Tortu anchors Italy to historic Olympic 4x100m title in Tokyo

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Italy won their first ever global 4x100m title to cap off a sensational set of wins that saw them break their Olympic medal tally record, both in athletics, and across all sports in Tokyo on Friday (6).  

Buoyed by the success of Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Europe’s fastest ever 100m runner who won individual gold, the quartet in blue were brilliantly anchored home by Filippo Tortu to narrowly pip silver medallists Great Britain in setting a 37.50 national record. 

That result followed Antonella Palmisano's win in the women's 20km race walk and meant that across the day, Italy achieved a total of five athletics medals for the first time at the Olympics. Across all events, they now have 38, breaking the previous best of 36 from the 1932 and 1960 Olympic Games.  

Whilst there is no doubting Italy's resurgence in sprinting that has seen Tortu and Jacobs become the first men from their country to break the 10 second-barrier for 100m, the result was still a famous one given that Italy hadn't won a medal in the 4x100m since the 1948 Olympics Games. Their previous best was silver in 1936, corresponding with their best ever finish at the World Athletics Championships, with a quartet anchored by the late 1980 Olympic 200m champion Pietro Mennea bringing the baton home to silver in 1983. 

Mennea, who is still idolised as one of the nation’s greats, would have been immensely proud of such a faultless performance. First, former European U20 silver medallist Lorenzo Patta handed smoothly to Jacobs on the outside. At this point, European champion Zharnel Hughes had Great Britain right in contention for gold, with China a little way back in third.  

His compatriot Richard Kilty, twice a European indoor champion over 60m but also a great leg runner, ran a superbly controlled bend to leave the race delicately poised. With arms, legs and adrenaline pumping, Eseosa Desalu handed the baton to Tortu. He was marginally behind Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, who had memories of crossing the line for world gold on home soil for Britain in London in 2017.  

Yet the unrelenting Tortu was stronger over the final 10 metres. He dipped to come just 0.01 seconds ahead of Mitchell-Blake with Italy moving up to second on the European all-time list behind the team they beat on the day.  

Two medals again came the way of the continent in the women's 1500m as a gutsy British record-breaking performance from Laura Muir saw the European champion charge through for silver behind Kenyan Faith Kipyegon, who successfully defended her title in an Olympic record of 3:53.11.  

All eyes were on Sifan Hassan's bid for an unprecedented 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m treble but her hopes were dashed at the second stage as the European record-holder over all three distances could only come third. The use of the word "only" would normally seem harsh, but it aligns with the high standards of a Dutchwoman who had already stormed to 5000m gold and sensationally came back from a last lap fall to win her heat and then her semifinal.   

Having sat behind the likes of Kenya's Hellen Obiri in the 5000m before producing a trademark sprint finish, Hassan opted for different tactics this time. She led through 400m in 62.84, with Muir in third place in an even-looking contest. Flying through 1200m with a 3:09.39 split, Hassan would surely have hoped to have more than a shoulder-width's distance between her and Kipyegon, the fourth-fastest athlete in history.  

But the latter stayed remarkably cool down the back straight, making a decisive move into the lead. The speed differential with a fading Hassan was now palpable as she fell into the clutches of Laura Muir, who upped through the gears and ran through the line to break her own national record with 3:54.50. 

Hassan remained secure in bronze with 3:55.86 and can now boast of having 14 international medals across Olympic, world and European Athletics Championships, both indoors and outdoors. What is significantly less enviable is her recovery time ahead of Saturday's 10,000m final.  

Along with two silver medals for the Brits, there was also a bronze in the women’s 4x100m as treble European champion Dina Asher-Smith helped their quartet to bronze behind Jamaica and the United States. After pulling out of the 200m due to injury, Asher-Smith ran a great third-leg bend, before Daryll Neita held off Salome Kora to finish two-tenths ahead of the Swiss runner in 41.88. 

Meanwhile, Palmisano's win in Sapporo was the second in as many days for the Italians in a 20km race walk following her training partner Massimo Stano's success in the men's event. She was fourth at Rio 2016 and would have expected strong competition again, with Chinese trio of Jiayu Yang, Hong Liu and Shijie Qieyang the only athletes in the world to have walked faster than 1:25.00 this year. 

However, coming through the halfway point in 45:57, Palmisano looked to be in control as the big lead group downsized to eleven. But when Yang was given a penalty for visibly losing contact with the ground on three occasions and others began to tire, Pan-American Games winner Sandra Arenas was one of few left to give chase. Just six seconds separated the pair with 18 kilometres gone and two loops of the course to go.   

Palmisano, who won her second European Athletics Race Walking Team Championships this year, held her nerve and her technique late on, crossing the line beaming with delight in 1:29:12, ahead of Arenas and Liu. Spain's European champion Maria Perez was fourth in 1:30.05, seven seconds off a medal. 

Italy's success meant that Poland were overtaken as the top European nation in the Tokyo 2020 medal table for athletics but another athlete to improve on cruelly finishing fourth at the last Olympics was Polish javelin thrower Maria Andrejczyk. She took silver behind China's Liu Shiying, the world runner-up two years ago.  

Shiying's was unstoppable after an opening throw of 66.34m, with Andrejczyk - who has undergone shoulder surgery since finishing fourth in 2016 at the age of 20 - hurling the spear out to 64.61 in reply with her second go.  

That would prove to be enough to hold on despite world champion Kelsey-Lee Barber of Australia providing a tense finale by throwing five centimetres less than the Pole with her final effort. This time, Türkiye’s Eda Tugsuz was the one to miss out on the podium, but the 24-year-old left it all on the runway, improving to a 64.00m season's best with her last throw.   

In the women's 400m, Britain's Jodie Williams equalled the 49.97 personal best set in the semi-final to finish sixth as Shaunaue Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas claimed back-to-back Olympic titles in a rapid 48.36.

Spanish record-holder Mohamed Katir was eighth in the men's 5000m final won by world record-holder Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda. He finished in 13:08.60, eight-and-a-half seconds behind the gold medallist and world record-holder.

Full results are available here. 

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