Japan brought the Rugby Sevens competitions to a close at the 2019 FISU Summer Universiade in Naples by taking the gold medals in both the men’s and women’s events
Three days of competition culminated in two hugely entertaining finals at Villaggio del Rugby which saw Japan’s beat South Africa 15-12 whilst the women’s team beat France 33-7.
In what was a fascinating few days of action, Japan, France, South Africa and Russia showed their dominance in the event, making it into the last four of the men’s and women’s competitions. In an incredible series of events, both of the men’s pool groups ended in a three-way tie for first place, with South Africa and Japan going through as group winners due to their superior points difference after two victories and one loss. Bizarrely, the women’s pool groups also ended identical with South Africa and Japan coming top of pools A and B respectively with three wins from three.
In the men’s final, a gripping encounter from start to finish saw the pace and trickery of Japan just edge out their opponents. Having already trailed 5-0 at the halfway mark, South Africa left it too late for any possible comeback, with Japan’s three tries helping them over the finish line to take gold thanks to a 15-12 scoreline
Earlier in the evening, France edged out Russia 12-10 to clinch the bronze medal. The French will count themselves unlucky not to have finished higher in the standings having lost just 5-0 to South Africa in the semi-finals, but they will undoubtedly be satisfied with third place after having to come from behind in an exciting bronze meeting against a strong Russian team
The women’s final a different story with Japan simply proving too strong for their opponents. Already 21-7 up at half-time, Japan were in no mood to let up and ran over five tries to overcome a fatigued French side.The champions ended the tournament undefeated, winning all three group games – including a 24-17 victory over France earlier in the competition – along with a 31-12 win over Russia in the semi-finals.
Russia did have the consolation of success in the women’s bronze match, as having lost to opponents South Africa in their group match earlier this week, they gained some revenge by beating them 12-10 to finish third in the competition.
A Universiade record for USA’s Katharine Berkoff’s in the women’s 100 metres backstroke was the highlight of a highly-successful Sunday night for her nation’s team which racked up an impressive seven medals in as many finals at the Scandone Pool.
The three gold, two silver and two bronze medals upped the USA’s haul to a Games-leading 19 podium finishes after four days of swimming competition at Napoli 2019, including 10 triumphs.
Berkoff, who turned 18 in January, had already sent a strong message to her competitors on Saturday when she first broke the FISU Games mark with a time of 59.57 seconds in the preliminaries. In the final, she trailed USA teammate Elise Haan by .08 at the turn but was lightning fast coming home and touched the wall in 59.29.Haan claimed silver in 59.62, while Italy’s Silvia Scalia delighted the raucous local crowd with a bronze-medal performance (1:00.43).
Other Universiade champions crowned Sunday evening included Justin Ress of the USA and Zane Waddell of South Africa, who shared gold in the men’s 50 backstroke after they both clocked 24.48.
In the women’s 1500 free final, Waka Kobori of Japan took the women’s 1500 freestyle. The three-time medallist at the 2018 Asian Games finished in a time of 16:16.33 which proved to be a comfortable cushion over Australia’s Moesha Johnson (16:20.00) and the United States’ Molly Ann Kowal (16:20.94) in silver and bronze positions respectively.
In the women’s 200 individual medley, Alicia Wilson of Great Britain trailed silver medallist Ella Eastin (2:12.44) by .44 seconds at the halfway mark but was .13 ahead of her USA rival after 150 metres thanks to a great breaststroke. Runa Imai of Japan was third in 2:12.25.
In the men’s 200 breaststroke, Kirill Prigoda of Russia added a victory in the men’s 200 breaststroke (2:08.88); to his second-place finish earlier in the meet in the 100 breast. He shared the podium with teammate Ilia Khomenko (2:09.42) and the USA’s Daniel Roy (2:09.63).
Prigoda’s teammate Aleksandr Kudashev (1:55.63); made it a Russian double when he edged Japanese rivals Nao Horomura (1:55.94) and Takumi Terada (1:55.99) in a hotly-contested men’s 200 butterfly final.
The American quartet of Kaersten Meitz, Paige Madden, Claire Rasmus and Gabby DeLoof. then dominated the last event of the night, the women’s 4 x 200 free relay, from start to finish, clocking 7:53.90, a time that was only .02 seconds off the Universiade record. Italy (7:59.68) and Russia (8:03.85) rounded out the podium.
The final day of artistic gymnastics saw Carlotta Ferlito win a popular gold for hosts Italy as gymnasts from Russia, Korea, Armenia and Azerbaijan also found themselves on the podium.
In the morning session, five sets of medals were decided; in the men’s floor exercise, pommel horse and rings while the women competed in the vault and uneven bars. Japan continued their winning run in the uneven bars that, as 18 year-old Hitomi Hatekeda produced a fine performance. As the strongest qualifier for this apparatus, gold medallist from the all-around and also the team event, she came up with near-perfect execution reflected in the 14.000 score that was awarded which gave her the gold medal. Tatiana Nabieva of Russia won silver while Hatekeda’s teammate Asuka Teramoto put in a clinical performance to pick up bronze with 13.800.
Among the big winners in the men’s finals of the morning session were Russian Kirill Prokopev on the floor exercise, Taipei’s Chih-Kai Lee on the pommel horse and Armenian Artur Avetisyan on the rings whose masterful performance earned him a 14.900. Kazuma Kaya also won a silver and a bronze for Japan – on the floor and pommel horse respectively.
The final artistic gymnastics session that took place in the evening, was kicked off by the men’s vault. A powerful vault from Luis Porto of Brazil took him straight into medal contention with a 14.300. Top qualifier and team gold medallist Wataru Tanigawa went for 6.0 difficulty but although he managed to get a lot of momentum off the vault, he lacked a perfect finish and received a score of 14.275 for his two vaults. Little did he know then, it would take him out of medal contention as 23-year-old Hansol Kim of Korea executed two perfectly tidy vaults with impressive height and distance that took him into the lead with 14.650. Only Robert Ghiuzan of Romania who was still to come could have shaken him off that top spot but he could not do enough for medal contention and that effectively handed the gold to Korea.
Hatekeda won her second gold of the day on the balance beam, while Lara Mori delighted the home crowd with silver. Uliana Peribinosova wrapped up the podium.
It was the women’s floor exercise though, that brought the local Neapolitan crowd to its feet especially thanks to a gold medal performance from Carlotta Ferlito.
Aiko Sugihara started things off with dramatic music and a routine that was powerful and beautiful. Two routines later, Farah Abdul Hadi of Malaysia scored 12.550 ahead of Ferlito delivering probably her best performance of the week. With the crowd clapping along with every beat of her music, she did not put a foot wrong and nailed her routine. Lifted by the vociferous support she received 13.200 and went straight into the lead, and was understandably overwhelmed by the support that she struggled to keep her emotions in check at the end.
The only other women who could then challenge her for gold were Russian Uliana Perebinosova and Japan’s Hatakeda, with four gold medals already under her belt. While Perebinosova did enough for 12.700 and a bronze medal, a fifth gold was not meant to be for Hatakeda. Scoring 12.550 the Japanese star was left out of the medals on the floor but took solace in the fact that she is in the company of the likes of gymnastics legends Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci in winning four gold medals at the Universiade.