Durant and US men extend dominance in Olympic basketball

Japan 2020

United States’ Kevin Durant (7), right, celebrates with head coach Gregg Popovich after their win in the men’s basketball gold medal game against France at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

TOKYO (AP) — The American reign over Olympic men’s basketball lives on, even though the Tokyo Games took some work to win.

Kevin Durant scored 29 points and joined Carmelo Anthony as the only three-time men’s gold medalists in Olympic history as the U.S. held off France 87-82 on Saturday to win the gold medal for the 16th time in 19 tries.

The Americans had started their tournament with a loss to France, then ran off five consecutive victories.

“Everybody was questioning us,” U.S. forward Draymond Green. “This is special.”

It certainly was for Durant, who carried the team through so many victories for his record-tying third Olympic gold medal, and coach Gregg Popovich, who adds the gold to five NBA titles he’s won with the San Antonio Spurs.

“This one feels good because we went through a lot. We had a lot of first-time guys on the team, new experience for everyone on the team, COVID, the kind of bubble we were in, no fans, no one expecting us to lose,” Durant said.

“We heard it all over the past few weeks about our team. To fight through this adversity against a great team like these guys … to come together so fast — it was beautiful to see, it was beautiful to be a part of,” he said.

Popovich called coaching in the Olympics “the most responsibility I’ve ever felt.”

“You’re playing for so many people that are watching, and for a country, and other countries involved. The responsibility was awesome,” Popovich said.

The gold medal wasn’t secure until Durant made two free throws with 8.8 seconds left.

“I think when we look back at the competition we’ll be proud of ourselves,” said France’s Even Fournier. “We weren’t far off … We’re getting better.”

DIVING HISTORY

China finished off the single greatest diving performance in Olympic history when Cao Yuan outdueled teammate Yang Jian to win the men’s 10-meter platform title, giving the Chinese gold medals in seven of eight events at the Tokyo Games.

China’s 12 diving medals tied the record for most won in the sport at a single Olympics. The U.S. also won 12 at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, when the Americans swept all four events and nine of the 28 divers were from the host country.

The only event the Chinese didn’t win in Tokyo was men’s platform synchro, where they finished second.

IN THE WATER

Ashleigh Johnson made 11 saves, Maddie Mussleman scored three times and the United States women routed Spain 14-5 in the water polo final. The U.S. won its third consecutive gold medal.

The U.S. joins the men’s teams from Britain (1908-1920) and Hungary (2000-2008) as the only countries to win at least three straight water polo titles at the Olympics.

ON THE WATER

In sprint canoe, Ronald Rauhe became the first man to win a medal in canoe sprint in five Olympics when Germany won the men’s kayak four 500 meters in the final race at the Sea Forest Waterway.

Lisa Carrington of New Zealand had already won three gold medals but missed out on a fourth when the Kiwis finished fourth in the women’s kayak four 500. Hungary won the race.

Serghei Tarnovschi of Moldova returned to the Olympics to win a bronze medal in the men’s canoe 1,000 after being stripped of his 2016 bronze medal for a positive doping test.

GOING THE DISTANCE

Peres Jepchirchir led a 1-2 Kenyan finish in the women’s marathon. She withstood the heat and humidity while running through the streets of Sapporo more than 500 miles north of Tokyo, winning in 2 hours, 27 minutes, 20 seconds.

Her teammate Brigid Kosgei was second and American Molly Seidel, a relative newcomer to the marathon stage, took home the bronze. There were 88 runners entered in the field, with more than a dozen recording a “did not finish” in the heat. The race start had been moved ahead an hour to help runners avoid some of the heat.

“It was so hot, it was not easy,” Jepchirchir said. “I’m just thankful I managed (to cope) with that weather.”

WOMEN’S GOLF

Nelly Korda gave the U.S. a sweep of gold medals in golf, holding on for a one-shot victory. Korda led by as many as three shots on the back nine. In the end, she needed two putts from just inside 30 feet on the 18th hole for par and a 2-under 69.

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