TOKYO — The United States Women’s Rugby Sevens team’s gold medal dream is alive and well.
The Eagles shocked defending gold medalist Australia 14-12 on Friday morning to finish 3-0 in Group C.
Abby Gustaitis’s try and Nicole Heavirland’s conversion with less than three minutes left gave the Eagles the advantage in a game that saw the USA fall behind 12-0 at one point.
The Eagles’ physical play to close the game kept Australia pinned in its own end.
“The fact that it was a battle shows a lot. It’s really a testament to all my teammates and all of us out there. We went down two tries and we didn’t give up, we kept fighting and we got the results,” co-captain Kristen Thomas said. “We trained remotely for a while. Then once we came back to training, we trained in small groups. We still wear our masks in the gym at all times. We just had a lot of different restrictions. A lot of our tournaments in the buildup to this were canceled. This is the first tournament that we’ve had with 12 teams. We’ve played in a few invitationals with three to four teams. But it’s really exciting to finally be back playing rugby on the world stage.”
All three of the United States wins — which included a 17-7 win over host Japan on Thursday evening — were slow starts for the winners.
Cheta Emba also scored a try for the USA against Australia.
“It took everything we had,” Emba said. “We’re just thankful we got it done together. There’s no limit when we do it together — one to 13 and everyone back home as well. That’s what it took today. And I think we tapped into it and took it step-by-step. Good or bad. Got the job done.”
The United States is set to play Pool A runner-up at 5:30 a.m. in the quarterfinal round.
The opponent will be either New Zealand, Great Britain or the Russian Olympic Committee.
New Zealand’s final pool match with the Russian Olympic Committee team was postponed due to lightning on Friday morning, holding up the USA’s reveal of its next opponent.
2003 East Palestine High School graduate Liz Strohecker is the Eagles’ operation manager.
South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker set the first individual swimming world record at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.
On another busy day at the pool, Evgeny Rylov completed a backstroke double and Emma McKeon gave the mighty Aussie women another gold.
Schoenmaker, a 24-year-old South African, won the women’s 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2 minutes, 18.95 seconds, breaking the mark of 2:19.11 set by Denmark’s Rikke Moller Pedersen at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona.
It was the third world record at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, with the first two coming in women’s relays.
Russia’s Rylov thoroughly snuffed out America’s dominance in the backstroke, adding the 200 title to his victory in the 100 back.
Rylov won with an Olympic-record time of 1:53.29, while American Ryan Murphy wound up with the silver (1:54.15).
Murphy was a double-gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he extended an American winning streak that began at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
The U.S. won 12 straight men’s backstroke events over six Olympics, but that streak ended with Rylov’s victory in the 100. He made it 2-for-2 in the longer race, while Murphy settled for bronze and silver in the two events.
Britain’s Luke Greenbank grabbed the 200 bronze in 1:54.72.
McKeon touched first in the 100 freestyle with an Olympic-record time of 51.96, becoming only the second woman to break 52 seconds in the sprint.
Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey earned the silver in 52.27, while another Aussie, Cate Campbell, took the bronze in 52.52. American Abbey Weitzeil was last in the eight-woman field.
The Australians now have won four individual women’s events at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, in addition to setting a world record in a 4×100 free relay that included both McKeon and Campbell.
The Americans claimed the other two medals behind Schoenmaker.
Lilly King set a blistering pace early in the race and held on for a silver in 2:19.92, adding to her bronze in the 100 breast. Annie Lazor nabbed the bronze in 2:20.84.
Caeleb Dressel set another Olympic record in the semifinals of the 100 butterfly.
Minutes after Hungary’s Kristof Milak took down the mark in the first semifinal heat, Dressel went even faster with a time of 49.71 seconds in the second heat.
It was the third-fastest time in history and left Milak as the second-fastest qualifier at 50.31.
In the preliminaries, Dressel tied the former Olympic record of 50.39 set by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling to win gold at the 2016 Rio Games.
Dressel will be a big favorite in Saturday morning’s final, though he could get pushed by Milak. The Hungarian already won the 200 fly with a dominating victory.
Dressel picked up the first individual gold medal of his career with a win in the 100 freestyle.