Olympics End as They Began: Strangely – The New York Times

TOKYO As the athletes finished marching into the stadium for the closing ceremony of the 32nd Summer Olympics on Sunday night, the announcer asked for a big round of applause. But there simply werent enough people in the stands to make much noise. And the flashiest component of the ceremony, a formation of the five Olympic rings by tiny points of light, was invisible live in the stadium. The magic of its special effects played only on large screens and to television audiences.

And so one of the strangest Olympics in recent memory ended much as they began, with reduced cohorts of athletes waving to cameras and volunteer dancers rather than spectators, and rows of empty seats serving as reminders of a pandemic that could not be brought to heel by messaging about the healing power of the Games.

Yet perhaps more than any recent Olympics, the tournament was an athletic reality show, inviting viewers to seek respite from the frustration and tragedy of the past 18 months. The drama of competition and bouts of rousing sportsmanship offered diversion from the daily counts of coronavirus cases the ones within the Olympic bubble and the vastly larger numbers outside of it.

There were upsets: The U.S. womens soccer team fell to Canada in a semifinal; Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito won Japans first gold medal in table tennis over the Chinese world champions. Naomi Osaka, after lighting the Olympic cauldron for Japan, was eliminated in the third round of her tennis tournament, denying the host country a potential gold medal moment it had dearly hoped for.

There were history-making triumphs: Allyson Felix surpassed Carl Lewis as the most decorated American Olympian in track and field, and Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya defended his gold medal in the mens marathon.

And who could resist the British diver Tom Daley, who was constantly spotted knitting in the stands?

Outside the stadium before the ceremony on Sunday, Ryogo Saita, 45, who was walking with his 7-year-old son, said they had enjoyed watching on television as Yuto Horigome captured skateboardings first gold medal for Japan. Still, with daily coronavirus infections more than doubling in Tokyo since the Games started, Saita said he was concerned. But people also enjoy the sports, he said. I think its a good thing that they happened. Its like Im battling two emotions.

Although organizers argued that the Japanese public and international audiences had embraced the Olympics after months of controversy, the numbers from NBCUniversal in the United States, the largest broadcaster at the Games, showed steep drops from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. In Japan, a smaller proportion of viewers watched the Games than when Tokyo last hosted the event, in 1964.

Many of the performances in the closing ceremony elicited a lighthearted joy that the more somber opening ceremony did not. In one segment, actors and dancers dressed in street fashion frolicked around the center of the stadium, meant to evoke a park, with capoeira dancers, stunt bikers, jugglers and double Dutch jumpers, a poignant demonstration of a side of Tokyo that most Olympic visitors never got to see.

In his concluding remarks, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, thanked the people of Japan and noted that no organizing committee had ever had to put on a postponed Games before. We did it together! he said, to lukewarm applause.

The closing festivities, based on the theme Moving Forward: Worlds We Share, was the last chance for the organizers to stage a spectacle intended to keep everyone on message about an event and an entire movement that had started to show cracks before the Games even began.

Aug. 8, 2021, 12:43 p.m. ET

Politics, which the I.O.C. assiduously insists have nothing to do with the Games, intruded in Tokyo. Kristina Timanovskaya, a Belarusian sprinter who sought protection as her country tried to force her home after she criticized her coaches, was granted asylum in Poland. The I.O.C. took five days to strip the Olympic credentials of the coaches involved in the attempt to send her back to Belarus.

More broadly, the committees decision making came under close scrutiny in Tokyo. Even before the pandemic, organizers pushed to stage the Tokyo Games during its most brutally hot weeks in order to maximize broadcasting revenues. That decision had clear repercussions, with a tennis player leaving the court in a wheelchair and events in soccer and athletics being rescheduled at the last minute. The fact that the Games went ahead during the pandemic despite strong public opposition in Japan showed the undemocratic principles that underpin the organization.

There is no question that the Tokyo Olympics stripped the lacquer off the wider Olympic project for everyday people to see, said Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic soccer player and an expert in sports politics at Pacific University. Ive heard some people talk about how the Olympics are this huge political economic force with sports attached to the side of it.

Indeed, athletes advocates have accused the I.O.C. of shortchanging the talent that make the Games possible, given that such a small sliver of the organizations revenues are allocated directly to the competitors. Most of the funds are funneled through national Olympic committees and sporting federations, according to an analysis of I.O.C. funding by Global Athlete, an athletes group, and the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.

The I.O.C. is supporting an industry and administrators, said Rob Koehler, the director general of Global Athlete. But are they supporting athletes? The proof is in the pudding: no.

At the Tokyo Games, critics questioned the I.O.C.s commitment to enforcing disciplinary actions. Athletes from Russia, a country officially banned from the Olympics, competed under the banner of R.O.C., the acronym for the Russian Olympic Committee. But it was difficult for a casual observer to see how Russia was bearing any real consequences of an enormous state-orchestrated doping campaign as its leaders gloated over its athletes many medals.

On Sunday, even as Tokyo organizers officially passed the Olympic flag to Paris for the next Summer Games, the real specter lurking behind the feel-good moments was the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which are scheduled to open in February.

With the postponement of the Tokyo Games by a year, organizers will have just six months to prepare for the next Olympics.

Here again, the actions or inaction of the I.O.C. came under sharp examination. Officials, including Bach, avoided answering questions about how the committee planned to address the fact that the Games are to be held in a country that has been condemned for committing genocide and crimes against humanity for its repression of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.

Large countries most prominently the United States will have to decide in the coming months how they might respond to the Games in Beijing.

At the same time, the pandemic is still likely to be a factor. Just as Japan is dealing with a new wave of infections, China, too, is battling new outbreaks of the Delta variant in several provinces and has already imposed de facto lockdowns.

The countrys use of sports to promote nationalism was on display at the Tokyo Games, where critics pounced on Japanese athletes in particular if they prevailed over Chinese competitors.

But the Olympics pose risks to the ruling Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping.

The Olympics is either an opportunity to look great, or it could introduce a whole lot of instability, said Stephen R. Nagy, a professor in politics and international relations at International Christian University in Tokyo. He cited the re-emergence of the coronavirus and possible protests by athletes in Beijing.

But as the cauldron was extinguished and the athletes filed out of the stadium, perhaps the biggest legacy of the Tokyo Games was how it underscored the costs of hosting an Olympics.

For future hosts, said Shihoko Goto, a senior associate for northeast Asia at the Wilson Center, a research institute in Washington, the question is whether the people of those governments are behind the government effort and the sacrifices that have to be made to put on these big events.

Hikari Hida contributed reporting.

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Olympics End as They Began: Strangely - The New York Times

Mixed bag: Erratic Pandemic Olympics wind to a nuanced end – Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) It began with a virus and a yearlong pause. It ended with a typhoon blowing through and, still, a virus. In between: just about everything.

The Tokyo Olympics, christened with 2020 but held in mid-2021 after being interrupted for a year by the coronavirus, glided to their conclusion in a COVID-emptied stadium Sunday night as an often surreal mixed bag for Japan and for the world.

A rollicking closing ceremony with the theme Worlds We Share an optimistic but ironic notion at this human moment featured everything from stunt bikes to intricate light shows as it tried to convey a celebratory and liberating atmosphere for athletes after a tense two weeks. It pivoted to a live feed from Paris, host of the 2024 Summer Games. And with that, the strangest Olympic Games on record closed their books for good.

Held in the middle of a resurging pandemic, rejected by many Japanese and plagued by months of administrative problems, these Games presented logistical and medical obstacles like no other, offered up serious conversations about mental health and, when it came to sport, delivered both triumphs and a few surprising shortfalls.

From the outset, expectations were middling at best, apocalyptic at worst. Even Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said hed worried that these could become the Olympic Games without a soul. But, he said, what we have seen here is totally different.

You were faster, you went higher, you were stronger because we all stood together in solidarity, Bach told gathered Olympians as he closed the Games. This was even more remarkable given the many challenges you had to face because of the pandemic. In these difficult times, you give the world the most precious of gifts: hope.

For the first time since the pandemic began, he said, the entire world came together.

He overstated it a bit. At these Games, even the word together was fraught. Spectators were kept at bay. A patchwork of rules kept athletes masked and apart for much of medal ceremonies, yet saw them swapping bodily fluids in some venues. That was less about being remiss than about being real: Risks that could be mitigated were, but at the same time events had to go on.

Athletes perseverance became a central story. Mental health claimed bandwidth as never before, and athletes revealed their stories and struggles in vulnerable, sometimes excruciating fashion.

Japans fourth Olympics, held 57 years after the 1964 Games reintroduced the country after its World War II defeat, represented a planet trying to come together at a moment in history when disease and circumstance and politics had splintered it apart.

The closing ceremony Sunday reflected that and, at times, nudged the proceedings toward a sci-fi flavor. As athletes stood in the arena for the final pomp, digital scoreboards at either end of the stadium featured what organizers called a fan video matrix, a Zoom call-like screen of videos uploaded by spectators showing themselves cheering at home.

Even the parade of athletes carrying national flags thousands of Olympians, masked and unmasked, clustering together before fanning out into the world again was affected. Volunteers carried some flags into the stadium, presumably because of rules requiring athletes to leave the country shortly after their events concluded.

In front of such formidable backdrops, athletic excellence burst through, from the Games first gold medal (Chinas Yang Qian in the 10-meter air rifle on July 24) to their last (Serbia defeating Greece in mens water polo on Sunday afternoon).

Among the highlights: Allyson Felix taking a U.S.-record 11th medal in track, then stepping away from the Olympic stage. American quintuple gold medalist Caeleb Dressels astounding performance in the pool. The emergence of surfing,skateboarding and sport climbing as popular, and viable, Olympic sports. Host country Japans medal haul 58, its most ever.

Any Olympics is a microcosm of the world it reflects. These Games runup, and the two weeks of the Games themselves, featured tens of thousands of spit-in-a-vial COVID tests for athletes, staff, journalists and visitors. That produced barely more than 400 positives, a far cry from the rest of non-Olympic bubble Japan, where surges in positive cases provoked the government to declare increasingly widespread states of emergency.

And, of course, there was that other microcosm of human life that the Games revealed the reckoning with mental and emotional health, and the pressure put on top-tier athletes to compete hard and succeed at almost any cost. The interruption of that pressurized narrative, led by the struggles of gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka in particular, permeated these Games and ignited the spark of an athlete-driven conversation about stress, tolerance and inclusivity that everyone expects to continue.

While Tokyo is handing off the Summer Games baton to Paris for 2024, the delay has effectively crammed two Olympics together. The next Winter Games convenes in just six months in another major Asian metropolis Beijing, Japans rival in East Asia and home to a much more authoritarian government that is expected to administer its Games in a more draconian and restrictive way, virus or no virus.

Beyond that, Paris organizers promised Sunday to take sport out of its traditional spaces and connect with new audiences in new ways in 2024 presuming, of course, the absence of a protracted pandemic. They went live from the closing to excited groups of fans clustered near the Eiffel Tower, a crowded public scene that Tokyo didnt allow.

In recent weeks, lots of people officials, athletes, journalists have been chewing over how these Tokyo Games will be remembered. Thats up to history, of course, but there are hints.

The runup was messy and disputed. The days of competition were fraught but, in general, without incident other than sporting milestones. Even a moderate earthquake rumbled through and was quickly forgotten. Scattered protests of the Games including one outside the stadium Sunday night reflected a portion of Japans sentiment, though certainly not all. The expenses upwards of $15 billion were colossal and will echo in Tokyo long after athletes are gone.

What are the Olympic Games supposed to be? A politics-free sporting event, as the IOC insists? A bonanza for sponsors and broadcasters? One small step toward world peace? Despite all the yarn-spinning, their identity remains up in the air and that fundamental question remains.

But as the cauldron was snuffed out Sunday night after the Pandemic Olympics concluded, its easy to argue that Tokyo can take its place as a Games that didnt fail as one that overcame a lot to even happen at all. And as vaccines roll out, variants emerge and lockdowns re-emerge, another city and government Beijing, the Chinese capital must grapple with the very same question.

In the meantime, the program for Tokyos closing ceremony, outlining its Worlds We Share theme, captured the effect of the pandemic and the virtual worlds and separation anxiety to which it has given birth.

We are in a new normal, and this edition of the Games were a different affair, it said. Even if we cannot be together, we can share the same moment. And that is something that we will never forget.

___

Ted Anthony, director of new storytelling and newsroom innovation for The Associated Press, was APs director of Asia-Pacific news from 2014 to 2018. This is his sixth Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/anthonyted

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Mixed bag: Erratic Pandemic Olympics wind to a nuanced end - Associated Press

The Tokyo Olympics Indelible Moments of Loss and Solidarity – The New Yorker

It seems fitting that the first defining moment of the 2020 Tokyo Olympicsheld not in 2020 but in 2021, in a bubble meant to separate it from Tokyowas also its most disconcerting: Simone Biles, high in the air, looking lost. Having performed one and a half of the planned two and a half twists of her vault, she suddenly flung her arms open to stop her spinning. Her body torqued, her head going one way while her legs went another, and then pitched forward, stumbling and lunging into a landing. It would have felt strange to watch any gymnast vault so awkwardly, but it was especially shocking to see it from Biles, who, normally, has unparalleled body control, and an unerring sense of herself in the air.

It also seems fitting that the second defining moment of the Games came when Biles recovered in an unexpected way, moments later, by telling her coaches and teammates that she was pulling out of the team competition. A woman whose name has become synonymous with pushing the limits of the body and mind had hit hers, and she had the strength to say so.

Initially, she said later, she was worried about her body as much as her mind. Given her loss of air senseher case of the twisties, as gymnasts evocatively call itshe knew that continuing in the competition could be dangerous. At the end of the day, its, like, we want to walk out of here, not be dragged out here on a stretcher, she told reporters. I just dont trust myself as much as I used to. And I dont know if its ageIm a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like Im also not having as much fun, and I know that.

The connection between the body and mind can be mysterious. Biles has won national and world championships with kidney stones and broken toes. She has, as the sportswriting clich has it, overcome every kind of adversity: the long odds of a difficult childhood; overt racism from envious competitors and their coaches; and, horrifically, sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, a team doctor whose predatory behavior was enabled by the very organizations that she continued, painfully, to representin part, she said, to hold it to account.

Athletes have always had bouts of the yips. Athletes have always been prone to alcoholism, anorexia, and other manifestations of mental illness. They have not always had the support, publicly or privately, to address these problems. But the climate has been shifting, and the connotations of terms that we associate with great athletes have been changing. Perseverance without considering the conditions that one is enduring can be arrogance, or recklessness. Toughness can lead to lasting damage. Fearlessness doesnt necessarily mean a free mind. In fact, we now know that some of those who were most often called fearlessyoung female gymnasts, flying and tumbling in astonishing ways under extreme pressurewere trapped in a system that cultivated fear. People can do a lot of things if they think they dont have a choice.

I didnt quit, Biles wrote, on Instagram, as she documented her difficulties performing skills that had been, to her, second nature. My mind & body are simply not in sync. The twisties had struck her before, she explained, though this was the first time she had lost her ability to twist on every apparatus. Could be triggered by stress I hear but Im also not sure how true that is, she added. Other gymnasts have said that the twisties can be exacerbated by stress or difficulties out of the gym but that they can also strike for seemingly no reason at all. Its the craziest feeling ever, not having an inch of control over your body, Biles went on. Whats even scarier is since I have no idea where I am in the air I also have NO idea how Im going to land.

Its impossible to say what part, if any, the bizarre circumstances of the Olympics played in her loss of air sense: the empty stands, the yearlong delay, the mounting pressure to be a redemptive force, the relentlessness of the pandemics progress. Regardless, Biles has been open about what a difficult year, and Olympics, it has been. The last thing Biles normally does before she competes is look in the stands to find her family. In Tokyo, for the first time in her career, her parents werent there to watch her perform.

When these Olympics began, Tokyo was in a state of emergency, and, throughout the Olympics, day after day, the city set new national highs for cases of the coronavirus. The news about the virus is worsening again almost everywhere. As Americans were tallying medals in the pool and on the track, U.S. officials back home were scrambling to cope with the Delta variant. What was supposed to be a summer of celebration, a chance to appreciate the power of community and the human spiritthe ideals of the Olympics, more or lesswas turning into a time of confusion and uncertainty.

It has been hard to know how to feel about these Olympic Games in such a climate. The Olympics are always riven by the tension between elation and despairand joy has been as visible as ever in Tokyo. It was on the shocked face of the Norwegian Karsten Warholm as he clutched his head and screamed in disbelief at the time on the clock45.94 secondsafter he beat the American Rai Benjamin in the mens four-hundred-metre hurdles. They had pushed each other, and the sport, to a place that didnt seem possible, at least not yet: both men shattered the world record. The joy was in a crowded room in Minnesota where the gymnast Sunisa Lees family and friends watched her win the all-around gold. It was visible in the exhausted smile of Sydney McLaughlin after she caught Dalilah Muhummad in the final stretch of the womens four-hundred-metre hurdles. (She set a world record, too.) I felt it watching Chinas Quan Hongchan in the womens ten-metre platform dive, as she spun through the air, toes pointed, a pike like a clamp, and slipped into the water almost without a splash.

The familiar pain was also present. I felt it watching Carli Lloyd sitting on a ball and clutching her head after the U.S. womens national soccer team lost in the semifinals to Canada, and learning that Japans Kenichiro Fumita had sobbed as he spoke to the press after winning the silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling, apologizing for this shameful result.

But there was also, among some of the athletes, a new, or newly prominent, way of speaking about loss and disappointment and pressure. After the American Noah Lyles took the bronze in the mens two-hundred-metre dash, a race hed expected to win, he spoke about his mental-health struggles and the difficulties of the past year. He talked about his brother Josephus, who had also been training for the Olympics, but who battled injuries and did not make the team. Sometimes I think to myself, This should be him, Lyles said, in tears. Lyles said that, in the past, antidepressants and therapy had helped him, and that he wanted people who were watching to be aware of that. (He said he had gone off the medication before the Olympics, because he thought that might help his performance.) I knew there was a lot of people out there like me whos scared to say something or to even start that journey, he said. I want you to know that its O.K. to not feel good, and you can go out and talk to somebody professionally, or even get on medication, because this is a serious issue and you dont want to wake up one day and just think, You know, I dont want to be here anymore. He spoke, too, about everything track has given him, the way it has been a refuge, and the doors it has opened for other interests in his life, such as fashion and art. Shoot, he said, Im going to the Met Gala.

Lyles was not the only American track star to talk about mental health. After winning silver in shot put, Raven Saunders held her arms over her head in an X once the winners national anthem was over, in defiance of the I.O.C.s ban on protesting on the podium. The X was for oppressed people, she said, explaining that the planning for the protest took place over group text with American athletes from several sports. Im a Black female, Im queer, and I talk about mental-health awareness, she told NBC. I deal with depression, anxiety, and P.T.S.D., a lot. I represent being at that intersection. Late in the week, the sprinter Allyson Felix, on the verge of surpassing Carl Lewiss American record for Olympic medals in track and field, wrote, on Instagram, about fear. Im afraid of letting people down, she wrote. Of letting myself down. I hold myself to such high standards and Im realizing as Im sitting here the night before my final individual Olympic final that in a lot of ways Ive let my performances define my worth. Ive been afraid that my worth is tied to whether or not I win or lose. But right now Ive decided to leave that fear behind. To understand that I am enough. She added, Im not sharing this note for me. Im sharing it for any other athletes who are defining themselves by their medal count. Im writing this for any woman who defines her worth based on whether or not shes married or has kids. Im writing it for anyone who thinks that the people you look up to on TV are any different than you. I get afraid just like you, but you are so much more than enough.

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The Tokyo Olympics Indelible Moments of Loss and Solidarity - The New Yorker

How the Olympics Hurt Tokyo’s Economy – The New York Times

Toshiko Ishii, 64, who runs a traditional hotel in the citys Taito Ward, spent over $180,000 converting the buildings first floor into an eatery in anticipation of a flood of tourists.

It was already a bit of a risk, and when the pandemic hit, Ms. Ishii became worried that she might have to shut down. Even with the Olympics, she has had no guests for weeks.

Theres nothing you can really do about the Olympics or the coronavirus, but Im worried, she said. We dont know when this will end, and I have a lot of doubts about how long we can keep the business going.

Pandemic or no, reality was bound to fall short of the grand expectations set by Japanese leaders.

They pitched Tokyo 2020 as an opportunity to show the world a Japan that had shaken off decades of economic stagnation and the devastation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that touched off the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Appealing to nostalgia for the 1964 Olympics, when Japan wowed the world with its advanced technology and economic strength, Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister, framed the 2020 Olympics as an ad campaign for a cool, confident country that was the equal of a rising China.

After decades of perceived decline, more and more Japanese, the elder generation, senior people, wanted to remember, wanted to repeat that successful experience again in 21st-century Japan, said Shunya Yoshimi, a professor of sociology at Tokyo University who has written several books about Japans relationship to the events.

Instead, the pandemic brought a sense of fear and uncertainty that were worsened by the decisions of Japans leaders.

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How the Olympics Hurt Tokyo's Economy - The New York Times

Is It Time to End the Olympics? – The Atlantic

When Tokyo bids farewell to the Olympics this weekend, few people there will be sad to see it go. The Japanese public overwhelmingly opposed hosting the postponed Summer Games, fearing that it could exacerbate the countrys COVID-19 outbreak. In the final week of the competition, Japan broke a record no one wanted, reporting more than 14,000 cases a dayits highest since the pandemic began.

Whether staging the Games was worth the public-health risk or the staggering price tag that came with it will ultimately be for Japan to decide. But as the world looks ahead to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and debates participating in them despite Chinas well-documented human-rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere, perhaps the question isnt when and where the Games should be held, but whether the modern Olympicsan international spectacle that has become increasingly synonymous with overspending, corruption, and autocratic regimesare worth having at all.

Fans of the competition argue that the Olympics are at least as important today as they were when they made their modern debut in the late 19th century. At the time, Pierre de Coubertin, the French historian and founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Olympics governing body, billed the competition as a peace movement that would bring the world together through sport. In the run-up to Tokyo, Olympic organizers stressed that these Games would be a beacon of hope and unity during a time of unprecedented suffering and isolation.

And, in some ways, they have been. Despite their somber opening ceremony and the absence of spectators, this years Olympics delivered on the pomp, pageantry, and athleticism that weve come to expect from the worlds largest sporting festival, including such notable moments as Italy and Qatars shared gold-medal finish in the mens high-jump competition and the American gymnast Simone Biless decision to withdraw from the competition, highlighting the importance of athletes mental well-being. But behind the veneer of pageantry and nationalism lie more troubling trendsones that close observers of the Olympics describe as endemic issues the IOC has so far proved unable, or unwilling, to address.

The first problem is the sheer cost of the Games. While hosting an Olympics is regarded by many cities as one of the worlds greatest honors, its also one of the most expensive. With few exceptions, the Olympics have been a money-losing endeavor for their hostsone that starts with cities paying tens of millions of dollars just to submit a bid and ends with them spending several times more than their budget. (Tokyos Games, for example, were initially expected to cost $7.3 billion; theyre now projected to total closer to $28 billion). As a result, many host cities are saddled with years of debt, not to mention the burden of maintaining abandoned stadiums and other white-elephant facilities that quickly fall into disrepair.

Hosting the Olympics is an incredible boondoggle, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, a historian and the author of Dropping the Torch, a book about the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics, told me. Its a great way to lose money. (An IOC spokesperson disputed this characterization, citing a study which concluded that the cost of the Olympic Games from 2000 to 2018 were covered by revenue. This report, however, focuses on the profitability of Games from the perspective of the Olympic Committees rather than the host cities. It also excludes capital costs such as transportation upgrades on the grounds that they are not needed to stage the Games.)

Read: 3 reasons why hosting the Olympics is a losers game

The bleak economic prospects explain why interest in hosting the Games has waned in recent years. Numerous referenda have shown that when populations are given a say in whether their city should take on an Olympics, the answer is almost always an emphatic no. But the economic challenge of hosting the games also explains another recurring issue: the weaponization of the Olympics by repressive states. After all, unlike democracies, authoritarian regimes dont need to worry about referenda. And although the cost of running an Olympics is high, the Games grant their host country the ability to showcase its might and launder its reputation on the world stage.

Although the IOC has attracted criticism for its record of partnering with authoritarian regimes, that hasnt been enough to compel the governing body to change tack. Part of the reason is that, in some instances, authoritarian states have been the only bidders left standing. Such was the case in the bid for the 2022 Winter Games, after Oslo, the favorite, withdrew over cost issues, leaving just two contenders: Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Summer Games, and Almaty, in Kazakhstan. Beijing won.

But perhaps the primary reason the IOC hasnt excluded autocracies from the Games is because its simply not in the committees interest to do so. According to a 2017 report by Thomas Knecke and Michiel de Nooij, keeping good working relations with authoritarian governments helps the IOC to secure the future of its main revenue driver, the Olympic Games, thus providing for its own future. Put simply, partnering with autocracies pays. Given the diverse participation in the Olympic Games, the IOC must remain neutral on all global political issues, an IOC spokesperson told The Atlantic, adding that the choice of host does not mean that the IOC takes a position with regard to the political structure, social circumstances, or human rights standard in [the] country.

Critics of the Olympics have put forth a number of recommendations for reform, including giving the Games a permanent home in Greece, thereby honoring their ancient roots while also bringing an end to the bidding wars and overspending that have overshadowed their purpose of bringing the world together. But such reforms have largely been ignored by the IOC, which opted instead to put forward its own set of recommendations, including encouraging host cities to rely on existing or temporary sporting facilities and launching an Olympic TV channel.

Read: What if the Olympics were always held in the same city?

To say they are not willing to make significant changes to their business model is to make one of the most egregious understatements that I can conjure on this topic, Jules Boykoff, an international expert in sports politics and the author of multiple books on the Olympics, told me. Having spent time in London, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo in the run-up to the 2012, 2016, and 2020 Games, respectively, Boykoff noted that many of the issues seen in the Olympicsincluding internal displacement, corruption, and greenwashingtravel with the Games. Theyre not Tokyo problems; theyre not Rio problems; theyre not London problems, he said. They are problems that are essentially imported into each Olympic host city when the political and economic elites of that city decide to put forth a bid.

They are an Olympics problem, but they are also, fundamentally, an IOC problem. After all, the governing body consists of 102 members, comprising former Olympians, presidents of international sporting federations, and even royalty. It selects its own members, and makes no requirement that every country be represented. Indeed, most arent. Despite claiming supreme authority over the worlds largest sporting festival, it lacks external accountability.

The IOC is completely undemocratic; its completely nontransparent, David Goldblatt, the author of The Games: A Global History of the Olympics, told me. It doesnt appoint critics; it doesnt listen to its critics; it doesnt engage with its critics. And yet, it has a privileged position in the global governance of sport.

Although the IOC is unlikely to heed its critics calls to reform the Olympics, or to cancel them altogether, it has proved its ability to change coursewhen its left with no other choice. The shortage of willing host cities has already prompted the IOC to overhaul its bidding process, swapping its costly bidding wars for an internal (and arguably less transparent) selection process instead. Climate change, and the impact it could have on the viability of future host cities, could also escalate the pressure to alter the way the Olympics are conducted. After Beijing (which is already ill-suited to host a Winter Games, relying entirely on artificial snow), the Olympics will then head to Paris, to Milan and Cortina dAmpezzo in Italy, to Los Angeles, and to Brisbane, all of which are grappling with rising temperatures and extreme weather events including drought, wildfires, and flooding.

But the Olympics might be running out of time for reform. After Tokyo, the varnish [of the Games] has been stripped off, Boykoff said. If you cant do something now, especially with another very controversial Olympic Games coming up, in Beijing, well sheesh, when are you going to be able to do it?

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Is It Time to End the Olympics? - The Atlantic

2021 Olympics — In baseball, Japan got the gold it has wanted forever – ESPN

You can only imagine the joy and jubilation if cheering, flag-waving spectators had filled Yokohama Baseball Stadium rather than empty seats. Instead of chants, we heard the echo of the foul-ball buzzer.

Baseball is like a national religion in Japan, where the annual high school tournament known as Koshien can draw more than 50% of television viewers and the star players earn instant fame. While the Olympic baseball tournament is mostly an afterthought in the United States, where the focus is on the gymnasts, swimmers and track and field stars, fans in Japan expected the home country to win the gold medal. There would be no celebration for silver.

The home team delivered. Staring down that enormous pressure, a team of Japanese All-Stars -- the Central and Pacific leagues paused their schedules to allow the best players to play -- beat a ragtag U.S. roster of baseball lifers and minor leaguers 2-0 in the gold-medal game to win its first Olympic gold medal. Five Japanese pitchers delivered a master class in pitching, holding the U.S. team to six hits. The U.S. had just one extra-base hit and only one runner reached third base.

The biggest hero of the day for Japan was 23-year-old starter Masato Morishita, a rising star for the Hiroshima Carp. The Central League's rookie of the year in 2020, Morishita shut down the U.S. lineup with five scoreless innings, keeping it off balance with a big, old-school, slow curveball, a moving fastball that darted in on the right-handed batters, and a hesitation in his delivery, where he would pause with his front knee frozen in midair. Pressure? Morishita wore a gold-colored glove.

I suspect that glove color will suddenly become very popular with kids across Japan.

Indeed, it was a big day for Japan's youngest stars.

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U.S. starter Nick Martinez, who has pitched in Japan since 2018 after spending four years with the Texas Rangers, locked up with Morishita in a great pitcher's duel. He escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning with a force at home and three-pitch strikeout, screaming and pumping his fist after the whiff. He struck out the side in the fifth.

He left after six innings trailing 1-0, however, as 21-year-old Munetaka Murakami hit an opposite-field home run in the third inning that just cleared the fence in left-center. Despite his youth, Murakami is already in his fourth season with the Yakult Swallows. He hit 36 home runs in 2019, .307 with 28 home runs in 2020, and already has 26 in 83 games this season. It was quiet in the stadium, but a roar certainly serenaded across Japan as he rounded the bases. He's a player U.S. scouts will be watching closely.

After Morishita exited, Japan emptied its bullpen. The second reliever was Hiromi Itoh, a 23-year-old rookie for the Nippon Ham Fighters, a starter in the regular season, but getting the seventh inning in this game. On a humid evening in Yokohama, he applied a liberal dosage of rosin to his fingers and with every pitch a puff of dust flew off the ball.

Itoh got one of the biggest outs of the game. With A's prospect Nick Allen on third with two outs, Itoh faced leadoff hitter Eddy Alvarez. The 31-year-old Alvarez, who carried the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies with basketball star Sue Bird, won a silver medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, as part of the U.S. speedskating relay team. When the U.S. beat South Korea to reach the gold-medal game -- guaranteeing Alvarez a medal -- he broke down in tears, overjoyed at becoming the sixth athlete to win medals in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. Alvarez bounced out to first to end the threat.

Indeed, compared to the star-studded Japanese roster or the U.S. basketball men's and women's rosters, the U.S. Olympic baseball roster was mostly players like Alvarez, the Bad News Bears only without Kelly Leak and Amanda Wurlitzer.

Oh, the U.S. team had its own All-Stars -- former All-Stars that is, like Todd Frazier, the 35-year-old veteran who was released earlier this season after hitting .086 for the Pirates. Or Scott Kazmir, the 37-year-old lefty who made his first All-Star Game way back in 2006. After not pitching in the majors since 2016, Kazmir made it back to the big leagues this year, starting two games for the Giants. Edwin Jackson is the ultimate lifer. He played for 14 teams in his major league career, a couple of them more than once. He last pitched in the majors in 2019. It's not easy to give up the sport you've played your entire life.

The tension mounted in the late innings. After Tyler Austin's leadoff single in the eighth, Japan brought in lefty reliever Suguru Iwazaki to face Red Sox prospect Triston Casas. Casas and Allen were the two legitimate position player prospects on the team and he had been the team's best hitter in the tournament. Iwazaki threw him a 3-2 slider, probably off the plate, and Casas tried to check his swing, but couldn't. Frazier popped up, yelling in frustration. It might have been his final at-bat as a professional baseball player. Eric Filia grounded out.

Japan added a run in the bottom of the eighth and then turned to another rookie, Ryoji Kuribayashi, to close it out. Kuribayashi has an 0.53 ERA for the Hiroshima Carp, with 18 saves and 54 strikeouts in 33 innings. Like many of the Japanese pitchers who have come over to the U.S. major leagues, he has a nasty split-fingered pitch. He got a strikeout and fly ball before Allen singled with two outs.

It was up to Jack Lopez, the No. 9 hitter in the U.S. lineup. He has been in the minor leagues since 2012, playing for the Royals, Braves and now Red Sox organizations. Born in Puerto Rico, he has played seven seasons of winter ball there. He has played for Idaho Falls and Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas and Omaha and Gwinnett and Worcester. He has seen America. He has never played a major league game.

Kuribayashi was too good. Lopez grounded out to shortstop, the Japanese players rushed the mound and the coaching staff hugged, history secured. As Eduardo Perez said on the broadcast, this was the gold medal Japan wanted above all others.

Then the Japanese team lined up along the third-base line, turned toward the U.S. dugout and bowed.

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2021 Olympics -- In baseball, Japan got the gold it has wanted forever - ESPN

The Olympics Are All Fun, No Games on TikTok – The New York Times

Olympians are the worlds most impressive athletes. Watching them show off their superhuman strength, endurance and form, its easy to forget that many of them are not just mortals but teens and 20-somethings, effectively living in dorms, their emotions and hormones swiveling and swerving as they vie for the ultimate honors in sports.

When theyre not competing, the athletes at the Olympic Games in Tokyo have been quite candid on social media. Posts from the last two weeks, many of them on TikTok, show this years Olympians flirting, knitting, dancing, answering personal questions and, of course, making sex jokes.

Heres just a sampling of whats been happening in their downtime, as seen on the smallest of screens.

Athletes across the board the Israeli baseball team, an Irish gymnast, American rugby players have posted videos of themselves and teammates attempting to corrupt the cardboard beds in the Olympic Village. Many of these test the bed videos were a humorous response to the rumor that the recycled beds were provided as a way to dissuade athletes from having sex. (That is not the case, according to the company that made them.)

In another jokey take on the Olympic Villages reputation as a hookup zone, Noah Williams, a British diver, posted a TikTok video of himself and his teammate Tom Daley unboxing hundreds of free condoms. (The contraceptives have been provided by the organizers of the Olympics for more than 30 years to encourage sexual health.)

Other Olympians have been using social media to flirt with or at least openly admire their fellow competitors from afar.

Tyler Downs, an Olympic diver, posted a video on TikTok directed at Simone Biles, asking the decorated gymnast to talk 2 me. A Japanese fencer named Kaito Streets took the same approach with Naomi Osaka, the tennis player. Though the videos are flirty, it is unlikely that the young men have more in mind than attracting attention from their sports idols and their fans.

Gus Kenworthy, a commentator, posted a compilation of male athletes some shirtless while Charli XCXs Boys played in the background. The lyrics are anything but subtle: I was busy thinking bout boys/ Boys, boys/ I was busy dreaming bout boys.

Ilona Maher, a member of the U.S. womens rugby team, made no secret of her search for an Olympic bae in Tokyo, posting several videos about spotting Olympic demigods and making prolonged eye contact.

One user asked why the Olympians wont just talk to each other in person. Its not that easy to go up to a pack of six, seven Romanian volleyball players and shoot my shot, Ms. Maher said in one video. Im working on it, but I dont know if thats in the cards for me.

In addition to the sillier posts, many athletes have pulled back the curtain on life in the Olympic Village, sharing footage of the nail salon, the souvenir shop, the self-driving vans, the massage center and the florist.

Kelsey Marie Robinson, a volleyball player for the United States, has been reviewing the food in the villages cafeteria. In one video, she pans over a spread of salmon, steak, peaches, melons, fried calamari, seaweed rice balls, vegetable tempura and a chocolate mousse. The mousse really got her attention (10/10, Ms. Robinson wrote.)

Erica Ogwumike, a basketball player for the Nigerian team and a student in medical school, gave a short overview of the polyclinic, where athletes can receive acupuncture, dermatology treatments, physiotherapy and more.

Various athletes have answered frequently asked questions about their sport, themselves and being in the Olympics. (For volleyball players, how tall are you? is a common one.)

Cody Melphy, an American rugby player, has used his TikTok page to answer more niche questions, like whether athletes are allowed to keep the comforters that come with their cardboard beds (they are) and what happens if an athletes laundry is lost (Mr. Melphy washed his used clothes in a bathtub).

Mr. Daley, a diver and gold medalist who appeared in the condom unboxing video, has also been sharing his progress on knitting projects. On an Instagram page devoted to his knitted and crocheted creations, he said that the hobby has kept him sane.

Some competitors brought their fans into the experience even before reaching Tokyo. Liza Pletneva, a rhythmic gymnast from the United States, documented her teams journey from home, which included a six-hour layover in Amsterdam, an 11-hour flight to Tokyo and five hours of processing upon arrival.

In comments on these videos, TikTok users are expressing their appreciation for how much inside scoop the Olympians have been posting. Noah Schnapp, an actor best known for his role on Stranger Things, published a video on TikTok saying he didnt know Olympic athletes were so funny and normal and that seeing their routines on TikTok has changed the entire experience of spectating.

So the ratings are in. Season 1 of Olympics TikTok is a success.

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The Olympics Are All Fun, No Games on TikTok - The New York Times

Why Host The Olympics? : The Indicator from Planet Money – NPR

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The Tokyo Olympics have met numerous challenges, from postponing the event in 2020 to near-empty stadiums in 2021 due to the pandemic. However, a historical challenge when it comes to the games is the massive cost. The current Olympics have already cost Japan over 15 billion dollars, much more than the original seven billion dollar proposal. So why do cities bid for the Olympics, when it is very likely that they will lose money?

Professor Kenneth Shropshire says the Olympics introduce your city to the rest of the world. For example, in 1968 he says, Mexico City wanted to show that Latin America was a place to visit and, in 1984, Los Angeles wanted to illustrate that it wasn't just Hollywood. It was also part of the Pacific Rim. Professor Victor Matheson notes the positive impact on infrastructure that the Olympic games can bring to a city plus the potential boost to local tourism.

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For the Next Summer Olympics, Paris 2024 Presses On With Plan A, but Studies Tokyo’s Plan B – The New York Times

TOKYO Tony Estanguet wants to talk about how the next Olympic Games, in Paris in 2024, will be a paradigm-shifting moment for an event that has come under fire for becoming too bloated, too costly, too onerous for the citizens of the places where the quadrennial sporting jamboree lands.

Estanguet wants to talk about sustainability plans, how 95 percent of the venues are already built and how measures are in place to ensure the budget of 7.5 billion euros ($8.8 billion) for the Games will not balloon when the event nears, as Olympic budgets have a tendency to do.

But all of that has to wait. The first task for Estanguet, the president of the Paris 2024 Olympic organizing committee, is to figure out how to plan an event for which preparations are likely to be affected by a pandemic now well into its second year. Estanguet brought dozens of staff members to Japan to shadow organizers of the Tokyo Games perhaps the most complicated, strangest Olympics in history and to learn how to take a layered plan years in the making and rewrite it on the fly.

Nobody knows what will happen with this pandemic, said Estanguet, a three-time Olympic champion in canoe slalom, so we have to be ready for any kind of scenario.

At the Tokyo Games, he and his colleagues have visited stadiums and arenas where some of the worlds finest athletes have performed without spectators. He has met with some officials to discuss the finer points of biosecurity, and then sat down with others to learn about the successes and failures of bubble environments.

The learnings of here is that its feasible to organize the Games even with this kind of situation, Estanguet said. So we are here to learn.

Estanguet said the Paris officials would remain in Tokyo for further talks after the Games end on Sunday, and then do the same sort of shadowing program with organizers of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, where restrictions on movement and health protocols are likely to be even more stringent than they have been in Tokyo.

Yet Estanguet remains hopeful that the coronavirus pandemic will be something for the history books by the time the Summer Games arrive in France.

We will look at all the measures they put in place here, but we are still working on our Plan A, he said. I want my team first to be at the best level with Plan A.

That plan is firmly underway. A sponsorship target of one billion euros has just passed the halfway mark, and the keen interest of both Frances president, Emmanuel Macron, and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has already helped clear administrative hurdles.

Macron, known to be a sports fan, was a visible presence for the first part of the Tokyo Games, hopping from venue to venue. Hidalgo will be Pariss representative at the closing ceremony.

We rely on our ability to have all of them really engaged, Estanguet said.

Estanguet pointed out that the government had adopted a strategy built around the Olympics that for the first time requires every primary school in France to set aside 30 minutes a day for physical activity. That, Estanguet said, was an example of the benefits of the Games, already in place three years before the opening ceremony.

Such legacies have been promised by hosts before, of course, only to fizzle out not long after the Olympic flame goes dark. Instead, the Games have often been followed by recriminations over costs and stories of expensive venues fallen into disuse. Estanguet refused to predict whether Paris would meet its own set of lofty promises, but said the conditions were in place to do so.

I can tell you that we have control of our budget every year from the public authorities, and so far we are still running with the same budget, he said. So I will not guarantee you, but everything is put in place for this new model.

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For the Next Summer Olympics, Paris 2024 Presses On With Plan A, but Studies Tokyo's Plan B - The New York Times

Olympics 2021 – Five-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are ‘greatest teammates in history of sports’ – ESPN

12:03 AM ET

Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

As the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals -- leading the U.S. women to a seventh consecutive gold in the process on a historic final day at the Tokyo Games -- Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi also solidified the title given to them by the coach who brought the duo together two decades ago.

"They are two of the greatest teammates in the history of sports," UConn's Geno Auriemma said. "Even if you only used UConn, or only the Olympics, or only Europe. Throw in all three, and no one even comes close.

"If this is indeed their last Olympics together, winning a gold medal just got a lot harder [for U.S. women's basketball]."

"If" might seem an unnecessary qualifier considering Bird turns 41 in October and Taurasi is 39. While Bird has said this will be her last Olympics, the backcourt duo has been at the top of the sport for so long, it's hard to imagine Team USA without them.

"We always say we're lucky we get to do this together," Taurasi said. "There's this confidence and this trust factor you have."

Perhaps they will have one last go-round next year at the FIBA Women's World Cup. It's the kind of thing Bird and Taurasi would consider, because they've taken their national team commitment as a solemn oath, as dear to them as anything in their epic careers. They played together two seasons at UConn and several years overseas in Russia. But their most iconic pairing has been wearing the red, white and blue of the senior national team through five Olympics and four World Cups.

Including Saturday's 90-75 win over Japan, Bird has 10 medals between the Olympics and World Cup, more than any men's or women's basketball player. All are gold except the 2006 World Cup bronze. Taurasi is one medal behind her. Bird's first came in the 2002 World Cup when she was a Seattle Storm rookie, and Taurasi was a UConn junior.

"They've done so much for USA Basketball that the rest of us players are just continuing to try and return the favor and make sure that they realize how much we appreciate them," said U.S. forward Breanna Stewart, who is also Bird's teammate with the Storm.

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A huge amount of talent -- including four-time Olympic gold medalists Lisa Leslie, Teresa Edwards (she also won an Olympic bronze) and current team member Sylvia Fowles -- paved the way and helped the United States win nine of the 11 Olympic women's tournaments they've entered, and their run of winning seven in a row matches the longest gold-medal streak any country has had in any Olympic team sport. But no players have contributed more to the U.S. gold haul than Bird and Taurasi: 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020.

"They're a big part of the glue to the whole system," Leslie said. "Once, they were the babies coming in. They were open to listening, respectful to the older players. That's the culture.

"I believe they've carried the torch beautifully."

There are many famous pro sports duos: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

But Bird and Taurasi, who will one day both be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, are different. What are the odds of two players from opposite coasts, born 20 months apart, ending up at the same college, then going on to be both good enough and healthy enough to stay at the top of their sport through five Olympic cycles? Both also complement each other so well: Taurasi is the WNBA's all-time scoring leader who is also an expert passer, while Bird is the league's career assist leader also known for her dagger-like shooting.

It has been a fantastic confluence of athletic talent, ambition, personality and commitment. One of the closest comparisons in basketball is Bill Russell and KC Jones, who led the University of San Francisco to two NCAA titles, won gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics with the United States and then won eight NBA titles together with the Boston Celtics.

There's also Edwards and Katrina McClain, Georgia teammates who reached the 1985 NCAA championship game and then played in three Olympics together.

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Bird and Taurasi came together at UConn in the fall of 2000: Bird a junior from Long Island who had won a national championship with the Huskies earlier that year and Taurasi the highly anticipated recruit from California. They lost in the 2001 Final Four, but nothing could stop them the next season. They defeated Tennessee so thoroughly in the 2002 national semifinals that Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt went to the UConn locker room to tell them they were one of the best teams she had ever seen.

Bird was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 WNBA draft and the understudy at point guard to current U.S. coach Dawn Staley in the FIBA World Cup later that year. Taurasi won two more NCAA titles and was a No. 1 draft pick herself, by Phoenix, and then joined Bird and Staley on the 2004 Olympic team. Their only loss in a major competition with USA Basketball came to Russia in the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

Each has been the longtime face of her WNBA franchise. Bird, in her 18th WNBA season in Seattle, has won four WNBA titles, while Taurasi, in her 17th season in Phoenix, has three. Bird missed two seasons dealing with knee injuries; Taurasi sat out one to rest after years of non-stop play between the WNBA and overseas.

The overseas part of their careers was far from the limelight in frigid Russian winters. They lamented missed milestones with family and friends back home, but it paid so well they committed to doing it. They played on three different Russian teams together and won five EuroLeague championships.

Bird said the few quarrels they've had didn't come when they were playing at UConn or with USA Basketball.

"It was when we were in Russia," she said. "At some point, you get sick of people, or an argument comes up that goes a little too far. Maybe a little too much wine. You take your space and then you wake up the next day and play. But we've had to apologize to each other before."

Taurasi said she could count on one hand the times they truly have been mad at each other.

"And it's probably over the dumbest s--- ever," she said. "We're able to have different opinions but always come to an understanding of working through things. We take that attitude and put it into all the teams we've been on."

Auriemma coached Bird and Taurasi in two Olympics and two World Cups, and said he is particularly proud of their longevity and the mental toughness it takes to keep pushing yourself year after year.

Staley loves their maturity and dependability: "They've played everywhere. They've been through everything. There is nothing they haven't seen.

"They want to play perfectly. They still want to be coached, and that's an incredible thing at this level, when their intellect is off the charts."

Bird said wearing the Team USA jersey still matters just as much to her, no matter how big her medal collection. At 15, she went with AAU teammates to see the national team playing an exhibition in 1995 while preparing for the Atlanta Olympics. Watching U.S. point guard Jennifer Azzi, in particular, inspired Bird, who called it her first "see it, be it" moment.

"I was like, 'Here's this player who is kind of the same size as me, same build, and she's able to do this,'" Bird said. "And remember, there was no WNBA yet. So for us, in that generation, you were really looking to the Olympics as the ultimate goal."

Bird couldn't have known that 26 years later, she would be celebrating a fifth Olympic gold medal with one of her best friends. Both Bird and Taurasi have been "see it, be it" inspirations for countless kids.

Taurasi jokes that she deals with the weight of history, of her place in the game and all that she and Bird have shared by "Not doing a lot of thinking. I'm very narrow-focused on the things I've got to get done."

What they've gotten done has been remarkable.

So much has changed in the world and in women's basketball over the last two decades. But the bond between Bird and Taurasi has been unchanging, bringing a sense of confidence and purpose to the national team that all who have played with them have appreciated.

"There's certain people in life you just get along with really well, and you have so many shared experiences that you can relate a little more," Taurasi said of her friendship with Bird. "That's what the last 20 years have been like."

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Olympics 2021 - Five-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are 'greatest teammates in history of sports' - ESPN

Tokyo Olympics on Thursday: No Easy Wins – The New York Times

Youth was on display as 13-year-old Rayssa Leal of Brazil won silver in womens street skateboarding. Momiji Nishiya of Japan won gold and shes also 13.

The U.S. softball team celebrated a walkoff home run by Kelsey Stewart to beat Japan. The teams will play again on Tuesday for a gold medal.

Ariarne Titmus of Australia, in Lane 3, outswam Katie Ledecky, in Lane 4, in the 400-meter freestyle. Ledecky led for much of the race but Titmus finished stronger.

Germany attacked Argentinas goal in the handball preliminary round, winning 33-25.

Naomi Osaka needed just 65 minutes to get past Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-2. The womens singles field opened up widely for her as two other top players lost.

Fiji, the reigning Olympic champions, beat Canada in rugby qualifying.

The United States and China had a surprisingly close first half in womens water polo. The Americans prevailed and remain the dominant team in the sport.

The sun was setting as the Netherlands played Belgium in three-on-three basketball.

Nikita Nagornyy of Russia helped his country get past Japan and China in the mens gymnastics team final.

David Tshama Mwenekabwe of the Democratic Republic of Congo fought in the mens middleweight class round of 32.

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Tokyo Olympics on Thursday: No Easy Wins - The New York Times

IOC votes to give itself more power to remove sports from Olympics – ESPN

TOKYO -- The International Olympic Committee has given itself more power to remove sports from the Olympic program.

The decision voted in by IOC members comes during prolonged issues with the leadership of weightlifting and boxing.

The IOC can now remove a sport if its governing body does not comply with a decision made by the Olympic body's executive board or if it "acts in a manner likely to tarnish the reputation of the Olympic movement."

Weightlifting could lose its place at the 2024 Paris Olympics because of long-term doping problems and governance issues. The International Weightlifting Federation was led for two decades until last year by longtime IOC member Tamas Ajan.

Boxing at the Tokyo Games was taken out of the International Boxing Association's control in 2019 after doubts about the integrity of Olympic bouts and IOC concerns about its presidential elections.

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IOC votes to give itself more power to remove sports from Olympics - ESPN

Why India Struggles to Win Gold Medals in the Olympics – The New York Times

This is the pressure, inside your head all the time, he added.

Bindra, the Beijing 2008 gold medalist, said that his success was rooted not in state support but in family wealth. His father built a world-class shooting range in their home in the northern city of Chandigarh. Then he topped it up with a swimming pool and a gym so that his son could build his muscle. At the time, the only comparable shooting range was in New Delhi.

Viren Rasquinha, a former captain of the Indian hockey team, is now the chief executive of Olympic Gold Quest, a nonprofit group founded by former top-flight athletes to promote the next generation of talent.

While Rasquinha said that the national sports authority has shed some of its lumbering, graft-ridden reputation, creating an ecosystem of coaches, training facilities, infrastructure and equipment takes time.

In recent years, the countrys most powerful crop of Olympians has come from a narrow neck of land in northeastern India, where ethnic minorities live in the shadow of the Himalayas. These states, Manipur and Assam, are home to insurgent movements fighting for autonomy from the Indian state. Because of their ethnicity, people there often face discrimination.

Rural youth have the passion and fire in the belly, which is missing among the students in the cities, said Rasquinha, whose group has funded some of these athletes.

Mary Kom, a light-flyweight boxer from Manipur who captured bronze at the 2012 Games in London, said she has long faced prejudice from Hindu nationalists who say that as a Christian, she is somehow not truly Indian. There are also racist whispers, some not so quiet, that people from the Himalayan foothills are more martial than others in India and thats why they make good boxers.

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Why India Struggles to Win Gold Medals in the Olympics - The New York Times

Tokyo Olympics: golds for Kenny and Archibald, silver for Muir and more as it happened – The Guardian

The key events for tomorrow, via our daily briefing.

All events are listed here in local Tokyo time. Add an hour for Sydney, subtract eight hours for Bristol, 13 hours for New York and 16 hours for San Francisco.

Athletics (7.35pm-9.50pm) Theres only one session in the stadium on Saturday and it is final after final. We get the womens high jump and the mens javelin. The womens 10,000m final is at 7.45pm. The mens 1500m final is 8.40pm. Then we finish the track events in the stadium with the explosive double whammy of the womens and mens 4x400m relay finals.

Womens marathon (6am) Held in Sapporo to try and avoid the Tokyo heat, the women will start at around 10pm UK time so you can settle in with your Ovaltine for a late night watching someone else run 26.2 miles to gold.

Golf (6.30am) It should be the fourth and final round of the womens golf weather permitting.

Canoe sprint (9.30am-12.47pm)There are four finals on Saturday, in the womens canoe double 500m, mens canoe single 1000m, and the kayak four 500m in both flavours.

Beach volleyball (10am-12.20pm)The mens bronze match features pairs from Latvia and Qatar, followed by Norway and Not Russia serving for gold.

Diving (10am and 3pm)The mens 10m platform semi-final and then the final.

Rhythmic gymnastics (10am, 11.30am and 3.20pm)The morning sessions are qualifications for the group all-around. The afternoon is the individual all-around final.

Basketball (11.30am, 4pm and 8pm)The programme is all topsy-turvy possibly for the benefit of US TV audiences but the morning starts with the mens gold medal game between the USA and France. At 4pm, its the womens bronze final (France v Serbia) with the mens bronze medal match between Australia and Slovenia at 8pm.

Baseball (12pm and 7pm ) First the bronze medal match between the Dominican Republic and South Korea, and then the final in the evening between Japan and the USA.

Boxing (2pm-3.15pm)Four final bouts today in mens fly, womens fly, mens middle and womens welter weights. Britains Galal Yafai faces Cubas Carlo Paalam at 2pm.

Karate (2pm-8.45pm)Featuring the mens Kumite +75kg and womens Kumite +61kg. The bronze medal bouts and the finals get going around 7.20pm.

Modern pentathlon (2.30pm-7.30pm) The mens competition features swimming, fencing, show jumping and then the combined cross-country run interrupted by having to shoot at things. It is so great to watch.

Track cycling (3.30pm-6.25pm) Races all day, but one final to look out for: the mens madison final at 4.55pm.

Handball (5pm and 9pm)It is Egypt v Spain for bronze first, then France v Denmark for the gold in the mens competition.

Equestrian (7pm)Its the final day with the horses today, and it is the jumping team final.

Artistic swimming (7.30pm)The team free routine final lights up Saturday on the final day of events.

Football (8.30pm)Its the mens final in Yokohama, featuring Brazil v Spain.

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Tokyo Olympics: golds for Kenny and Archibald, silver for Muir and more as it happened - The Guardian

Second Best in the World at the Tokyo Olympics, but Still Saying Sorry – The New York Times

TOKYO Kenichiro Fumita was crying so hard that he could barely get the words out.

I wanted to return my gratitude to the concerned people and volunteers who are running the Olympics during this difficult time, Mr. Fumita, a Greco-Roman wrestler, said between sobs after finishing his final bout at the Games this week.

I ended up with this shameful result, he said, bobbing his head abjectly. Im truly sorry.

Mr. Fumita, 25, had just won a silver medal.

In what has become a familiar and, at times, wrenching sight during the Tokyo Olympics, many Japanese athletes have wept through post-competition interviews, apologizing for any result short of gold. Even some who had won a medal, like Mr. Fumita, lamented that they had let down their team, their supporters, even their country.

After Japans judo team earned silver, losing to France, Shoichiro Mukai, 25, also apologized. I wanted to withstand a little bit more, he said. And Im so sorry to everyone on the team.

Apologizing for being second best in the world would seem to reflect an absurdly unforgiving metric of success. But for these athletes competing in their home country, the emotionally charged displays of repentance which often follow pointed questions from the Japanese news media can represent an intricate mix of regret, gratitude, obligation and humility.

If you dont apologize for only getting silver, you might be criticized, said Takuya Yamazaki, a sports lawyer who represents players unions in Japan.

From an early age, Japanese athletes are not really supposed to think like they are playing sports for themselves, Mr. Yamazaki said. Especially in childhood, there are expectations from adults, teachers, parents or other senior people. So its kind of a deeply rooted mind-set.

The expectations placed on the athletes have been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which made the Olympics deeply unpopular with the Japanese public before the events began. Many may feel more pressure than usual to deliver medals to justify holding the Games, as anxiety swells over rising coronavirus cases in Japan. Athletes who have failed to do so have offered outpourings of regret.

I feel fed up with myself, said Kai Harada, a sport climber, vigorously wiping his eyes during an interview after failing to make the finals. Takeru Kitazono, a gymnast who finished sixth on the horizontal bar, fought back tears as he spoke of his supporters. I wanted to return my gratitude with my performance, he said. But I couldnt.

Naomi Osaka, in a statement after she was eliminated in the third round of womens singles tennis, said she was proud to represent Japan but added, Im sorry that I couldnt respond to peoples expectations.

In some respects, these athletes have offered an extreme form of the apologies that are everyday social lubricants in Japanese culture.

When entering someones home, a visitor literally says sorry. Workers going on vacation apologize for burdening colleagues, while conductors express deep regret if a train is a minute late or even a few seconds early. Generally, these apologies are a matter of convention rather than a declaration of responsibility.

At times, the mea culpas ring hollow. Corporate chieftains and politicians frequently bow deeply to the news cameras to apologize for this corporate scandal or that political misdeed. For the most part, few consequences follow.

Aug. 8, 2021, 12:43 p.m. ET

The former president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, initially tried to use such an apology to avoid resigning after making sexist remarks. But a vociferous social media campaign helped depose him.

People who study Japanese culture say the athletes apologies, even in the face of victory, stem from an instinct that is cultivated from childhood.

Americans are very good at finding reasons why you are great even if you fail, said Shinobu Kitayama, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan. But in Japan, he said, even if you succeed, you have to apologize.

The apologies are also likely to be recognized as tacit expressions of gratitude, said Joy Hendry, an anthropologist and the author of Understanding Japanese Society. I expect they feel that they need to apologize for not having achieved the very best they could for those who trained or financially supported them, Ms. Hendry said.

Mr. Fumita, the wrestler, may have also felt pressure to please his father, a well-known wrestling coach. In an interview on NHK, the public broadcaster, Mr. Fumita said he was afraid to answer a call after his silver medal win. I could not pick up the phone, he said. I just didnt know what I could say to my father.

The athletes also know that aside from the medal count, the Japanese public cannot enjoy the perks of being an Olympic host, because spectators are barred from the venues.

The absence of fans was palpable on Tuesday night at a near-empty stadium in Saitama, a Tokyo suburb, during the semifinal mens soccer match between Japan and Spain. Close to 64,000 seats were vacant as loudspeakers blasted recorded cheers and applause onto the field.

After Japan lost in the final minutes of extra time, Yuki Soma, 24, a midfielder, paid tribute to those who could not be there. By winning a medal at any cost, I would like to give energy to Japan and make them smile, he said at a postgame news conference, his eyes downcast. The bronze is still in Japans reach as it faces Mexico on Friday.

Of course, its not just Japanese Olympians who express bitter disappointment after missing out on gold. Liao Qiuyun of China wept openly after winning silver in womens weight lifting last week. After the U.S. womens soccer team fell to Canada on Monday night in a semifinal, one member of the team, Carli Lloyd, crouched on the field, clasping her head in her hands.

But in a post-match interview, she made no apology. I was just gutted, Ms. Lloyd said, adding, we give up so much, and you want to win.

When Simone Biles withdrew from both the gymnastics team competition and the individual all-around competition, she explained that she wanted to protect her own mental and physical health.

The urge to apologize may stem in part from the harsh coaching style found in some sports in Japan, said Katrin Jumiko Leitner, an associate professor in sports management and wellness at Rikkyo University in Saitama. When she first came to Japan to train in judo, she said, she was shocked by coaches' aggressive language. I thought, if thats the way to become an Olympic champion, I dont want to be an Olympic champion, she said. They did not treat athletes like human beings.

Some Japanese athletes have been subjected to public criticism for failing to show sufficient humility. Yuko Arimori, a marathon runner who won silver in Barcelona in 1992 and bronze in Atlanta in 1996, was accused of narcissism by some in the Japanese news media after declaring in Atlanta that she was proud of herself.

Ms. Arimori understands why athletes continue to offer apologies, given that they can convey a sense of gratitude.

But I think supporters know the athletes have worked hard enough, Ms. Arimori added. So there is no need to apologize.

Makiko Inoue and Hikari Hida contributed reporting.

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Second Best in the World at the Tokyo Olympics, but Still Saying Sorry - The New York Times

Extraordinary moments from the Tokyo Olympics that outshined the competition – CBS News

With no fans in the stands due to the pandemic, the Olympics look a little different this year but the lack of spectators does not mean a lack of enthusiasm. Here are some of the inspiring moments that outshined the competition.

Lydia Jacoby was the first American woman to win a gold medal in the swimming events in Tokyo. The high school student dominated the women's 100-meter breaststroke, completing it in 1 minute, 4.95 seconds and when she did, her hometown went wild.

Footage from a watch party in Seward, Alaska shows friends and family jumping for joy after Jacoby, the first Alaskan to make the U.S. swim team, earned gold.

Australian swimmer Ariarne Titmus beat Team USA's Katie Ledecky in the 400-meter freestyle by two-thirds of a second Monday.

Titmus' coach Dean Boxall went wild after she won. Cameras caught Boxall hard to miss in a neon yellow shirt punching the air, shouting and pacing back and forth in sheer excitement. His celebration quickly went viral on social media.

Upon arriving in Tokyo, several athletes began posting "tours" of the Olympic Village on social media some, including Team USA skateboarder Nyjah Huston and Team USA track and field runner Paul Chelimo, showed off the odd cardboard beds.

The cardboard beds are made sustainably, out of "highly durable cardboard materials," according to the Tokyo Organizing Committee's pre-game report. "These will be turned into recycled paper after the Games."

Still, many athletes seized the opportunity to use the beds in fun social media posts, with the Team USA rugby women posting a tongue-in-cheek TikTok video about the seemingly stiff beds that has gone viral.

British diver Tom Daley made his Olympics debut at the 2008 Beijing games when he was just 14 years old. Fast forward to 2021, Daley is now a father and husband, and after years of trying, he finally brought home the gold.

Daley's husband Dustin Lance Black, and mom, Debbie, were watching together at home and their ecstatic reaction to the win melted hearts on social media.

Ukrainian gymnast Oksana Chusovitina has competed in eight Olympic games and recently announced that at 46 years old, Tokyo would be her last.

Chusovitina competed in the vault event on Sunday and after competing, the stadium gave her a standing ovation, honoring the history-making gymnast for decades of work in the sport.

Caeleb Dressel won a gold medal for Team USA in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay on Monday, and immediately tossed the medal to Brooks Curry, his teammate seated in the bleachers.

Curry helped Dressel earn the medal, as he was the swimmer who competed in the preliminary round. Dressel swam for the final and shared his win with the teammate who helped get him there.

Suni Lee became the fifth straight American woman to win gold in the women'sOlympicgymnastics all-around at the Olympics on Thursday.

When Lee, thefirstHmong-American Olympian, cinched the gold, 18-year-old's friends and family watching at home in Minnesota erupted in cheers including her dad, John Lee, who was paralyzed in an accident in 2019. "All the hard work all the broken bones, all the time you missed vacationing with us, it paid off," he said after his daughter's win.

South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker looked astonished after she won gold in the 200m breaststroke, breaking a world record. Not only did her teammate Kaylene Corbett embrace her, so did Team USA's Lilly King and Annie Lazor.

Despite being on opposing teams, all four women had a group hug the pool, celebrating Schoenmaker's win.

As Team Colombia's Melissa Gonzalez ran in the qualifying race for the 400-meter hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics, she had a fan watching in the U.S.

Her husband, David Blough, a quarterback for the Detroit Lions, looked on with bated breath at a watch party with some of his teammates. The Lions set up a camera to catch the supportive husband's reaction.

About a week after Tom Daley won a gold medal for diving at the Tokyo Olympics and knit his medal a little homemade cozy he was seen watching other events in the stands, knitting.

Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi proved to be the top high jumpers at the Tokyo Olympics. The two tied in the event, and instead of having a jump-off to decide who scored higher, they agreed to share the gold medal.

Their epic celebration together after both winning gold went viral, showing the world what sportsmanship is all about.

Japanese-American surfer Kanoa Igarashi, who competed for Japan, lost to Brazilian Italo Ferreira in the sport's first Olympic appearance. He lost his shot at gold, but not his sportsmanship.

Igarashi, who knows Portuguese, translated a press conference question for Ferreira, who is learning English, the Associated Press reports. "Yes, thank you, Kanoa," Ferreira said in English after the silver medalist helped him.

Team USA's Isaiah Jewett and Botswana's Nijel Amos were competing in the 800-meter semifinals when they got tangled up and fell. The runners didn't get angry at the ruined race. Instead, they got up, wrapped their arms around each other and walked to the finish line together.

Team USA's Ryan Crouser won his second gold medal in the shot put competition at the Olympics on Wednesday. After breaking his own previous record, Crouser became emotional as he held up a piece of paper with a message on it.

"Grandpa, we did it," the sign read. "2020 Olympic champion." Crouser cried as he held the sign up for cameras to capture while family members watched from home.

Team USA's Allyson Felix and Quanera Hayes are fierce competitors in the 400-meter hurdles. In fact, Hayes who has called Felix her "idol" defeated her earlier this year at the Olympic trials. But there didn't seem to be bad blood between the competitors.

The two ended the trials by introducing their children, Demetrius and Camryn, both 2, on the track. The adorable moment of the toddlers hugging was shared during Olympics coverage as their moms competed together again.

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Extraordinary moments from the Tokyo Olympics that outshined the competition - CBS News

Olympics Synchronised swimming-Evil dolls and rap music, the new face of synchro – Reuters

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Artistic Swimming - Women's Duet Free Routine - Final - Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - August 4, 2021. Anna Maria Alexandri of Austria and Eirini Alexandri of Austria during their performance. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

TOKYO, Aug 8 (Reuters) - The alluring voice of an evil doll invites people to "come out and play". Witches, spiders and snakes cavort in edgy routines. Teams spin and twist to hip-hop and rap in the water.

It is the new face of synchronised swimming, aimed at changing the image of a sport long derided as flailing limbs, splashing water and fluffy water ballet done to florid classical music, and it dominated the Tokyo Games competition.

"Until 2019, we just swam classical music," said Eirini Alexandri, who with her identical twin sister performed the chilling evil doll duet routine for Austria, their suits bearing a threatening face.

"So we said OK, we have to change style."

The sport's official name was also changed to "artistic swimming" in 2017 by international swimming organisation FINA as part of a rebranding attempt.

The sport is a blend of muscle and grace. Swimmers have to hold their breath for extended periods underwater, swim in tight, intricate patterns in synchronisation with music, make eye contact with judges - and have it all look easy.

There are costs, with swimmers known to faint.

U.S. athlete Anita Alvarez briefly lost consciousness at the end of her routine at a qualifier in Barcelona this summer and had to be pulled from the water. She and her duet partner appeared at Tokyo but did not make it to the finals.

Swimmers collide in practice, leading to bruises, bloody noses and worse. The sport also sees high rates of concussion.

Though the results were predictable - Russian athletes continued a golden sweep unbroken since Sydney 2000, with China close behind - other changes were notable.

Music ranged from a scattering of classical to hip-hop, rap and a tune from a virtual singer, while routines went from light-hearted to edgy.

On Saturday, Spain's routine was "evolution," complete with dinosaur-like spines on the back of the team's suits, while other teams expressed international unity or the relationship between mankind and nature.

"We changed our tech team music to something really upbeat," Australian swimmer Emily Rogers said after scoring a team technical best with a routine to "Tokyo Drift," by the Japanese hip-hop group "Teriyaki Boyz."

"So maybe that was another reason why it's been our best score yet - because it's so much fun."

Reporting by Elaine Lies and Mayu Sakoda; Editing by Peter Rutherford

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Olympics Synchronised swimming-Evil dolls and rap music, the new face of synchro - Reuters

Guide to New Sports at the Tokyo Olympics – NBC Connecticut

The Tokyo Olympics look like no other Summer Games before and that's partially because this year's competition will feature several brand-new sports: 3x3 basketball, skateboarding, sport climbing, surfing and karate.

Baseball and softball will also make a one-time return, as baseball is wildly popular in Japan and the International Olympic Committee now allows host countries to propose additions to the program.

Heres everything you need to know about all the new sports in Tokyo:

Sport climbing is essentially indoor rock climbing on an inverted wall with holds placed that athletes use to make their way to the top. There are three different disciplines that will all be combined into one event at the Tokyo Olympics, taking place Aug. 3-6. Since the three disciplines are usually contested separately, the Olympics will pose a unique challenge to the 20 men and 20 women who have qualified.

In lead climbing, the wall is also 15 meters high, but the holds are placed in different locations so it's more challenging to reach the top. At the Olympics, climbers will have one chance to get as far up the wall as they can within the six-minute time limit.

Bouldering takes place on a wall only four meters (13 feet) tall, so athletes don't use a safety rope. They score points for the difficulty of the routes that they follow to the top.

Watch all the action from the Tokyo Olympics live on NBC

In speed climbing, two climbers go head-to-head to scramble up a 15-meter (49-foot) wall. Blink and you'll miss it -- men usually complete the challenge in five seconds, and women in seven seconds. All speed walls have holds in the same place so that records are comparable across different competitions.

Sport climbing will be making its Olympic debut in Tokyo this year. Rutledge Wood previews the new Olympic sport alongside Olympian Brooke Raboutou.

Skateboarding will showcase two different disciplines in the Olympics, street and park, with 80 athletes representing 26 different countries in all. Three athletes from the United States will compete in each of the four events (mens street on July 24, womens street on July 25, mens park on Aug. 4, womens park on Aug. 3). All events will be whittled down to eight-person finals after the preliminary heats.

Street skateboarding takes place on a course that mimics obstacles in the real world, like stairs and rails. Nyjah Huston of the United States, who had won three straight world championships before finishing second in this years competition, is one of the favorites for mens street. Each skater will take two 45-second runs and perform five tricks, each of which will receive a score out of 10.00 from the judges. Out of those seven performances, the skaters top four scores will count.

In park skateboarding, skaters complete their tricks within a dome-shaped bowl. In the Olympics, each skater takes three runs, but only the best score counts. Five judges will grade the skaters on a 100-point scale, with the highest and lowest scores getting thrown out.

Street Skateboarder Nyjah Huston shows off his tattoos and explains his skate style.

Surfing at the Tokyo Olympics will take place on Tsurigasaki Beach, 45 miles southeast of Tokyo on the Pacific Coast. The event is scheduled for July 24-28 but will depend on the weather conditions.

The 40 surfers will compete in different heats and catch as many waves as they can during the allotted time. Judges will give them scores out of 10.00 on each wave, with each surfers top two scores counting.

Surfer Kalohe Andino catches a big lego wave as he explains his sport using the iconic plastic bricks.

Like baseball and softball, karate was added to the Olympic program for the Tokyo Games because of its popularity in Japan. It will not be on the slate of events in 2024.

Karate normally has five weight classes for kumite (sparring head-to-head), but the IOC condensed it to three weight classes for the Olympics. As a result, there will be eight medal events: three mens kumite, three womens kumite and kuma (solo demonstration of moves, or forms) for both men and women. Forty athletes will compete from Aug. 4-7, with no more than one representative from each country in each event.

The smaller, faster cousin of traditional five-on-five basketball, 3x3 basketball will also make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Played on a half-court, games end after one team scores 21 points or go to overtime if neither team has 21 points after 10 minutes. Each team has only four players in total, and baskets are worth one point, two points if they come from beyond the arc.

Eight mens and eight womens teams will compete in the tournaments, taking place July 23-28. The U.S. women secured their spot at the Olympic qualifying tournament and will look to challenge the favored French team. Serbia and Latvia are favored in the mens tournament, which doesnt include the United States after it failed to qualify.

At the Tokyo Olympics, there will be six teams competing for a gold medal. Each team will play two opening round games followed by a knockout stage. Then there will be semifinals to determine who plays in the medal games on Aug. 6-7. The six teams competing are Japan, South Korea, Israel, Mexico, the United States and the Dominican Republic.

The Olympic softball tournament in Tokyo will also feature only six teams each. The United States, Japan, Australia, Italy, Mexico and Canada will play a round-robin tournament culminating in the bronze medal game and gold medal game Tuesday, July 27.

Breakdancing, or breaking, will not take place in Tokyo, but the IOC approved it for inclusion at the 2024 Paris Games.

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Guide to New Sports at the Tokyo Olympics - NBC Connecticut

At Tokyo Olympics, Door Slams and Idle Chatter Fill in the Soundtrack – The New York Times

TOKYO This is the moment Olympic athletes have dreamed about, the one they have trained for relentlessly and rehearsed in their minds repeatedly since they were children. Finally, they are stepping onto the mats and courts and playing fields that together represent the biggest stage in international sports. And when they do, theyre hearing crickets.

Or rather, the drone of Japanese cicadas. And doors opening and closing, and trucks rumbling by on nearby streets, and even the idle murmuring of stadium workers.

Many Olympians bide their time for these moments, the quadrennial chance to compete in rousingly packed stadiums, to show a huge crowd their best, to bathe in its cheers and its applause. Instead, the ban on spectators at the Tokyo Games this summer has left some venues sounding as quiet as libraries. In others, the few people in attendance fellow athletes, team staff members, volunteers, dignitaries have taken on the uphill task of providing some semblance of ambience.

But the resulting soundscapes have been unlike anything in the modern history of the Games. These may be the Olympics, the pinnacle of sports, but they dont quite sound like it.

You go to a major tournament, thats one of the best parts, the buzz that you get, said Megan Rapinoe, a forward for the United States womens soccer team, adding that the quiet stadiums here had sapped some of her energy. It definitely changes the dynamic a lot.

Grunts of exertion echo inside empty halls. Public address announcements, clearly recorded in anticipation of packed stands, blare out pointlessly across a sea of empty seats. But at least that is a familiar stadium sound.

At the Ariake Tennis Park, the most unusual aural phenomenon has been the steady hum of cicadas a fixture of Japanese summers, but typically not of major sports championships.

They were actually kind of annoying, Paula Badosa, 23, a tennis player from Spain, said about the noisy insects. I want to talk to my coach about them. (It was unclear what Badosa thought her coach might be able to do about the persistent buzzing.)

For athletes who once envisioned themselves performing for hordes of buzzing fans, the hushed vibe has been a bummer.

Caroline Dubois, 20, a boxer from London, arrived in Tokyo with the sounds of the 2012 Games in her hometown still ringing in her ears. She recalled being dumbstruck by the ambience at a boxing match there featuring Katie Taylor of Ireland and Natasha Jonas of Britain.

They walked out and the crowd went absolutely mental, Dubois said on Tuesday, after a bout in a mostly empty arena where the sounds of punches were repeatedly supplemented by that of a hallway door slamming shut. The noise was unreal. I was just blown away by it.

The atmosphere aint really here, she added.

Still, some have been trying, in small ways, to create it. Matthew Deane, a television host from Bangkok who is producing content for the sports authority of Thailand, stood in an otherwise empty stand in the boxing arena on Tuesday waving the countrys flag. He wanted to make his presence felt, he said, but the fact that there were no other fans made him feel awkward about actually yelling or making too much noise.

Its so quiet, so youre actually a bit hesitant to go all out, because you dont want to throw them off, he said of the athletes. But you want to let them know theres at least a few people supporting them.

Aug. 8, 2021, 11:50 a.m. ET

Others privileged enough to be watching events expressed similar feelings of responsibility. At the basketball game this week between Nigeria and Australia, Olukemi Dare, the wife of the Nigerian sports minister, sat a dozen rows up from the floor, wearing a green track jacket and green shirt, waving a Nigerian flag with each hand.

After she spent the game as the only one cheering in the mostly empty 40,000-seat arena, she was asked if she thought the players noticed her.

I dont know, she said, laughing. but Im trying to cheer them up.

The sounds of these Olympics could not contrast more with those of the previous Summer Games, in Rio de Janeiro, where uniformly cacophonous crowds led officials and athletes in some sports to beg for a moments peace.

Athletes in Tokyo speak longingly of that hubbub.

In Rio, we had a full hall and it was really loud, said Liu Jia, an Austrian table tennis player, adding that she could hear someone coughing while she was playing this week. (Oh, that was me, a nearby team official said, with a smile.)

How does a lack of fans, and in some cases the absence of noise, affect athletes? It depends, experts say.

Fabian Otte, a sports scientist and goalkeeper coach for the German soccer club Borussia Mnchengladbach, mused that silence could benefit athletes in some ways, allowing them, for example, to better hear their coaches and teammates. On the other hand, he said, emotion plays a major role in performance, and athletes often say loud fans can inspire them to push past their normal limits.

Regardless, any major changes in auditory environments, Otte said, can have a huge impact on the big picture, and it can change performance in quite a drastic way.

The most vibrant arena a relative concept in these Games might be the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, thanks to the large volume of swimmers seemingly always on hand. Since they are allowed to attend while not competing, athletes and team staff members there have been organizing themselves into makeshift cheering sections, spouting off chants and using inflatable noise makers, even as huge swaths of the stands remained empty.

Some events have featured vestigial entertainment programming from prepandemic times, creating another sort of discordant soundtrack. At the convention hall where the taekwondo events were held, for example, an announcer animatedly invited crowd members to pantomime playing drums on the giant video screen. The only people in the crowd, though, were journalists and staff members of various national Olympic committees. (A few gamely obliged.)

In others arenas, organizers have been implementing simulated crowd noise to add a layer of auditory texture to the games. But these attempts have been notable mostly for their lack of sophistication.

On the opening day of mens basketball games at Saitama Super Arena, for example, there was ambient noise of some sort coming out of the speakers. But it did not sound much like a basketball crowd, more like the din of a restaurant at lunch time service. Some in the stands wondered, then, whether a hot microphone was broadcasting noise from somewhere else in the building.

Rapinoe sounded more distracted than energized by the fake, oddly soft crowd noise used for the soccer games.

I think there was noise on like level-1 volume, Rapinoe said after a game at Tokyo stadium, laughing. I was like, is that a fan, an actual fan, there?

Like Rapinoe, the biggest names at the Games have played in silence that belied their global standing. When Naomi Osaka one of the most famous athletes in the world and one of Japans biggest sports stars won her opening round match on Sunday in a 10,000-seat arena, five people clapped. All were seated in her player box. One was her coach.

It is hard not to imagine what a moment like that a national hero, notching a big victory only days after lighting the Olympic torch could have sounded like in a parallel, noisy universe.

Matthew Futterman, James Wagner and Tariq Panja contributed reporting.

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At Tokyo Olympics, Door Slams and Idle Chatter Fill in the Soundtrack - The New York Times