Chinese women's relay team

Relay controversy leaves China with short end of the baton

China Medal Count

20 gold, 16 silver, 22 bronze (3rd place overall)

Day 13: Medals

Gold: Ren Qian (women’s 10m platform diving)

Silver: Si Yajie (women’s 10m platform diving)

Bronze: Ren Cancan (women’s 48-51kg flyweight boxing); Zhang Fengliu (women’s 75kg freestyle wrestling)

Day 14: Ones to Watch

World champion Liu Hongwho curiously served a short doping ban just before the Games – leads China’s charge for gold in the women’s 20km race walk, along with Lu Xiuzhi and Qieyang Shijie and, collectively, represent a decent gold chance. China has three men in the 50km walk – Han Yucheng, Wang Zhendong and Yu Wei – but their prospects are not as bright. In badminton, Fu Haifeng  and Zhang Nan seek to salvage some Chinese pride in the sport as they face a Malaysian pair in the men’s doubles final, while Lin Dan takes on Lee Chong Wei for a place in the men’s singles final and Chen Long takes on Viktor Axelsen in the other semi. Boxer Yin Jinhua goes for gold in the women’s 57-60kg category against France’s Estelle Mossely, while two other Chinese boxers have semi-final bouts. China’s synchro team sits in second behind Russia going into the final free routine, while in athletics the men’s 4 x 100m relay team – but, controversially, not the women (see below) – line up in the final, having qualified well, but will have to be even better to get a medal.

In the race for second, China trails GB 22-20 in gold medals (and is also behind in silvers), but has a good chance to narrow the gap on Day 14. It looks like this race could go right down to the wire.

Day 13: Review

Some things at an Olympics – like Usain Bolt winning a sprint race or China winning a diving gold medal – never change.

Other things, however, sail into entirely unchartered territory.

China’s 4 x 100m relay female quartet ran admirably in the first of two heats to post a time of 42.70 seconds, the same mark as Canada, but fractionally slower by six thousandths of a second. Still, it was good enough for fifth and China faced a nervous wait to see if they would qualify for the final as one of the two fastest losers.

Heat two followed and, thanks to a dropped baton by the Americans, China’s time was good enough to progress. Cue emotional scenes on Chinese national broadcaster CCTV as the athletes found out live that they would become the first Chinese women’s relay team to make a major final.

The happy faces of (L to R) Ge Manqi, Liang Xiaojing, Wei Yongli and Yuan Qiqi after learning that they had got through to the final. A few hours later, those smiles had disappeared.
The happy faces of (L to R) Ge Manqi, Liang Xiaojing, Wei Yongli and Yuan Qiqi after learning that they had got through to the final. A few hours later, those smiles had disappeared.

The joy was plain for all to see and provided a brief respite for the viewers after they’d just witnessed yet more bad news in the badminton, as the Chinese men’s doubles team lost to Great Britain in the bronze medal match – an unthinkable result just a few years ago.

But the Americans, it turned out, had been impeded by Brazil during that fateful handover and lodged an appeal. The decision – unprecedented at a major track meet – was that the US relay team would get a solo re-run later in the day.

While it is right that the Americans shouldn’t have been penalized for a clear infringement on their athlete, the decision to let them run on their own was bizarre in the extreme.

In the words of one of the American sprinters, English Gardner, the re-run felt like a “glorified practice”, adding that the runners “were laughing and joking” and “staying light”. In other words, they were completely unburdened by the usual tensions of having to perform under pressure – pressure that has regularly caused the Americans to drop the baton, even when unimpeded.

Relay appeal
The official appeal that China lodged after the decision was made to allow the US a solo re-run.

China had earlier countered with a protest of their own, suggesting that nine relay teams progress to the final, something that does, on occasion, happen in athletics, such as when Chinese sprinter Su Bingtian lined up as a ninth starter in the 100m final at last year’s World Championships. But the track in Rio only has eight lanes, and the option to run the final in two heats wouldn’t have made for great television drama – so often the crucial factor when it comes to decision-making at the Olympics, because you have to think that, if the track had a ninth lane, they would have allowed both teams in.

After the Americans then posted the quickest time of the day in their re-run, thereby bumping China from the final, the Chinese relay team was rightly furious and though one member, Liang Xiaojing, went too far in suggesting online that the sport was not ‘clean’, this imperfect solution did not exactly uphold the Olympic spirit of fair play.

The Americans will now likely go into the record books as winners and, though China would never have challenged for a medal anyway, the relay team was denied a chance to create a piece of history themselves.

Elsewhere, Ren Qian and Si Yajie led China to an expected 1-2 in the women’s 10m platform diving and the women’s volleyball team, so impressive in beating Brazil in the quarter-finals, moved into the final after an epic semi-final win against the Netherlands. Moreover, the Americans lost in the other semi, so China will now face Serbia in Saturday’s gold medal match.

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