Current time in Tokyo: July 28, 12:59 p.m.
No one could imagine the pressure. No one could understand the difficult decision she faced. After all, there’s only one greatest gymnast of all time.
Simone Biles’s decision to leave the Olympic gymnastics team event on Tuesday because she wasn’t in the right head space sparked an outpouring of support from fellow athletes, politicians, celebrities and others.
Her withdrawal follows similar decisions by other top Black athletes, including Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open in May, to prioritize their mental health over competing.
Biles said after the team final that she had hoped to compete for herself, but “felt like I was still doing it for other people.” She added, “So that just, like, hurts my heart, because doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.”
It’s impossible to understand the pressure Simone Biles—the greatest gymnast in the history of the sport—and Naomi Osaka are feeling, but we’re lucky to live in a time where young Black trailblazers are publicly prioritizing their mental health above all else. That’s power.
— Evette Dionne (@freeblackgirl) July 27, 2021
Black women are continuously shifting the narrative on what it means to be a “strong Black woman”. To be strong is to thrive, and not suffer. There is strength in putting yourself first. Especially in these systems that do not serve us. Thank you @naomiosaka and @Simone_Biles.
— Dr. Raven the Science Maven (@ravenscimaven) July 27, 2021
Some noted that Biles’s decision signaled a larger shift in the culture of professional sports.
“Watching these Black women athletes use and navigate power over the last 25 years,” Franklin Leonard, a film producer, said. “What an extraordinary gift it has been.”
The journalist Wesley Lowery echoed Mr. Leonard’s assessment.
it’s still playing out, but this new generation of young athletes setting a new set of boundaries around mental health/what they owe the public and the media//their own agency (in part downstream of them having more power but not only that) feels paradigm shifting
— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) July 27, 2021
Some criticized U.S.A. Gymnastics as having placed too much pressure on Biles.
Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time, but USAG’s strategy of not caring about team composition or lineups because Simone will save the day is not a healthy or sustainable method. It’s too much to put on a person, no matter how great she is.
She deserves better.
— m!a j merr!ll (@ameliamerr_) July 27, 2021
And if anyone could relate, it was her fellow athletes.
Just a friendly reminder: Olympic athletes are human & they’re doing the best they can. It’s REALLY hard to peak at the right moment & do the routine of your life under such pressure. Really hard.
— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) July 26, 2021
So glad @Simone_Biles made that call tonight.
As a gymnast, I can tell you, if you don’t trust yourself, you can’t keep going. It’s no joke; you could get seriously hurt. It’s not worth the risk. No medal is worth the risk.
Let’s normalise putting your mental health first.
— Mary-Anne Monckton (@Monckton07) July 27, 2021
In her third Summer Games, Katie Ledecky was finally able to swim for Olympic gold in what is essentially her best event: the 1,500-meter freestyle, the longest race contested in the pool.
Since 1904, the event had been available only to men in the Olympic Games. Women who contested the event in other meets had to settle for the 800 meters at the Games, an event that Ledecky will try to win for a third time on Saturday.
On Wednesday morning, though, she finally got her chance in the 1,500 and delivered her first gold of the Tokyo Games. Ledecky’s time of 15 minutes 37.34 seconds was more than four seconds faster than her American teammate Erica Sullivan (15:41.41), who won the silver, and more than five seconds ahead of the bronze medalist, Sarah Kohler of Germany (15:42.91).
Ledecky holds the world record and had the top qualifying time on Monday. Her victory in the swimming equivalent of a 5-kilometer run — a grueling marathon that requires 30 trips up and back the length of the pool — came a little more than an hour after Ledecky had finished fifth in the 200 freestyle final.
But in just competing in the race, Ledecky — who has won three 1,500-meter world championships and has set world records six times, more than any swimmer in the event, male or female — was getting an opportunity denied to distance-swimming greats like Janet Evans, Debbie Meyer, Shane Gould and Jennifer Turrall.
Until 1968, the longest Olympic event in women’s swimming was only 400 meters. Meyer won the first 800-meter Olympic race for women at the Mexico City Games that year, as well as the 200 and 400 freestyle.
She held the world record in both the 800 and the 1,500 back then, and she told The Times in 2014 that she questioned why the longer race was not available at the Olympics. Meyer said she had been told that there weren’t enough countries with women competing in the 1,500.
“It really was all about the thinking then,” she said, “which was, women were the weaker sex and because men were stronger people, they could last the distance.”
Over the years, other discrepancies in swimming have been resolved. From 1984 to 1996, for example, the men had three relays and the women two. At the Atlanta Games, the women gained parity, with a 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
But FINA, the international governing body for aquatics, had long resisted allowing women to compete in the 1,500 at the Summer Games, despite efforts in every sport to make the Olympic experience equal for women and men.
In 2015, Julio Maglione, the FINA president, said he doubted that the 1,500 could be added to the Olympic program, which was already packed with races at multiple distances for every stroke.
Yet now, not only have women gained the 1,500, but male distance swimmers also have an 800 on their schedule for the first time since 1904. A mixed medley relay has been added, with two men and two women on each team.
The longest swim in Tokyo, however, will not take place in the pool. The 10-kilometer open-water event was added to the Olympics in 2008, with races for men and women.
TOKYO — There will be five more swimming finals on Wednesday morning in Tokyo (Tuesday night in the U.S.), and Katie Ledecky is set to be in two of them. In the 200-meter freestyle, Ledecky will once again be challenged by Ariarne Titmus of Australia, who beat her at 400 meters. But in the 1,500 meters, Ledecky will be at her best and nearly unbeatable.
In the women’s 200-meter individual medley, Kate Douglass of the United States could be the favorite. In the men’s 4×200 relay, Britain and Australia will contend, but the U.S. will be in with a chance. The races start at 10:41 a.m. Tokyo time, 9:41 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.
The inaugural three-on-three basketball tournaments have won over quite a few converts, and the semifinals and gold medal games are tonight.
After losing its opener against France in the men’s five-on-five, the U.S. team will be looking to take out its frustrations on an overmatched Iran.
Baseball returned to the Olympics in large part because of Japan’s love of the sport. The Japanese team opens the tournament with a game against the Dominican Republic.
Here are some highlights of U.S. broadcast coverage for Tuesday night and overnight, including men’s rugby sevens semifinals, women’s gymnastics team finals and swimming. All times are Eastern.
ROWING It’s a big night for rowing, with gold medals on the line. Events begin at 7:10 p.m., starting with the men’s and women’s double scull finals. Later in the evening, Kristina Wagner and Genevra Stone of Team U.S.A. will compete for gold against five other countries. The men’s four crew will also compete for a medal. For coverage, tune into NBCOlympics.com.
GYMNASTICS The United States tries to maintain its global dominance as it faces off against seven countries, including Russia, in the women’s gymnastics team final. A replay of the event will be aired on NBC Primetime, starting at 8 p.m.
SWIMMING Starting at 9:30 p.m., NBC Primetime will broadcast some of the most anticipated swimming competitions, including the 200-meter freestyle, where Katie Ledecky of Team U.S.A. will once again be challenged by Ariarne Titmus of Australia, who beat her at 400 meters. Other gold-medal events on deck are the women’s 200-meter individual medley and the men’s 200-meter butterfly.
RUGBY CNBC will air the semifinal games of men’s rugby sevens, with New Zealand taking on Britain at 10 p.m. and Fiji, the defending champion after earning the country its first gold medal, at the 2016 Rio Games, facing off against Argentina at 10:30.
BASEBALL Japan’s enthusiasm for the sport helped bring it back to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. The home team plays the Dominican Republic on NBCOlympics.com starting at 11 p.m.
SAILING Team U.S.A.’s Farrah Hall will compete against 26 others in race number seven of windsurfing’s opening series. The event can be streamed on NBCOlympics.com starting at 11:15 p.m., with more races to follow.
BASKETBALL The men’s team will take on Iran at 12:40 a.m. on NBC Sports Network.
WATER POLO The women’s team plays Hungary at 1 a.m., airing on NBC.
DIVING Andrew Capobianco and Michael Hixon of Team U.S.A. will compete for gold in the men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard event at 2 a.m. on the USA Network.
TOKYO — Simone Biles lost her way midair while vaulting in the women’s team final on Tuesday, then suddenly exited the competition, saying she wasn’t mentally prepared to compete. Biles’s absence created a bigger opening for the Russians, who won the gold.
Biles had planned to do an Amanar, a difficult vault with two and a half twists. But, she said, she lost her bearings in the air. She completed only one and a half twists, then stumbled out of her landing.
Minutes later, U.S.A. Gymnastics confirmed that Biles had withdrawn from the competition, leaving the United States without its highest-scoring gymnast.
“I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness,” Biles said after the competition, in which the United States took silver. “I didn’t want to risk the team a medal for, kind of, my screw ups, because they’ve worked way too hard for that.”
There are favorites, and there are underdogs. And the favorites usually win, of course.
But with more than 300 gold medals to be awarded at these Olympics, the laws of chance say that sometimes the favorites will stumble. It has happened before. The Russian ice hockey team in 1980. The wrestler Aleksandr Karelin in 2000. The American softball team in 2008.
In just the first few days of the Tokyo Olympics, some big names are joining the list.
U.S. women’s gymnastics team
After Simone Biles abruptly withdrew from the team competition Tuesday night, the U.S. took home the silver medal in an event they had long dominated and were favored to win. Russia won gold, and Britain claimed bronze.
Osaka became the face of the Games when she lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony. A gold medal in tennis would seem to have been the logical end to her story. Yet Osaka lost Tuesday to the 42nd-ranked player in the world, Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, in a third-round trouncing, 6-1, 6-4. It took less than an hour.
Barty, the Australian tennis player who is the world No. 1, was eliminated in the first round after she fell in straight sets to Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-4, 6-3.
U.S. men’s basketball
The United States men’s basketball team had a couple of stumbles in exhibitions leading to the Games but was still a big favorite going in. It lost its opening game to France.
U.S. women’s soccer
The World Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team showed little of its customary swagger in a 3-0 capitulation to Sweden. It also played Australia to a scoreless draw, although that was good enough for the U.S. to advance to the knockout round. On the men’s side, the pretournament favorite Spain opened with a draw against Egypt.
Japan beat the U.S., 2-0, on Tuesday in a replay of the last time these two rival teams faced off for the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, when Japan won and softball was then dropped from the Olympics. The win marks Japan’s second consecutive Olympic gold in the event.
Chinese synchronized diving team
China rarely loses in diving, and even less often in synchronized diving. Yet the men’s team lost to Britain in the synchronized platform event.
Chinese table tennis team
Another bad day for China, as Japan ended China’s dominance in table tennis with a gold medal in mixed doubles.
China won all four gold medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and the team of Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen was a heavy favorite this time. But Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito defeated them.
Granted, it was foretold, as her emerging rival, Ariarne Titmus of Australia, had posted better times than her recently in the 400-meter freestyle. But it was still stunning to see Ledecky, one of the most dominant distance swimmers in a generation, out-touched at the wall to be relegated to the silver medal.
Will there be more?
There’s a long way to go, and many more favorites. The U.S. women’s basketball team. The Serbian three-on-three basketball team. The Russian synchronized swimmers. Believe it or not, the Sinkovic brothers of Croatia in the pair rowing event.
Here’s a not very daring forecast: They might not all win.
TOKYO — Simone Biles unexpectedly pulled out of the women’s team gymnastics competition after losing her bearings in the air mid-vault. Amid the shake-up, a stronger Russian squad beat the Americans to the gold medal; the United States was second.
The U.S. met Japan in the last Olympic softball final, in 2008, and Japan won. Softball was then dropped from the Games, and on its return the same two teams met. Japan won again, 2-0.
The U.S. women’s basketball team began its Olympics with a closer-than-expected win over Nigeria, 81-72. A’ja Wilson led all scorers with 19 points.
The American Lydia Jacoby won gold in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke, while her more heralded teammate Lilly King finished third. Tom Dean and Duncan Scott went one-two for Britain in the 200 freestyle.
Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony, but was eliminated in the third round of the tennis tournament, 6-1, 6-4, by Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
The American men’s rugby team took a 21-7 halftime lead against Britain in the quarterfinals but couldn’t hang on and lost, 26-21.
Carissa Moore of the United States and Italo Ferreira of Brazil won the first Olympic surfing gold medals.
Flora Duffy won the first gold medal ever for Bermuda, in the women’s triathlon.
The U.S. women’s soccer team, which lost to Sweden and beat New Zealand, split the difference and drew against Australia. The team advanced to the quarterfinals.
The United States had won the most medals through Tuesday, with 25, although Japan had won the most gold meals, 10.
A Moroccan boxer tried to bite his opponent’s ear during a heavyweight match on Tuesday.
Youness Baalla’s attempt to latch on to David Nyika’s ear failed while the pair were clinched together late in their 81- to 91-kilogram preliminary match on Tuesday. Nyika, 25, of New Zealand went on to win the match by unanimous decision and advance to the men’s quarterfinals.
“He didn’t get a full mouthful,” Nyika said. “Luckily he had his mouth guard in, and I was a bit sweaty.” While the referee missed the bite attempt during the match, it was caught on TV cameras.
According to his profile on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics website, Baalla, 22, was ranked No. 17 in the men’s heavyweight 91-kilogram class at the 2019 World Championships in Yekaterinburg, Russia. That same year, according to the profile, he was ranked No. 2 in the heavyweight division at the African Games in Rabat, Morocco.
Baalla, who is from Casablanca, secured a spot on the Moroccan national team at the 2020 African Olympic qualification tournament in Dakar, Senegal.
“I don’t have the right words to describe really what I am feeling,” Baalla said at the time, according to the Olympics live-blog that covered the African qualifiers. “I am going to Olympics! I trained so hard, you can’t imagine what I do for this.”
After the match, officials disqualified Baalla from the Tokyo Games.
Baalla’s desperation move was reminiscent of Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ears during a heavyweight championship fight in Las Vegas in 1997. Tyson was disqualified in the third round, and Holyfield needed stitches to repair the tip of one ear.
Before the pandemic, the Japanese designer who created the Olympic and Paralympic mascots predicted that they would become the “face of the Games.”
It hasn’t quite turned out that way. The two mascots are ubiquitous in the Olympic merchandise being sold around Tokyo as the Games unfold. But in a country where mascots play a major role in corporate branding and merchandising, they have mostly been a subdued presence at the very event they were made to represent.
The Japanese public is not really swooning over them either, according to fans and experts who study the country’s mascot industry. The mascots’ social media profiles are modest, and a common complaint is that their names — Miraitowa and Someity — are hard to remember.
Miraitowa is the Olympic mascot, and Someity represents the Paralympics, which are scheduled to run in Tokyo from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.
“Within the whirlwind of all the Olympic controversy, I think the mascots were forgotten somewhere along the way,” Yuki Fuka, 46, said as she walked around the Olympic Stadium with her daughter over the weekend. “The Games have just started, and their existence is already an afterthought.”
Every Olympics since 1972 has had an official mascot, but Miraitowa and Someity are competing in a crowded local field because Japan already has thousands of whimsical, clumsy creatures, known as yuru-chara, that were created to promote their hometowns.
Japan’s best-known mascot may be Kumamon, a cuddly bear from Kumamoto Prefecture that helped popularize the yuru-chara phenomenon about a decade ago. The naughtiest one is almost certainly Chiitan, an unsanctioned “fairy baby” mascot from the city of Susaki that was once suspended from Twitter over its violent antics.
As of Tuesday, the Olympic and Paralympic mascots had about 15,000 Instagram followers between them, a small fraction of Chiitan’s nearly 900,000. Miraitowa had posted just 70 times on the platform in two years.
Are Miraitowa and Someity loathed or even disliked? Not at all. They’ve just been a bit, well, underwhelming.
“They’re not hated, design-wise. They seem to be functional. They seem to be doing a good job,” said Jillian Rae Suter, a professor of informatics at Shizuoka University, southwest of Tokyo, who has studied Japanese mascots. “But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of passion for them.”