Third time's the charm for Travis Stevens.
After reaching the quarterfinals in Beijing, then the semifinals in London, the American judoka took his run all the way into the final round in Rio.
Although Stevens was unable to top Russia's Khasan Khalmurzaev in the final, he successfully captured a silver medal – the first medal for the U.S. in men's judo since 2004.
In the earlier stages of the tournament, it was Stevens' strong newaza (groundwork) carrying him to victory. After surviving an early scare from Sweden's Robin Pacek in the Round of 32, Stevens bounced back to pin his next two opponents for victories by ippon.
Stevens then forced his semifinal opponent, Avtandil Tchrikishvili of Georgia, to tap out with 53 seconds left in the match. At the time, Stevens was trailing based on penalties before getting Tchrikishvili to the ground and applying a chokehold that the Georgian could not escape.
Tchrikishvili, the 2014 world champion, was ranked No. 1 in the world entering the tournament.
The Gold Medal Match between Stevens and Khalmurzaev featured plenty of activity, with Stevens trying hard to apply a hold when the judokas entered into newaza. But ultimately it was a counter from Khalmurzaev that put Stevens on his back for an ippon and ended the match.
Stevens is the fourth American to win a silver medal in men's judo; no American male has won gold yet. The country's last medal in men's judo came in 2004 when Jimmy Pedro, now the head coach of the national team, earned bronze.
Khalmurzaev's win gives Russia its second gold medal in men's judo in four days, one shy of the country's mark from the 2012 Games.
"I know [Stevens] and he is strong," Khalmurzaev said, according to the Associated Press. "So I did all I can to win this gold medal."
The bronze medals were won by Sergiu Toma of the United Arab Emirates and Takanori Nagase of Japan. Toma's medal is just the second ever for the UAE in any sport. Nagase's medal is the seventh for Japan in judo this year, matching their total from 2012. The only weight class that Japan has failed to finish on the podium of so far is the women's 63kg division.
Canada's Antoine Valois-Fortier, the world No. 3, had a chance at a second straight bronze medal but lost to Nagase in the repechage match that preceded the Bronze Medal Round.
Men's 81kg results
Gold: Khasan Khalmurzaev (RUS)
Silver: Travis Stevens (USA)
Bronze: Sergiu Toma (UAE)
Bronze: Takanori Nagase (JPN)
In the women's 63kg competition, world No. 1 Tina Tina Trstenjak of Slovenia ran through the field, as expected, to win gold.
The win gives Slovenia its second straight Olympic title in the 63kg division, which was won by Urska Zolnir at the London Games.
Trstenjak was dominant from the quarterfinals onward. She pinned her last three opponents, including world No. 2 Clarisse Agbegnenou of France in the Gold Medal Match, for victories by ippon.
Women's 63kg results
Gold: Tina Trstenjak (SLO)
Silver: Clarisse Agbecnenou (FRA)
Bronze: Yarden Gerbi (ISR)
Bronze: Anicka van Emden (NED)