19th and was due to compete in the women’s 100 metres semi-finals here today.
She won her race in the heats on Friday but was informed of her suspension by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) on Saturday morning.
Okagbare is highly decorated, winning on Olympic silver in the long jump at Beijing 2008. At the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, she won long jump silver and 100m bronze, also winning the 100m/200m double at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Once again it casts some doubt over the credibility of the 100m at the Olympics, particularly if she’d gone on to win a medal here, her failed test only then revealed afterwards
A final hole birdie for Xander Schauffele has given him a one stroke lead over US Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama heading into the final round of the Olympics golf at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
The American leads on 14 under par after a third round of 68 in Tokyo - but Rory McIlroy is in hot pursuit after he signed for 67 on Saturday.
Four-time Major winner McIlroy made six birdies and dropped two shots in his third round to put himself firmly in medal contention - he is three strokes off Schauffele on 11 under par heading into an intriguing final day.
Shane Lowry meanwhile is a shot further back on 10 under par after he carded a 68. The 2019 British Open winner saw his momentum checked by a bogey on the par five 14th, after he was forced to take an unplayable.
Britain’s Paul Casey is two strokes off the lead on 12 under par alongside Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz, with Tommy Fleetwood sharing ninth place with Lowry.
Speaking after Saturday’s third round, McIlroy seemed content with his efforts: “I got to four under after 13 and thought I could maybe squeeze an extra couple of shots out of the round.
"Fourteen was disappointing but then I bounced back well after the bogey on 16 with a birdie on 17. Overall, it’s a good round of golf that keeps me in contention. Eighteen holes is a lot of golf still, and a lot can happen.
And he has a medal firmly in his sights as the tournament approaches a crescendo: “It feels different, but I wouldn’t know how to describe it. As it gets closer, and you get closer to the finishing line, you start thinking about it a little bit more.
“Last week, an Olympic medal, I was like ‘I don’t really know what that would mean to me’ but now that you’ve got the chance to do it…
“There’s something to play for and that’s the only thing you ask of yourself going into the Sunday of any golf tournament. Give yourself a chance, then it’s up to you to play the best golf I can to try to get the job done.”
McIlroy believes playing with compatriot and friend Lowry has boosted the chances of both in Tokyo, he said: “It’s been great. We’ve had a really good week together and the atmosphere has been really relaxed. It’s been a throwback to the amateur days, I guess, which has been great.
“We’ve been telling a lot of stories - it’s 15 years ago now. We’ve been pros for over a decade, a lot has changed, but it’s nice to go back to that and to have those memories.
“Shane and I play a lot of golf together, especially now he’s moved to Florida for six or seven months of the year. We see a lot of each other there, and playing alongside each other definitely helped both of us.”
Meanwhile Lowry was left to rue what might have been following his round of 68, with a lost ball on the 14th – after it got stuck up a tree off the tee - stalling his momentum.
Reflecting on his round, he said: “I got off to the best possible start, I played great for the first few holes, four under through 8, I bogeyed 9 but I felt like I was going very well and got it back to four under after 12.
"It was just disappointing to go down and see my ball stuck up a tree. To be honest I was very lucky to find it and not have to go back to the tee box, so I saved myself a shot there but obviously it's a bad break and something that I hope doesn't cost me at the end of the week.
"But I fought hard coming in, I believe that that par putt on the last is big, hopefully I'm standing here tomorrow evening and looking back on that putt, and thinking that was the thing that kicked me on and gave myself the chance to win a medal tomorrow.
"This is where you want to be, I came into the week and all I wanted was the chance to win a medal, that's all I wanted, the chance to go out on Sunday and be in contention.
"It was in my head all week and it's very exciting.”
A fascinating Sunday awaits, with both Irish golfers firmly in the medal mix.
Ireland sit in 13th place in the team event in dressage after scoring 110.40 ahead of the cross-country stage of the competition.
Sarah Ennis and Horseware Woodcourt Garrison (ISH) scored 38.10 which ranked 50th overall individually with Ennis saying afterwards she was disappointed in the result
That scores her just behind Austin O’Connor and Colorado Blue on 38.00 and Sam Watson in 38th after his score of 34.30.
“Being very honest, I am very disappointed,” said Ennis afterwards. “We really thought we had him in a position to get a much better mark. He has been going amazing all week. He has been very happy in this heat, he is not struggling with it.
“He just got nervous when he went into the ring. It is very difficult, he is so he is and he gets nervous every so often. We just have to hope that the rest of it goes a bit better.”
Ennis also expressed her dislike for the new testing format, which is shorter and did not suit her or the horse.
“It’s not the nicest test. It is shortened to just under three minutes, usually a test is about six minutes long which gives you a chance to recover. You get into the ring and all the movements are thrown at you again and again.
“There are a lot of flying changes, four flying changes, and when you have a horse like mine who struggles with them, it is a bit of a disaster! It is a hard test.”
Elsewhere Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove ended their Olympics on a high as they won Race 12 of the men’s 49er Skiff event, to follow up their victory in Tuesday’s Race 1.
Racing had been delayed again due to light winds, with the duo then finishing 17th in Race 11 despite having held third place. However they finished with a bang, and their Race 12 win saw them claim 13th place overall.
Afterwards, Dickson said: “I'm pretty proud of the way we sailed, it's really good to finish on a high with the last race and pretty amazing that we got two race wins. We've learnt a lot from these games and we're going to bring that forward to (Paris) 2024."
Meanwhile Waddilove said: “My biggest takeaway from this week is that we were very much capable of competing against these guys that have done multiple Olympics and have medals under their belts and there's no reason why we can't get to 2024 and be medal contenders.”
Swimming Ireland brought its involvement in Tokyo 2020 to an end on Friday night with its best results at an Olympic Games since Atlanta 1996, when Michelle Smith de Bruin won three gold medals and a bronze.
Ireland earned one final in the breaststroke from Sligo’s Mona McSharry, two top 16 places and five Irish senior records.
The team signed off in style with Daniel Wiffen smashing the Irish Senior Record in the 1500m Freestyle with a time of 15:07.69, his second record of the Games.
The 20-year-old Wiffen set two new records at the Games, taking the 800m down to 7:51.65 and wiping nearly 10 seconds off his old 1500m mark.
Based at Loughborough University, Wiffen also won his heat in both events and moved up six places in the rankings in the 1500m to finish 20th overall.
“My target was to go and PB and try and get closer to the 15-minute barrier. I’m obviously closer now, seven seconds off,” he said. “The tactic was just to get in, if there’s a racer, race with them. If not, I had to assess it during the race and pick it up if I wasn’t going fast enough.”
Danielle Hill also finished her Tokyo campaign on Friday in the 50m Freestyle. She posted 25.70 to be sixth in her heat and 33rd overall.
“Although I may be the fastest woman in Ireland, it’s a very different field out here,” said Hill. “I’m not quite there yet, but I can walk away with a few things to improve and definitely looking forward to next year.”
Irish attention will now turn to diving, which begins on Monday when Rio 2016 Olympian Oliver Dingley competes in the preliminary round of 3m Springboard and on Wednesday, Tanya Watson becomes Ireland’s first ever female diver to compete at the Olympic Games when she steps up for the preliminary round of the 10m Platform.
“This is our best Olympic swimming result for a long time and I am extremely proud of these nine athletes and all that they have achieved,” said National Performance Director Jon Rudd, who is now eagerly looking towards Paris in a shortened three year cycle because of last year’s postponed Olympics.
“An Olympic Final plus the equivalent of two Semi Finals (Top-16 finishes) is outstanding for us, as is achieving five Irish Senior Records across seven days of racing.
“We had 15 swims in total and in 13 we rose through the rankings or held our pre-meet position. It’s all fantastic work from and within this team - and we are excited at what this team can achieve in three years time when Paris comes calling”.
It was Ireland’s largest ever Olympic swimming team, with eight of the nine swimmers competing at their first Olympics. Ireland also fielded their first men’s swimming relay team and the first Olympic relay of any kind in 49 years.
Irish Senior Records set in Tokyo 2020
Daniel Wiffen - 800m Freestyle - 7:51.65 (7:52.68)
Daniel Wiffen - 1500m Freestyle - 15:07.69 (15:16.90)
Mona McSharry - 200m Breaststroke - 2:25.08 (2:25.92)
Jack McMillan - 200m Freestyle - 1:46.66 (1:47.10)
Shane Ryan - 100m Butterfly - 52.52 (52.58)
Ireland missed out on the quarter-finals after a 2-0 defeat to Britain at the Oi Hockey Stadium.
Having lost to India in a key game on Friday, Sean Dancer's side were still in with a chance of making the last eight if they could beat the defending champions.
But goals from Susannah Townsend and Hannah Martin were enough for Britain to secure a place in the last eight.
"Look it was certainly a tough game. I was happy and pleased with the way we played," said Irish coach Sean Dancer. "I think we certainly stuck it to them.
“Obviously the scoreline was 2-0 and they had the better of the game but even going to the last quarter a couple of goals down I still thought we were in with a good opportunity. I’m just proud of the way we played today. We went out there to win it. Unfortunately we didn’t get the result but we did a lot of things right.”
Meanwhile, former Irish coach Graham Shaw successfully led New Zealand through to the knockout stages.
Although Shaw’s side went down to China in their final pool B game, they advance on better goal difference and will meet either the Dutch or Germans in the quarter-finals.
Shaw coached the Irish women to their World Cup success in 2018 when they won their first ever World Cup silver medal by making it through to the final against the Netherlands.
He then left Ireland to coach the New Zealand national side early the following year, having coached Ireland since 2015 and played for the Irish men’s side for many years before that.