Tokyo Olympics updates: US softball off to strong start, flagbearers to make history
TOKYO — With the opening ceremony less than a day away, the Tokyo Olympics are about to begin in full force. Several events are already in the midst of competition, and the U.S. softball team has already proven itself with a 2–0 start to the first Olympic softball tournament since 2008. Meanwhile, the U.S. women's soccer team suffered a shocking 3–0 defeat against Sweden in its opening match and will look to rebound against New Zealand on Saturday.
As thousands of athletes gear up to begin the Games, COVID-19 remains an ever-present concern. At least 91 people associated with the Olympics have tested positive, including ten athletes. Several other athletes, including American tennis phenom Coco Gauff, will not be allowed to compete after receiving a positive test before departing for Japan. Follow along with our reporters on the ground in Tokyo throughout the Games for competition news, COVID-19 updates and more.
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WANT BEHIND-THE-SCENES ACCESS IN TOKYO?:Sign up for Olympic texts to get exclusive access to the GamesTop American archer starts his quest for 3 medals
Brady Ellison, ranked world No. 1 in men’s recurve archery, begins his bid for three Olympic medals this weekend.
Ellison, 32, of Globe-Miami, Arizona, is competing in his fourth Olympics and has three medals, two team silvers and an individual bronze. He is an individual gold medal contender in Tokyo and also will compete in men’s team and the new mixed team event.
First up is the men’s ranking round Friday. Ellison set the world ranking round record of 702 in August 2019. The Olympic ranking round record is 700, set in 2016 by South Korea’s Kim Woojin.
"Everything is going well so far,” Ellison said. “We’re dealing with the heat and humidity. Humidity hasn’t been too bad but picked up the other day and you could see the whole entire field starting to feel it. The finals field feels about 10-15 degrees hotter than the actual practice field so that’s interesting."
Friday's forecast calls for a high of 89 degrees and 60% humidity.
-Jeff MetcalfeFlagbearers to make history at opening ceremony
British rower Mohamed Sbihi will make history on Friday. The 2016 Rio de Janeiro gold medalist will become the first Muslim to carry the British flag at an opening ceremony.
“It is such an honor,” Sbihi told The Guardian. “It is an iconic moment within the Olympic movement – people remember those images.”
Sbihi was the first practicing Muslim to row for Britain in the 2016 Olympics. He will carry the flag alongside sailor Hannah Mills.
Also among the history makers is Laurel Hubbard. The New Zealand weightlifter is believed to be the first openly transgender woman to compete in at individual sport at the Olympics.
Hubbard is ranked 15th in the world in the super heavyweight 87 kilogram-plus category, according to the International Weightlifting Federation.
Transgender athletes have been permitted to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics since 2004, but Hubbard is the first to qualify in an individual sport.
“Laurel Hubbard becoming the first transgender athlete in the Olympics will be meaningful – to the trans community as a whole, but to me specifically, as I’ve spent over the last decade of my life trying to lay the groundwork for this moment,” transgender advocate and triathlete Chris Mosier posted on Twitter. “I am so incredibly proud of her.”
The USA flag bearers are women's basketball star Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez, who also competed in speedskating at the Winter Olympics.
-Tyler DragonOlympic softball tournament off to exciting start
Team USA softball, up 2-0 in the opening round of Olympic competition, heads into a favorable matchup against 0-2 Mexico on Saturday in their hunt for their first gold medal at the Games since 2004.
The No. 1-ranked U.S. shut out its first two opponents of the round-robin tournament, scoring two runs against No. 9 Italy and one run against No. 3 Canada. First baseman Valerie Arioto, catcher Aubree Munro and outfielder Haylie McCleney have contributed to the U.S.’s scoring so far.
The key to the U.S.’s early success has been its pitching. In the opener against Italy, pitcher Cat Osterman threw six shutout innings and only allowed one hit. Against Canada, pitcher Monica Abbott only gave up one hit and finished with nine strikeouts.
Mexico, ranked No. 5, dropped its opening games to Canada (0-4) and No. 2 Japan (2-3). Shortstop Anissa Urtez and right fielder Suzannah Brookshire scored Mexico’s lone two runs against Japan. Their game against the U.S. on Saturday marks the halfway point of the opening round before the gold and bronze medal matches on Tuesday, July 27.
Softball makes its return to the Olympic program for the first time in 13 years. The U.S. team is a top contender for the gold medal with host nation Japan also in the mix. Japan is the reigning Olympic champion, winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The U.S. took silver in Beijing and won three straight gold medals from 1996 to 2004.
-Olivia Reiner46-year-old gymnast to retire after eighth Olympics in Tokyo
Almost three times older than some of the other gymnasts in Tokyo, 46-year-old Oksana Chusovitina said Thursday that the Tokyo Olympics, her eighth Games, will be her last. Told that she has said that before, only to keep going, Chusovitina insisted she means it. She will compete in just one event, the vault, in Tokyo.
"My son is 22 years old and I want to spend time with him," Chusovitina said. "I want to be a mom and wife."
Chusovitina represented the Soviet Union at her first world championships in 1991, and the Unified Team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. She also competed for Germany as a way to thank the country for the medical treatment her son received there when he had childhood leukemia. She now competes for Uzbekistan.
-Nancy ArmourCzech team flight being investigated after COVID-19 cluster
The Czech Olympic Committee announced that they are investigating whether lax behavior on a team flight to Tokyo last week might be to blame for the spate of COVID-19 cases within its group. Five members of the Czech delegation – including three athletes – had tested positive and were in isolation as of Thursday.
The investigation will examine "whether all precautions against the spread of COVID-19 before, during and after the charter flight have been complied with," according to a news release. The Czech News Agency reported that not all passengers on the flight wore masks for the duration of the trip and several Czech outlets report that Vlastimil Voráček, an orthopedist with the delegation who is unvaccinated, was the first person who tested positive upon arrival.
-Tom SchadMarta makes history
In soccer, Brazilian star Marta became the first soccer player on either the women’s or men’s side to compete in five consecutive Olympics and score in each of those Games. Marta accomplished the feat in Tokyo, scoring two goals during a 5-0 thrashing of China in Brazil’s opening match. The Brazilians next play the Netherlands on Saturday.
Marta's teammate, Formiga, is the only person to have played in all six previous women's tournaments at the Olympics.
-Tyler DragonU.S. volleyball player tests positive, ruled out of competing
American beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb confirmed on social media Thursday that he tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Japan and will miss the Tokyo Olympics.
He is the first U.S. athlete to be ruled out of competing at the Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19. Since July 1, 87 coronavirus cases have been tied to the Games, with 52 confirmed among Japanese residents, according to the organizing committee.
Crabb, 29, wrote in an Instagram post that he is fully vaccinated and currently has no symptoms.
"I've faced adversity before, and I will face it again, but it doesn't take the sting out of the situation," Crabb wrote in the post.
Crabb said Tri Bourne will take his place on Team USA, teaming up with partner Jake Gibb. The duo's first match is scheduled for Sunday.
-Tom Schad'Nightmare' for USA Gymnastics after positive test
When athletes test positive for COVID-19, it affects their whole team.
It was a “rough 36 hours” for Simone Biles and the U.S. women's gymnastics team after learning alternate Kara Eaker had tested positive, despite being fully vaccinated. Even now, Annie Heffernon, the vice president of USA Gymnastics’ women’s program, said she’s anxious until she gets the test results each day.
“I don't go to sleep until I know,” Heffernon said Thursday after the U.S. women finished podium training. “We're just continuing with the protocols. More vigilant than ever, making sure that we're staying to ourselves. It's very concerning. It's a nightmare scenario. It was terrible."
Eaker tested positive Monday following a training camp that included both the alternates and the six-woman Olympic team. She remains in quarantine while Leanne Wong, who trains with her, is in isolation as a close contact. Both are healthy, Heffernon said.
USA Gymnastics had implemented strict protocols during the training camp so there would be a barrier between the alternates and the Olympic team. Alternates roomed with alternates, sat on the opposite side of the room during meals and did not train on the same events at the same time as the Olympians.
Masks were to be worn at all times except when athletes were eating, actively training or in their individual rooms.
These protocols seem to have worked, because Simone Biles and the rest of the team – Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum, Jade Carey and McKayla Skinner – have continued to test negative. But the experience has been difficult for the entire team, Heffernon said.
“We’re devastated for (Eaker and Wong), of course. It’s not anything we ever dreamed would happen or wanted to happen,” she said. “But these young ladies and the staff just keep pushing forward. They just keep moving forward, forward, forward. They don’t look backward.
“You saw them,” she added. “They're doing a pretty good job."
-Nancy ArmourNaomi Osaka gets favorable draw in women's singles
Naomi Osaka, who is arguably the biggest star for host country Japan at the Tokyo Olympics, will open her quest for a gold medal against China’s Zheng Saisai and has a favorable draw until at least the quarterfinals where she would potentially face 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek of Poland.
Osaka is seeded No. 2 in the women’s singles tournament behind No. 1-ranked Ashleigh Barty, who won the Wimbledon title earlier this month. Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam winner, has not played a match since withdrawing from the French Open on May 31 citing mental health issues that became public when she said she would not fulfill her media obligations at the tournament.
With Coco Gauff having to withdraw from the Olympics due to a positive test for COVID-19, No. 11 seed Jennifer Brady leads the American contingent in the women’s event and will face Italy’s Camila Giorgi in the first round. Brady reached the Australian Open final this year, losing to Osaka, and established herself over the last year as one of the best players in the world on hard courts.
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, who won the first three men’s majors this year, will open his tournament against No. 139-ranked Hugo Dellien of Bolivia as he tries to win the so-called “Golden Slam,” something that has only been accomplished once – by Steffi Graf in 1988.
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, who has been the best men’s player on hard courts outside of Djokovic in the last couple years, is seeded No. 2 and will face Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan in the first round.