Chinese athlete wins first Olympic title as she throws PB of 20.58m to beat American Raven Saunders and New Zealand legend Valerie Adams
Gong Lijiao was already leading the competition with a best of 19.98m as she stepped out for the penultimate round. She then pretty much sealed victory by breaking the 20-metre barrier.
The 32-year-old Chinese athlete threw a world-leading mark and PB of 20.53m before then striding out to take her sixth and final throw. This time she went even further with 20.58m.
It gave her the five best throws of the competition as she finally got the better of Adams in an Olympic final at the fourth attempt.
The battle for minor medals was intense and silver went to Raven Saunders, an American athlete who has become one of the most memorable images of these Games due to competing with a colourful face mask and sunglasses.
Saunders threw a best of 19.79m in the fifth round after a consistent series of marks. Her style was in sharp contrast to Gong’s as well.
The former is a spinner and her technique proved effective as she made the podium, whereas Gong is a glider and her powerful action earned her a first Olympic crown.
Saunders has struggled with mental health problems, too. “Everything I’ve been through in these past five years has been crazy, crazy,” she said after winning her medal. “I remember sometimes sitting in my car, crying. It has been a mental journey.
“I always need to keep fighting, I keep pushing. It may only last a day, it may last a week, a month, a year but you have to believe you’re going make it through if you keep fighting.”
She added: “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.”
In third, Valerie Adams of New Zealand threw 19.62m in her fifth Olympics. As a two-time champion in 2008 and 2012 – and silver medallist in 2016 – she now has a complete set of medals and looked delighted with her achievement.
It was Adams’ ninth global outdoor medal.
It was close, though. With a best of 19.57m, Auriol Dongmo, the European indoor champion, was only 5cm away from the medals.
The Portuguese athlete had four throws between 19.29m and 19.57m. American Jessica Ramsey, who ranked second in the world in 2021, and was the only other 20-metre thrower this year, had three no-throws.
With trackside temperatures creeping up to 40C during the contest, it was a red-hot competition to match the weather.