China's Gong Lijiao won the Olympic women's shot put title  ©Getty Images

China’s Gong Lijiao completed her Olympic medal set in the women’s shot by winning gold here this morning with a 2021 world-leading effort and personal best of 20.58 metres.

Raven Saunders of the United States earned silver on 19.79m and 36-year-old Valerie Adams of New Zealand, the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 champion and Rio 2016 silver medallist, added bronze to her collection with 19.62m.

Saunders’ final effort landed beyond the 20 metres mark, but a red flag ended any rising hopes of a dramatic finale.

While many were glad to see Adams, who has returned to the sport after injuries and maternity leave, return to the podium in her fifth Olympics, the performance by Gong left no doubt as to who the world's top woman shot putter is now.

After leaving the rest of the field behind with her penultimate effort of 20.53m, bettering her own 2021 world-lead of 20.39m, she had the luxury of taking her final throw as Olympic champion - and added another five centimetres to that mark.

No wonder the smile was broad as the 32-year-old from Luquan, an Olympic bronze medallist in 2008 and silver in 2012, turned away and adorned herself with the national flag.

"I’m really, really excited to win this gold medal, I’m not only winning this gold medal, I’m also getting my personal best," said Gong.

"I think all my efforts were really worth it.”

"This is my 21st year that I have been training in shot put.

"I really think I can break 21 metres.

"I didn’t do it today, but it’s still very exciting and I’m very happy to win this campaign.

"I’m really proud to win this competition for my country and not only for myself but also for all the people in China who supported me.

"We are celebrating the 100th year birthday [of the Chinese Communist Party] so I’m happy to come back with this gift.”

All five of Gong’s scoring efforts were superior to anything else recorded on the day.

She established herself in the lead with a first-round effort of 19.95m and added further efforts of 19.98m, 19.80m, 20.53m and finally 20.58m.

Adams reached her own high point in the third round, and while Portugal’s Auriol Dongmo closed the gap with a fourth-round throw of 19.57m it was not enough to prevent the Kiwi, who won silver at the Rio 2016 Games, returning to the Olympic podium.

"I am very excited, happy, and proud to win this medal for New Zealand," said Adams, whose celebrations included the brandishing of a photo of her three-year-old daughter Kimoana and two-year-old son Kepaleli,to whom she dedicated her medal.

"In my fifth Olympic Games it is my fourth Olympic medal, so it is a very special day for me."

On the subject of her children, she added: "They were an inspiration.

"During the competition I kept looking at the empty stands, and kept imagining them there.

"All I wanted to do is make them proud today.

"They were probably ‘what does this mean?’, but I hope one day they can look back, and know that they were part of this story.

"This means everything.

"It feels like winning a gold medal, which I won twice.

"This is so special in a different way, because I am here as a mum and then an athlete.

"Having to juggle during the last five years hasn’t been easy.

"But it showed that with a good support team around me, I can make it happen.

"It is very difficult being away from your children - I am going to be for four months in total [she will coach her younger sister Lisa at the Paralympic Games].

"I hope I made them proud."

Raven Saunders of the United States revelled in her silver medal-winning performance in the Olympic women's shot put final ©Getty Images
Raven Saunders of the United States revelled in her silver medal-winning performance in the Olympic women's shot put final ©Getty Images

Saunders brought her own vivid vibe to the proceedings as she won silver, her cropped hair coloured purple on one side and green on the other, and wearing a COVID-19 mask with an image of sharp fangs on it.

"For me, for everything I've been through mental health-wise, injuries, you know, everything like that," she reflected.

"Financial, being able to really invest everything I've had mentally and physically and to be able to walk away with a medal.

"And be able to go out here and really inspire so many people of the LBGTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and and queer) community, so many people who've been dealing with mental health issues so many people with the African American community, and so many people who are black, all around the world, I really just hope that I can continue to inspire and motivate.”

Recalling her first Olympic final at Rio 2016, where her US colleague Michelle Carter won gold, she said: "I remember my first Olympics being able to watch Michelle Carter come out here and, you know, get it done.

"So, for me, I remember watching her in that moment and being like, that's going to be me.

"I'm going to make sure that person is me.

"And I made sure that from 2016, and constantly fighting and constantly pushing for everything, I made sure that I walked away with a medal."

Elsewhere in the morning session Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk, seeing an unprecedented hat-trick of Olympic titles in the women’s hammer throw, topped qualifying for Tuesday’s final with 76.99m.

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk, who set the men’s 400 metres world record of 43.03sec in winning from lane eight in the Rio 2016  final, returned to defend his title after the potentially career-ending knee injury he sustained at the end of 2017 while playing in a charity rugby match.

He made it through to tomorrow’s semi-finals as he took the third and final automatic qualifying place in his heat in 45.25.