Saturday, 24 July 2021 15:36

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

There were early gold medals for China, Iran and South Korea on a sweltering opening day of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Athletes complained about exhausting conditions given the combination of high temperatures and humidity, with several tennis players asking for matches to be moved to start later in the day.

Cyclists in the men's road race in particular felt the strain, but Ecuador's Richard Carapaz managed to defy the conditions, convincingly winning his nation's second ever gold medal.

China's traditional early dominance of the medal table endured, with Yang Qian winning the first available gold in women's 10m air rifle final.

Shortly afterwards, Hou Zhihui celebrated victory in the women's -49kg weightlifting, with a combined score of 210, breaking the Olympic record.

Elsewhere,South Africa's women's hockey team lost 2-0 to Ireland in their opening Pool A game at the Tokyo Olympics.

It was a case of 8th in the world beating 16th but South Africa were anything but outclassed. A goal in each half was enough to settle the issue in the way of the match favourites.

In a brave display in which they were forced on the back foot for most of the match, South Africa eventually went down 3-1 after holding their more fancied opponents to a 1-1 scoreline at half-time.

The South African men's hockey team also started their campaign with a loss to Great Britain.

Sam Ward opened the scoring for Great Britain before Matthew Guise-Brown drew South Africa level.

As the game went on, however, Great Britain wore down the South African defence and despite the heroics of Rassie Pieterse in goal, they scored further goals through Liam Ansell and Jack Waller. 

South Africa are now up against the Netherlands who lost 3-1 to Belgium.

That Group B match takes place on Sunday, 26 June 14:15.

A nurse from Iran became the Olympic champion in the men's 10m air pistol competition. Javad Foroughi only took up the sport in 2017, after he was shown how to use an air pistol in a basement under the hospital where he works.

South Korean pair An San and Kim Je-deok took gold in the mixed team archery.

World number one Novak Djokovic made a good start as he continues his bod for the 'Golden Slam', opening with a routine 6-2 6-2 win over Bolivia's Hugo Dellien in the men's singles.

But the Serb became the second player to question the scheduling of matches, after Russian Daniil Medvedev suggested a later start time would make conditions more bearable.

"Humidity is brutal... I agree with him 100%," said Djokovic. "To be honest, I don't understand why they don't start matches at, say, 3pm.

"Maybe the ITF [International Tennis Federation] can give you a better answer to why they chose to be played in the middle of the day. I doubt they will change the decision, but we're hoping that they will."

The ITF has said the schedule has taken into account factors such as local authority restrictions around Covid-19 and the unpredictability of the weather.

It said player health was paramount, adding that there was an extreme weather policy in place, which allowed for drinks breaks and even suspension of play should certain conditions be reached.

One of the biggest shocks of day one came from Japan's seven-time Olympic medallist, gymnast Kohei Uchimura.

The two-time all-around champion, who is 32, had elected to only compete in his preferred apparatus, the high bar. But after a fall in qualifying, he will not feature in the final.

"I hit my peak already," said the veteran gymnast after he watched his team-mates produce a series of high-quality routines.

"It has been so tough to get selected as a national team member. That itself was already really tough."

There was another shock exit for the host nation at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, as three-time world champion Daiya Seto, regarded as Japan's best hope for gold in the pool, failed to qualify for the men's 400m individual medley final.

Dutch rower Finn Florijn, who was due to take part in the men's single sculls repechage, tested positive for Covid-19 after competing in the heats.

The 21-year-old has gone into quarantine and will not compete again at the Games.

He is the first athlete to test positive after competing in Tokyo, a development that could throw into question the rigidity of the preventative systems in place.

In the first medal ceremony of Tokyo 2020, Yang Qian was handed her medal on a tray by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach in accordance with the Covid-19 protocols that will affect every aspect of these Games.

Winners are asked to place medals over their own heads and masks were worn on the podium at all times.