Current time in Tokyo: July 30, 12:15 a.m.
TOKYO — Sam Kendricks, the reigning world champion in the men’s pole vault, was ruled out of the Tokyo Games after he tested positive for the coronavirus, U.S. Olympic officials announced on Thursday.
His positive result had immediate repercussions inside the athletes’ village. All 41 athletes and 13 officials from Australia’s track and field team returned to their rooms and briefly isolated as a precautionary measure after three of the team’s athletes reported that they had interacted with Kendricks. After all three returned negative tests, the rest of the team was allowed to return to its normal activities.
The news of Kendricks’s positive test, and the potential consequences for Australia, was a chaotic development the day before the start of the full slate of track and field competition. Kendricks, 28, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics, had been expected to contend for a medal again in Tokyo, but his sudden exit was another indication of the precarious nature of these Olympics.
Olympic organizers on Thursday reported 24 new coronavirus infections among Olympic personnel, including three athletes. Kendricks is the sixth American athlete to test positive.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a statement that Kendricks had been transferred to a hotel to be placed in isolation, and that his close contacts had been informed.
“Sam is an incredible and accomplished member of Team U.S.A. and his presence will be missed,” the statement said. “Out of respect for his privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time.”
It was unclear if Kendricks had been vaccinated. His father, Scott, who is also his coach, wrote in a since-deleted post on Instagram that Kendricks “feels fine and has no symptoms.”
Before he left for Tokyo, Kendricks had a big send-off in Oxford, Miss. He and Shelby McEwen, an Olympic high jumper who also grew up in the area, were feted with a parade, and Kendricks did a final public workout in front of an outdoor crowd.
Kendricks, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve and a two-time world champion, famously stopped mid-run before one of his attempts at the 2016 Olympics to stand at attention when the national anthem began to play in the stadium for another athlete’s medal ceremony.
In Tokyo, he appeared poised to challenge for another spot on the podium. Mondo Duplantis, who grew up in Louisiana but competes for Sweden, is the heavy favorite to win the gold in his first Olympics.
Qualifying for the men’s pole vault is on Saturday, and the final is scheduled for Tuesday.
The three Australian athletes who had reported close contact with Kendricks will be allowed to train and compete but will be subject to strict protocols that limit their contact with others, the Australian Olympic Committee said in a statement.
“We will continue to be very thorough in our observance of the Tokyo playbooks and our own additional measures,” Ian Chesterman, the Australian team’s chef de mission, said in the statement. “We want every Australian athlete to be in a position to have their Olympic moment. We will continue to be vigilant.”
TOKYO — For years, Sunisa Lee, a teenager from Minnesota who became the Olympic all-around gymnastics champion on Thursday night, wasn’t training just for herself.
As a Hmong American, she went to the gym every day for all the first-generation Americans who wanted to achieve success when their parents had come to the United States with nothing. And she trained through grueling practices and painful injuries, including an ankle injury in the months leading up to the Tokyo Games, for her father, John, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2019 and now uses a wheelchair.
Lee, 18, came into the Olympics wanting to win a gold medal for her father, who is her biggest fan, and for all the Hmong Americans who she feels are unseen in the United States. But that goal was to win a gold in the uneven bars, not the all-around, because her teammate Simone Biles had been considered a lock to win that title for the second Olympics in a row.
But after a lifetime aspiring to finish second to Biles in the all-around because Biles hasn’t lost an all-around since 2013, Lee took advantage of her shot to do so in Tokyo. Biles, considered the best gymnast of all time, withdrew from the team event and the all-around because of mental stress, leaving Lee in position to win it all for their country.
Lee, who is from St. Paul, Minn., hit routine after routine, often as if she were at practice, not at the most important competition of her life.
Her gold in the all-around, which determines the best overall gymnast, came just two days after Lee rallied her teammates to win silver in the team final. Biles had pulled out of the team event after competing on the vault, the first of four events. On the next event, the uneven bars, Lee decided to perform her hardest bars routine — the most difficult in the world — instead of the easier one she had planned because she knew the team would need every tenth of a point to win a medal. Her 15.4 points on bars was the highest score of the night.
Later, Lee competed on the floor exercise after not practicing her floor routine for two days. She wasn’t initially selected to perform it at team trials because each country chooses only three of its four gymnasts to compete on each apparatus. With Biles out, though, she had no choice.
During the all-around, she brought the same resolve to make it to the podium. And in the end, she made it to the top of it.
Sunisa Lee’s skills make her one of the best gymnasts in the world. On Thursday, they made her the all-around gold medalist at the Tokyo Games.
On the uneven bars, where Lee performs one of the hardest routines, she has few equals. In the floor exercise, she not only tumbles well but also turns and leaps with grace. And on the balance beam, she consistently and flawlessly executes difficult moves that other gymnasts avoid.
Lee began the all-around competition on the vault, which she executed cleanly. She nailed her double-twisting Yurchenko with just a slight pike on the landing — meaning she wasn’t as straight as the judges would prefer — for a score of 14.6.
Here’s more about the moves that made Lee unstoppable in the all-around.
We also spent time with Lee at Midwest Gymnastics in Minnesota, where she trains, as she prepared for her Olympic debut. Watch her grueling regimen.
Novak Djokovic is roaring again.
After three mostly quiet matches at the Olympic tournament, the man chasing the “Golden Slam” started letting out his trademark roars to fire himself up in his 6-2, 6-0 demolition of hometown favorite Kei Nishikori of Japan to reach the semifinals.
Neither Nishikori’s game nor the several hundred credentialed Japanese who came out to support him bothered Djokovic very much. The win put Djokovic nine matches away from achieving the “Golden Slam” — winning the four Grand Slams and the Olympic gold medal in a calendar year. No man has ever achieved the feat.
Djokovic, playing his usual relentless style, had Nishikori on the ropes from the start, breaking his serve at his first opportunity and giving Nishikori few opportunities to draw even the rest of the way. Djokovic played the match like he had a dinner reservation to get to, winning in just 70 minutes.
The roars arrived in the first game of the second set, when Nishikori had his lone chance to break Djokovic’s serve. Djokovic unleashed a forehand winner to draw even and let out the first roar, then unleashed another forehand winner to take the game and screamed once more.
Nishikori had beaten Djokovic in a big spot before, taking him out in the U.S. Open semifinal in 2014, but Djokovic is playing a different style now — and on another level — and he has not lost to Nishikori since then. He has also added an aggressive net game to his arsenal, giving him the ability to finish points more quickly and limit the energy he expends in each match.
He got a little assistance on that front Thursday as the tournament organizers acceded to pressure from Djokovic and other players to move start times to the middle and later afternoons. Paula Badosa of Spain ended up using a wheelchair on Wednesday after playing in truly oppressive conditions. Djokovic and Nishikori took the court Thursday as evening descended and a breeze off the water picked up.
“It’s completely different,” Djokovic said. “It’s still very humid, but you don’t have the heat. You don’t have the sun.”
Djokovic won nearly twice as many points as Nishikori and gave up just seven points on his second serve. He will face either Alexander Zverev or Jeremy Chardy in the semifinals Friday. His most dangerous potential opponent, Daniil Medvedev of Russia, the No. 2 seed, lost Thursday to Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain.
TOKYO — American men won gold medals in two very different freestyle distances on Thursday morning at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, and Katie Ledecky earned a silver medal anchoring the United States 4×200-meter freestyle relay team.
Ledecky, swimming the final leg, entered the pool a distant third place as China and Australia looked to be in a two-team race. But Ledecky swam the fastest leg in the event, and the United States finished 0.40 seconds behind China’s world-record time.
“It’s just so easy to get up for a Team U.S.A. relay, so I wasn’t as nervous, maybe,” Ledecky said, surrounded by teammates, all draped in silver medals. “I just knew I was going to let it go and go for it, each lap of that race.”
It capped a big day for the Americans, as Caeleb Dressel won his first Olympic gold medal for an individual race on Thursday, setting an Olympic record of 47.02 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle and beating out rival Kyle Chalmers of Australia by six-hundredths of a second.
Dressel sprang out of the blocks six-hundredths of a second faster than Chalmers — the final margin at the finish. Dressel and Chalmers swam two lanes apart.
“I could actually see him in my peripherals, I knew he was right there,” Dressel said. “I couldn’t see him, but you can see disturbances in the water. I knew — who else would it be besides Kyle?”
As the announcer blared “new Olympic record,” Dressel turned and looked at the time and, beaming, climbed up on the lane rope. He hoisted both arms in jubilation and hung there for a moment, smiling, a long pause on top that made you wonder if somebody was going to tell him it was time to get off.
“I thought I executed my race plan perfectly,” he said. “I couldn’t change anything. That’s how I felt in that moment.”
Bobby Finke, another Floridian, won the Olympic 800-meter freestyle in different fashion, coming from behind in the last lap to beat Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri. It was a surprise even to Finke, 21, who later said he had “no idea” he would win.
His victory was the first for an American man in an Olympic distance race since 1984.
Paltrinieri arrived with one of the 10 best times in history, but he had struggled in Tokyo and was relegated to an outside lane for the final. He jumped out to the early lead, and held it through 14 of the race’s 16 laps.
The pack pulled closer with each turn, and Finke was fourth with 100 meters to go. He surged in the final 50 meters, swimming the last leg in 26.39 seconds, 1.65 seconds faster than Paltrinieri.
Finke finished in 7 minutes 41.87 seconds, a quarter-second ahead of Paltrinieri, who held on for silver. Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine captured the bronze. The 800 was the first such race for men since 1904.
Ledecky continued her interesting Olympic odyssey by earning a second silver medal in Tokyo with teammates Allison Schmitt, Paige Madden and Kathryn McLaughlin.
Ledecky took to the water in third, but Ledecky’s time of 1:53.76 was the fastest leg of the race for any team. She raced past Australia to nearly catch China, claiming silver for the United States.
The usual strategy, she said afterward, is to pace yourself through the first 100 meters, saving a dose of energy for the final sprint to the finish. Ledecky hit the water at full speed.
“I’ve had enough experience at that relay to know that even when I try to pull back that first 100, it’s still really fast and I can still come home,” she said. “So I just kind of let it go.”
Australia was a big favorite with Ariarne Titmus, who won the individual 200 and 400 freestyles, ahead of Ledecky both times.
The Aussies came to Tokyo looking to lower the world record of 7:41.50 that it established in 2019. Australia’s swimmers had already won the 4×100 free relay on Sunday, setting a world record.
In Tokyo, so far, Ledecky has a gold and two silver medals, plus a fifth-place finish. She has spent a career raising gold-or-bust expectations, and is now swimming with the curse of having to explain that she does not win every race.
Ledecky’s come-from-behind leg, faster than any rivals and lifting her team, showed that there would be no shame in silver.
TOKYO — Some Olympic sports look grueling, like the marathon or rowing.
Some look a little scary, like platform diving or the pole vault.
Some look painful, like boxing or taekwondo.
But do any of them look more fun than white-water canoeing?
For the past few days, kayakers and canoers have been shooting down the 250-meter course at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre, cascading over rapids, thrashing with their paddles and contorting their bodies to avoid touching gates.
And is it fun?
“I am out here because I love doing my sport; I have so much fun on the water,” said Evy Leibfarth, a U.S. canoer who placed 12th in kayak and 18th in canoe. “I love competing and I love traveling, so all that put together is a happy Evy.”
“My whole family does it,” said Martina Wegman of the Netherlands, who placed seventh in kayak. “On holidays, my father would always bring a canoe. I loved it so much. I spent all my money on traveling to go canoeing on as many rivers as possible.”
Not that it is easy.
The Tokyo course is the first man-made canoe-slalom course in Japan, costing seven billion yen ($60 million). The water cascades along a bouncy run, coursing over blocks set up as obstacles, as paddlers muscle through a series of upstream and downstream gates.
This Olympic course is particularly challenging, paddlers say, with even some top competitors finding themselves rolling over during the course of their runs.
After past Olympics, some slalom venues have become white elephants. What can you really do with a canoe slalom course after the Games are over? The plan after Tokyo is to continue to hold competitions at the slalom course and open it to the public for rafting and other activities, ones that are probably a lot less challenging than Olympic canoe/kayaking.
It might look fun, but the Olympic white-water competition began with some skulduggery at the 1972 Munich Games. West Germany was eager to win many medals in the new sport, especially since the course was constructed there and their paddlers had unlimited access to it in the run-up to the Games.
But the East German team visited the course, then made a duplicate in order to train its own paddlers. The final tally at the 1972 Games: East Germany won four golds, West Germany zero.
An earlier version of this article misidentified the host city of the 1972 Summer Olympics. It was Munich, not Berlin.
The American women’s rugby sevens team opened the Olympic tournament with victories against China and Japan on Thursday, assuring the United States a spot in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The team’s remaining group stage match on Friday against Australia, which is also unbeaten, will determine which team will have the top seed from the group.
Unlike the men’s rugby sevens team, which was lumped into a so-called group of death, the women’s team started the tournament by playing two relatively weak foes.
In the first match, the Americans pulled away from China in the second half thanks to two long runs for tries by Kristi Kirshe, securing a 28-14 win. In the second match, the Americans built a 17-0 lead after tries by Ilona Maher and Jordan Matyas, and won 17-7.
Chris Brown, the U.S. team’s head coach, said there was still room for improvement. “Two years ago, the men’s and the women’s sides were No. 2 in the world,” he said. “So we need to put a performance out there that people are excited to get into. I’m sure we’ll bounce back tomorrow and show that stronger.”
Earlier in the week, the U.S. men also qualified for the quarterfinals, but lost to Britain, 26-21, ending their medal hopes. They finished sixth in the tournament.
Chinese players took the top two medal spots in women’s singles table tennis on Thursday night, continuing the nation’s domination of the sport and providing a salve for the upset defeat to Japan in the mixed doubles event earlier this week.
But even as Chen Meng, 27, won gold and Sun Yingsha, 20, took silver, another player, Mima Ito, made history by winning the bronze medal match, becoming the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal in singles table tennis.
China has had a near lock on the sport since it was first introduced to the Olympics in 1988, winning the gold medal in the women’s singles event at every Games since then, and often capturing silver as well. In Rio in 2016, China swept all four gold medals in table tennis.
Ito was the female half of the mixed doubles team, with her partner Jun Mizutani, that took the gold on Monday after a hotly contested match. She is considered the biggest threat to Chinese supremacy on the women’s side.
Tomokazu Harimoto, 18, Japan’s top-ranked male table tennis star, was considered a medal contender but fell to Darko Jorgic of Slovenia on Tuesday and was eliminated before the quarterfinals.
Simone Biles, the American superstar whose run at the Tokyo Games came to an abrupt halt when she pulled herself from the women’s gymnastics team final, says the reaction to her decision has helped her realize that she is valued for more than competing and winning medals.
“The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,” Biles tweeted on Thursday, several hours before the individual all-around gymnastics final.
the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before. 🤍
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) July 29, 2021
U.S.A. Gymnastics said on Wednesday that Biles would not participate in the all-around, which tests athletes in four disciplines to determine the most well-rounded gymnast. Biles said she was not in the right place mentally to compete.
She skipped her turns in the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise during the team final after stumbling on the landing of her vault, and she said she had lost her sense of direction in the air as she was twisting and flipping. Had she continued, she said, she would have risked injury or hurt her team’s chances to win. “It just sucks when you are fighting with your own head,” said Biles, who won four golds at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and is widely considered the best gymnast of all time.
The United States won the silver during the team final on Tuesday night, with Biles’s teammates subbing in for her on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Russia won the gold, more than 3 points ahead of the Americans, and Britain won the bronze.
Biles also qualified for four event finals next week, but it is not clear whether she will compete in them. Her departure from the all-around final opened up a spot for Jade Carey, an American who specializes in the floor exercise and vault. If Biles does not compete in the various event finals, spots would open up for those who were on the cusp of qualifying.
Before Elena Mukhina broke her neck doing the Thomas salto, a skill so dangerous it is now banned, she told her coach she was going to break her neck doing the Thomas salto.
But her coach responded dismissively that people like her did not break their necks, and Mukhina, a 20-year-old Soviet gymnast, didn’t feel she could refuse. Besides, she recalled later in an interview with the Russian magazine Ogoniok, she knew what the public expected of her as the anointed star of the coming Olympic Games.
“I really wanted to justify the trust put in me and be a heroine,” she said.
Less than a month before the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Mukhina under-rotated the Thomas salto and landed on her chin. She was permanently paralyzed and died in 2006, at the age of 46, from complications of quadriplegia. After her injury, she told Ogoniok, fans wrote to her asking when she would compete again.
“The fans had been trained to believe in athletes’ heroism — athletes with fractures return to the soccer field and those with concussions return to the ice rink,” she said. “Why?”
The history of women’s gymnastics is strewn with the bodies of athletes like Mukhina, who sustained life-altering or life-ending injuries after being pressured to attempt skills they knew they couldn’t do safely or to compete when they didn’t feel up to it. On Tuesday, withdrawing from the Olympic team final after losing her bearings in the middle of a vault and barely landing on her feet, Simone Biles effectively said that she refused to be one more.
Biles did not mention Mukhina. Nor did she mention Julissa Gomez, the 15-year-old American gymnast who was paralyzed shortly before the 1988 Olympics — and died three years later — as a result of a vault that she had never been able to perform reliably, but that her coaches had told her she had to do if she wanted to be competitive. Biles did not have to mention Mukhina or Gomez. Their stories are infamous in the gymnastics world.
the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before. 🤍
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) July 29, 2021
Gymnastics is inherently dangerous, and gymnasts can be seriously injured even when they feel mentally strong. Adriana Duffy, a former Puerto Rican national champion, was paralyzed while training on vault in 1989. The Chinese gymnast Sang Lan sustained a similar injury on vault in 1998 when her coach tried to adjust the position of the springboard as she ran toward it. Melanie Coleman, a collegiate gymnast in Connecticut, died from a spinal cord injury in 2019 after her hands slipped off the uneven bars during practice.
Gymnasts accept that risk every day, but they also know what can increase the risk beyond a level they are comfortable with. And yet, until recently, it had been extremely rare for any high-level gymnast to refuse to compete under those circumstances.
After Biles withdrew, some critics compared her unfavorably to Kerri Strug, who — the popular narrative goes — secured the team gold medal for the United States at the 1996 Olympics by vaulting on an injured ankle. The suggestion was that Biles ought to have done the same for the team.
But Strug performed that vault under pressure from her coach, it injured her ankle further, and the U.S. would have won without it. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times shortly afterward, she said that if she had known her vault wasn’t necessary, she wouldn’t have done it.
“Everybody was yelling at me, ‘Come on, you can do it!’” she said. “But I’m out there saying to myself: ‘My leg, my leg. You don’t understand. Something’s really wrong here.’”
Strug, who never competed again, tweeted a message of support for Biles on Tuesday.
One of her teammates on the 1996 Olympic squad, Dominique Moceanu — who has been outspoken about the training practices used by the former national team coordinators Bela and Marta Karolyi — tweeted a video clip from her own routine in the balance beam final in those Games.
Moceanu’s foot slipped as she landed one flip and took off into another, and she crashed headfirst onto the beam. She clung to it, pulled herself up and continued her routine, then competed in the floor exercise final almost immediately afterward with no spinal examination. It did not occur to her to do otherwise.
Biles’s decision, Moceanu tweeted, “demonstrates that we have a say in our own health — ‘a say’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian.”
The Olympic marathons will be held 500 miles north of Tokyo, to escape the smothering blanket of its average August weather: a high of 88 degrees; humidity at 73 percent; a “feels-like” temperature of 101.3 degrees.
But when the men’s and women’s sprints begin Friday (Thursday night in the United States), most competitors will embrace the hot weather, reveling in conditions that Carl Lewis, the nine-time Olympic champion sprinter and long jumper, calls “the Caribbean without the breeze.”
“Ninety-nine percent of sprinters love it, especially Americans,” said Lewis, now an assistant track and field coach at the University of Houston. He might have added, so do Jamaicans, the world’s other dominant sprinters.
Historically, top performances from 100 meters to the metric mile, at 1,500 meters, and field events like the long jump have mostly come in July and August, when major international competitions are held.
If the past is any guide, some extraordinary results could occur in Tokyo, perhaps especially in sprinting and jumping performances enhanced by many factors, including rapid muscle contraction in the heat and, to a lesser extent, the physics of reduced air resistance.
There is another weather-related phenomenon, widely discussed but little understood, in the track and field world: A handful of astonishing record performances, in Tokyo and elsewhere over the past half-century, occurred just before or after stormy weather.
“If it rains right before a race, I’m going to run fast,” said Noah Lyles of the United States, the Olympic favorite in the men’s 200 meters.
Coincidence? A correlation between performance and stormy weather, when the atmosphere becomes electrically charged with molecules known as negative ions? No one knows with any certainty.
Performance advantages for sprinters in hotter weather are relatively small, gains of 1 to 2 percent, scientists say. Other factors like altitude, biomechanics and doping are considered to have a bigger impact.
And not all athletes respond to heat the same way. But it will play a role. Hotter temperatures help boost the short-term power output needed for world-class sprinting. There is probably an optimal temperature range in skeletal muscles for unleashing the energy-producing molecule in cells known as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP; for activating motor nerves and for quicker muscle contractions that increase the rate or frequency of a sprinter’s strides, scientists say.
“Those slightly warmer temperatures like 80-90 degrees are going to be much better than 60-70 degrees for that,” said Robert Chapman, an environmental physiologist at Indiana University and the director of sports science and medicine for U.S.A. Track and Field, the national governing body.
Olympic organizers on Thursday reported 24 new coronavirus infections among personnel, including three athletes. A total of 198 people connected to the Games have tested positive since July 1.
Among them are 23 athletes, including six from the United States, which is fielding the largest Olympic delegation in Tokyo and also has the most members who have tested positive. They include the pole-vaulter Sam Kendricks, the reigning world champion and a bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Games, who was forced to withdraw from competition, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said on Thursday.
Outside the Olympic bubble, coronavirus cases are rising. Tokyo recorded 3,177 new infections on Wednesday, setting a record for the second consecutive day as health experts warned that tougher restrictions might be needed to control the spread of the Delta variant.
Across Japan, the average number of daily cases is up by 149 percent from two weeks ago, according to New York Times data. On Thursday, Japanese officials reported more than 9,500 cases nationwide, a new daily high.