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It was a day of mixed emotions for France at the Olympics in Rio on Wednesday as the country won gold in the team show jumping, but said goodbye to one of its top sporting stars as Tony Parker played his last basketball game for Les Bleus.
The day also saw a Neymar-inspired Brazil storm their way into the final of the men’s football and Usain Bolt make light work of his 200m semi-final.
After something of a gold drought in recent days, France finally claimed top spot on the podium in a event it has not won for 40 years, after a dramatic final in the team show jumping featuring eliminations, last-minute horse swaps and rails toppling down.
The United States took silver after Olympic veteran Beezie Madden withdrew due to an injured horse, meaning they started with only three riders and were not able to drop their worst score when Lucy Davis knocked a rail down for four penalties.
Germany claimed bronze after an adrenaline-filled jump off to break a tie with Canada. Daniel Deusser, the third of four Germans to jump, sealed the deal with a swift and clean round, sparing the final team member from jumping.
France ended the two rounds of competition with three penalties for exceeding time allowed, but being the only team to leave all the rails up was enough to win.
The competition was not all smooth sailing for France, which had a last-minute substitution, pulling in reserve Philippe Rozier after Simon Delestre, the sport’s No. 2 ranked rider, withdrew his horse due to an injury four days before competition began.
“To be sure we had really bad luck in the beginning of the week with Simon’s horse… that helped us fight more,” said French rider Kevin Staut.
Parker bids farewell as France lose to Spain
There was less to cheer about for Les Bleus on the basketball court, however, as France bowed out of the men’s tournament with a whimper, falling 92-67 to Spain.
It was a disappointing end to Parker’s international career. The 34-year-old is considered the greatest French player ever and widely regarded as one of the top point guards of all-time, but had vowed this year’s Olympics would be the last time he would turn out for his country.
“For Tony Parker he is the best French player forever,” declared France coach Vincent Collet. “He was the leader we needed for a long time and I told him that I regret a lot that he has a last game like that.
“Despite this game Tony remains fantastic for the French national team and for all his achievements we must tell him thank you.”
In understated French style, Parker walked into the press room and with no fanfare, fireworks or hyperbole confirmed the Olympic quarter-final was his last in a French jersey.
“It was my last game, I’m not going to change my mind on that,” Parker assured reporters. “I’ve been playing with the national team for 16 years, every summer and it takes a toll the wear and tear.
“I told the Spurs that it was going to be my last summer because I want to finish my Spurs career on a good note, I want to play another five years.”
Parker signs off from national duty having failed to win an Olympics or world championship but there was progress. France won a bronze in the 2013 FIBA World Cup, a gold in 2013 from the Euro basketball championships and a bronze in 2005 that was the country’s first medal in 50 years in that competition.
Brazil thrash Honduras to reach football final
Another sporting superstar, in the shape of Brazilian footballer Neymar, was also on show at the Rio Games on Wednesday.
The Barcelona player scored after just 15 seconds in his country’s semi-final tie with Honduras, which saw the hosts romp to a 6-0 victory to book their place in the final.
It was the fastest goal in men’s Olympic history, and Brazil led 3-0 going into halftime to cruise into the final.
“We don’t want to disappoint the fans,” Brazil midfielder Renato Augusto said. “They want us to play well and they want us to win the gold.”
Neymar added a goal on a penalty kick in stoppage time, and Gabriel Jesus also scored twice for Brazil, which got off to a slow start in the tournament. But the team picked up the pace and will face Germany, who beat Nigeria 2-0 in the other semifinal match.
Elsewhere, it was a good day for Jamaica on the track as Bolt breezed into the 200m final and his compatriot Elaine Thompson sealed an Olympic sprint double after scorching to victory in the women’s 200m.
Bolt got out quickly in his 200m semifinal heat and started to coast down the final 40 metres. Canadian Andre de Grasse nipped at his heels, and the two laughed as Bolt crossed the finish line just ahead of him. Bolt finished in 19.78 seconds and de Grasse in 19.80 to advance to the final.
Thompson, meanwhile timed a season’s best of 21.78 seconds to trump Dutch favourite Dafne Schippers to take gold in the 200m, her second of the Games after she won the 100m crown on Saturday.
“I knew she had a strong finish, so I knew I had to get out there as soon as possible,” Thompson said of her Dutch rival.
“I have the gold so I can’t complain.”