Current time in Tokyo: July 29, 9:00 p.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.”
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.
Simone Biles will not repeat as the Olympic all-around champion on Thursday after pulling herself from the event. The shake-up opens the door for her teammate Sunisa Lee, or Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, or the Russians, or the Chinese, to win the individual title, though Biles could still participate in the four apparatus finals next week.
The United States has won every Olympic all-around title since 2004. Brazil has never won an Olympic medal in women’s gymnastics.
How to watch in the United States
LIVE: The competition begins Thursday at 6:50 a.m. Eastern time and can be streamed live via the NBC Olympics site, Peacock or the NBC Sports app.
TAPE DELAY: Many fans will prefer to stream a replay or watch the tape-delayed broadcast, which will air on NBC at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
How the competition will work
The all-around will test 24 individual athletes on vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Each routine will receive one score for difficulty and another for execution; the athletes’ scores on each apparatus will be totaled to determine the most complete gymnast.
Lee will represent the United States along with Jade Carey, who earned a spot in the competition after Biles’s decision to step back. Lee is the second-best all-around gymnast in the United States, behind Biles, and is a strong contender for a medal.
Andrade of Brazil placed second in the qualification, earning a 15.4 after executing a near-perfect Cheng, a very difficult vault that only a handful of gymnasts can do.
Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova will represent Russia, which won the team event. Both women are stellar on the uneven bars, but fell on the beam in the team final.
China finished a disappointing seventh in the team event, so Tang Xijing and Lu Yufei will be looking for redemption. Tang finished second all-around to Biles at the 2019 world championship. Both women are capable of high scores on the bars and beam.
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.
Sunisa Lee was peaking at just the right time for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. She won silver and bronze medals at the 2019 gymnastics world championships and helped the U.S. team take home gold.
Then the Tokyo Games were put on hold and Lee — for the first time ever — had to take an extended break from the gym.
She spent much of 2020 like many of us, locked inside and mourning the loss of loved ones. When she returned to training last year in June, she injured her ankle and was out for three more months.
At the Olympic trials, Lee, 18, automatically qualified for the U.S. women’s team when she finished second, behind Simone Biles. In Tokyo, Lee has a shot at an all-around medal and her skills will go a long way toward securing a gymnastics gold for the United States for a third straight Olympics.
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.
To understand what makes Lee one of the best gymnasts in the world, we spent time with her at Midwest Gymnastics in Minnesota, where she trains, as she prepared for her Olympic debut. You can watch her grueling regimen here.
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 Berlin Games. West Germany was eager to win many medals in the new sport, especially since the course was constructed in 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.
Here are some highlights of U.S. broadcast coverage on Day 6 of the Tokyo Games. All times are Eastern.
GYMNASTICS The U.S. women’s team is moving ahead without Simone Biles for the individual all-around final, which is expected to be a highlight of the Games. The competition begins on Thursday at 6:50 a.m. and can be streamed live via the NBC Olympics site, Peacock or the NBC Sports app.
TENNIS On the Olympic Channel, Elina Svitolina of Ukraine faces Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the women’s singles semifinals at 6 a.m. In the men’s competition, Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain faces Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the singles quarterfinals, and Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays Kei Nishikori of Japan, both starting at 4 a.m.
TABLE TENNIS The women’s singles bronze medal match is at 7 a.m., and the gold medal match is at 8 a.m., both on NBCOlympics.com.
FENCING Medals in the women’s team foil start with the bronze match at 5:30 a.m. on NBCSN. The gold medal match is at 6:55 a.m.
SWIMMING USA Network airs heats in the women’s 800-meter freestyle, featuring Katie Ledecky and Katie Grimes, the men’s 100-meter butterfly and more starting at 6 a.m.
BASEBALL Israel makes its Olympic debut in a game against South Korea at 6 a.m. on NBCOlympics.com.
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.
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.
Which country is doing best in the Tokyo Olympics? It might depend on whom you ask — and how they count.
As of Wednesday at 10 a.m. Eastern, Japan stood atop the official Olympic medal table, which sorts nations based on their number of gold medals. That’s how much of the world does it, using silver and bronze only to break ties.
By another measure, the United States leads because it has the most medals overall (31, at last count). Publications in the U.S., including The New York Times, often take this approach.
Which way of counting is superior? It’s possible neither is. Maybe the ideal method is somewhere in between.
That’s where you come in.
In the link below we’ll show all the places a country might land on a medals table, given different ways of measuring the relative worth of a gold medal to a silver, and a silver to a bronze. It’s up to you to decide which is best, with one obvious limitation: A gold can’t be worth less than a silver, and a silver can’t be worth less than a bronze. Give it a try: