Tokyo Olympics Day 7: State runners clear first track hurdles

Three athletes with ties to Triangle schools qualified for the semifinals of the 400 meter hurdles on the first day of the Olympic track competition

Former UNC star Kenny Selmon competes in a heat of the men's 400-meter hurdles at the Summer Olympics (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Three athletes with ties to North Carolina schools have cleared their first hurdles on the way to Olympic medal contention at the Tokyo Olympics.

Running on the opening day of track competition, former UNC star Kenny Selmon, Tar Heels assistant coach David Kendziera and Shawn Rowe of St. Augustine’s all ran fast enough in their qualifying heats to earn spots in the semifinals of the men’s 400 meter hurdles Friday.

Selmon, a four-time All-American during his career in Chapel Hill, coasted to a second place finish in his heat. His time of 48.61 was fifth-fastest among the 18 athletes that moved on to the next round.

Rowe, a four-time NCAA Division II national champion who represents his home country of Jamaica, clocked a time of 49.18 while placing third in his heat while Kendziera finished just behind him in fourth at 48.23.

The semifinals are scheduled for Sunday with the medal round taking place on Tuesday.

Medal count

________________________________Gold    Silver    Bronze    Total

USA                                                14           16           11            41

China                                             19           10           11             40

ROC                                               10           14           10             34

Japan                                             17            4              7             25

Great Britain                                  6            9              9             24

Carolina Connections

Claire Curzan missed out on the medals in her individual event, the 100-meter butterfly, earlier in the week. But given another opportunity, in the 4 x 100 medley relay on Friday, the Cary teenager put herself in a position to bring home some hardware from Tokyo.

Claire Curzan, a rising senior at Raleigh’s Cardinal Gibbons High School, swims the butterfly leg of the women’s 4 x 100-meter medley relay on Friday (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Swimming the butterfly leg of the semifinal race in 57.65, Curzan gave the U.S. the lead before handing things over to another state resident, Charlotte freestyler Erika Brown, for the anchor leg. Although Brown was caught at the wall by Canada’s Kayla Sanchez, her split of 52.83 was good enough to qualify the Americans for the event final.

Although it’s likely that both Curzan and Brown will be replaced in the lineup for the championship round, their participation in the preliminary race puts them in line to get medals should the U.S. win one. Brown has already earned a bronze as a member of the 4 x 100 freestyle relay team.

Sweden will also be in the final of the medley relay, thanks to the efforts of NC State’s Sophie Hansson. The reigning NCAA champion in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, Hansson swam her specialty in the second leg of the race to help her country to third place in its heat with the fifth-best time overall.

Incoming Wolfpack freshman Noe Ponti also put himself in position to battle for a medal by posting the third-fastest time in the semifinals of the men’s 100-meter butterfly. Ponti finished second in his heat, behind only U.S. star Caleb Dressel, with a time of 50.76. His State teammate Nyls Korstanje, swimming for Netherlands, contended for most of the race but faded late to finish sixth in his heat and out of the top eight that moved on to the final.

Four other Wolfpack swimmers competed Friday — Denmark’s Anton Ipsen and Alexander Norgaard in the men’s 100 meter butterfly semifinals, and Poland’s Kacper Stokowski, Greece’s Andreas Vazaios and Lithuania’s Simonas Bilis in the men’s 4 x 100 medley relay.

It was a big night on the soccer field for members of the North Carolina Courage.

United States’ Lynn Williams (21) celebrates with USA teammates after scoring a goal against Netherlands during Friday’s Olympic soccer game in Yokohama (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Lynn Williams, making her first start of the tournament after playing just 16 minutes during pool play, made her presence known by assisting on a goal by Courage teammate Sam Mewis, then scoring one of her own to help the U.S. National Team beat Netherlands and advance to the semifinals. The actual game ended in a 2-2 draw, but the Americans survived on penalty kicks, outscoring the Dutch 4-2.

Brazil wasn’t as fortunate, losing its quarterfinal game against Canada in a shootout after a scoreless draw during the normal flow of play. Courage star Debhina did, however, convert her penalty kick for the Brazilians.

UNC’s Naya Tapper scored a try in the final seconds of Team USA’s game against Great Britain in the Rugby Sevens quarterfinals. But that wasn’t enough to prevent the Americans from being eliminated with a 21-12 loss.

Michael Smolen of Charlotte finished fifth in the men’s kayak slalom; Huntersville’s Alfredo Campo, competing for Ecuador, placed fifth in the men’s BMX cycling event and UNC diver Aranza Vasquez of Mexico qualified for the semifinals on the 3-meter springboard.

Finally, Joe Ryan of the Durham Bulls pitched six strong innings, allowing only one run on five hits with five strikeouts to lead the U.S. to an 8-1 victory against Israel in its opening baseball game. UNC alumnus Ryder Ryan also pitched a scoreless inning of relief in the game.

Team USA Highlights

Lilly King set a blistering pace early in the race and held on for a silver in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke. Her friend and training partner Annie Lazor grabbed bronze behind gold medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa, who set the first individual swimming world record at the Tokyo Olympics.

Ryan Murphy, a double-gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Games, won silver in the 200 backstroke, but couldn’t extend America’s dominance of the backstroke events that went back to 1992. Evgeny Rylov of the Russian Olympic Committee ended the U.S. winning streak by winning his second gold in Tokyo.

Reigning men’s gold medalist Connor Fields didn’t make it to the finals of this year’s BMX cycling race after a violent crash in the third semifinal heat. He was taken off on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance after crashing on the first turn.

Next up

Clayton’s Keni Harrison and NC State’s Gabbi Cunningham will be featured in the opening round heats of the women’s 100-meter hurdles and Anna Cockrell of Charlotte’s Providence Day School will run for the U.S. in the preliminaries of the women’s 400-meters as the track competition shifts into high gear Saturday. Ponti, meanwhile, will back in the pool swiming for a medal in the 200 butterfly.

The Associated Press contributed to this story