HEARD AT HALFTIME: Olympic Village opens in Tokyo; Bromell wins Diamond League 100 m; U.S. men’s basketball loses again, to Australia

Now open: the Tokyo Olympic Village! (Photo: Tokyo 2020)

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News, views and noise from the non-stop, worldwide circus of Olympic sport:

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) reiterated again that while it could have canceled the Tokyo Games last year due to the coronavirus, it has no interest in doing so. He told Kyodo News in an online interview:

“We, the IOC, will never abandon the athletes, and with the cancellation, we would have lost a whole generation of athletes. So therefore, a cancellation for us was not really an option.”

The story also noted:

“Bach said calling off the Olympics and receiving money from its insurance was the ‘easiest way’ at the time, but the IOC did not choose that path and invested more to make the games happen.”

The Olympic Village in Tokyo opened on Tuesday, but with few occupants thanks to the Covid-19 protocols.

The facilities for the 11,000-plus athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees will fill slowly as the coronavirus countermeasures allow entry only five days prior to the start of competitions and athletes must leave two days after their final day of competition.

The Village itself is located on the Harumi waterway and covers almost 109 acres with 24 separate buildings, to be sold as local housing. The International Olympic Committee announcement of the opening estimated that 85% of all Village residents will have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. A special clinic to handle Covid cases has also been established.

Kyodo News reported that the Main Media Center and International Broadcast Center in Tokyo have opened at the Big Sight convention facility, noting:

“Due to the coronavirus, the number of press members traveling to Japan for the Olympics and Paralympics has also been cut to 4,600 from the initially expected 8,400.”

The Main Media Center facility still include a large bullpen area for 750 people, in keeping with prior Games.

Local concern over the coronavirus is manifesting itself in multiple ways in and around the Games:

● The Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu posted signs on its elevators last week, designating them for “Japanese only” and “foreigners only,” but took them down quickly in view of heavy criticism.

The hotel management said the signs were meant “to separate the flow of movements of guests related to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games from that of general guests” and apologized for any “misunderstanding.”

● On Tuesday, police announced that four electricians – two from Britain and two from the U.S. – were arrested on suspicion of using cocaine last week. They are contractors for Aggreko Events Services Japan, a local affiliate of Tokyo 2020 Official Supporter Aggreko who had completed their 14-day quarantine period and were drinking at a local bar and “trespassed” at a local apartment, prompting police to respond. Kyodo reported that “The games organizers said it has issued a warning to Aggreko Events Services Japan and urged it to ensure no such similar incidents occur.”

Japan’s Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa added, “Nonessential outings at night will not be tolerated, even after the quarantine period is over.”

● A Lithuanian athlete who had tested negative, then positive, then negative for the coronavirus tested negative again last Saturday and was allowed to join his team at its pre-Games camp.

The IOC posted “sport-specific regulations” for the Games on Saturday, primarily around the issue of handling Covid-related withdrawals from competitions. In general:

“(1) No athlete or team should be designated as “‘disqualified’ for COVID-19 reasons, instead ‘Did Not Start (DNS)’ or an equivalent sport-specific designation will be used where the athletes or team cannot take part in competition

“(2) The minimum result of the athlete/team will be protected, considering the phase of competition at which they could not compete

“(3) Where possible the place of an athlete or team unable to compete will be filled by the next most eligible athlete or team, allowing events to go ahead where possible and medals to be competed for on the field of play”

This has specific applications for different sports, but for events with multiple rounds, Covid withdrawals will generally mean the next-in-line athlete according to the qualifying criteria will be advanced.

Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● The LA28 organizers announced a high-profile, 18-member Athletes’ Commission to “serve as strategic advisors to expand upon athlete services and experiences” for the Games. The list is impressive:

Olympians Allyson Felix, Queen Harrison, Nastia Liukin, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Apolo Ohno, Adam Rippon, Alex Shibutani, Howard Shu and Brenda Villa and Paralympians Scout Bassett, Samantha Bosco, Allison Compton, Lex Gillette, Alana Nichols, Ileana Rodriguez, Rico Roman, Oscar “Oz” Sanchez and Ahkeel Whitehead.

The group will be chair by swimming superstar Janet Evans, the LA28 Chief Athlete Officer.

Felix, Muhammad, Rippon, Bassett, Gillette and Sanchez all designed LA28 “emblems” with their own distinctive “A.”

U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee ● The USOPC released its official roster of 613 members of the U.S. Olympic Team for 2021, expected to be the largest team at the Games.

This squad will be larger than the team in Rio (558) and has 329 women and 284 men, with 193 returning Olympians and 104 Olympic medal winners. The team comes from 46 states and the District of Columbia, with California (126), Florida (51), Colorado (34) and Texas (31) as the largest contributors.

Of the 339 events at the Games, the U.S. will compete in 268; swimmer Katie Grimes is the youngest athlete at age 15, while equestrian Phillip Dutton will be competing at age 57.

Team USA includes one seven-time Olympian (Dutton), six five-time Olympians – equestrian Steffen Peters, basketball players Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, track athletes Abdi Abdirahman and Allyson Felix, and fencer Mariel Zagunis – 15 four-time Olympians, 39 three-time Olympians and 130 two-time Olympians.

The team will actually expand slightly in Tokyo, as alternates are not counted as Olympians. But with the revised rules for this Games, alternates will be allowed to fill in and compete on a more liberal basis, which will add to the final tally.

Athletics ● The final Diamond League meet before the Olympic break was back in Gateshead (GBR) on Tuesday, with good racing, but only very modest marks.

The one world-leading individual-event mark was in the rarely-run women’s mile, with American Kate Grace coming hard off a slow pace on the final turn to run away from the field in 4:27.20, easily beating Katie Snowden (GBR: 4:28.04) and American Helen Schlachtenhaufen (4:28.13). It’s Grace’s sixth-fastest mile ever.

The sprints were featured, with American Trayvon Bromell winning the men’s 100 m, separating from a good field by 35 m and won in 9.98. Britain’s C.J. Ujah and Zharnel Hughes went 2-3 in 10.10-10.13 and American Fred Kerley fifth, also in 10.13.

Jamaica’s reigning Olympic champ Elaine Thompson-Herah took charge of the women’s 200 m on the turn and cruised home the winner in 22.32, ahead of Jodie Williams (GBR: 22.60), Blessing Okagbare (NGR: 22.61) and American Tamara Clark (22.62).

The men’s 110 m hurdles was a re-match of the Jamaican Trials, with Ronald Levy and 2016 Rio gold medalist Omar McLeod running together to the 10th hurdle and then Levy sprinting to the final as McLeod stumbled to win, 13.22-13.42. American Robert Dunning was fourth (13.71).

Britain’s Cindy Sember won the women’s 100 m hurdles in 12.69, following up on her win in the Diamond League opener on the same track. American Payton Chadwick was second at 12.75, followed by Nadine Visser (NED: 12.78).

The men’s 800 m was a test for American Olympians Clayton Murphy and Bryce Hoppel and they were in front on the final backstraight. But then Isaiah Harris – fourth at the U.S. Trials – took the lead with 200 m to go. Into the straight, Harris ran away from everyone in 1:44.76, ahead of the late-charging Wyclife Kinyamal (KEN: 1:44.91) and Peter Bol (AUS: 1:45.22). Hoppel and Murphy faded to fifth and sixth in 1:45.45 and 1:45.72.

Britain’s Elliot Giles won the Emsley Carr Mile with a lifetime best of 3:52.49. The men’s 3,000 m was a showdown between Australian Stewart McSweyn and Spain’s Mohamed Katir, who broke free by 2,000 m when the pacesetter left. A 58.8 lap brought McSweyn to the bell, and Katir took the lead with 200 m left and sailed home with a 55.8 final lap and a decisive win in a national record 7:27.64, no. 2 on the 2021 world list. McSweyn was second in 7:28.94.

Men’s Triple Jump world leader Pedro Pablo Richado (POR) was easily the most efficient competitor on the day. He sailed into the lead at 17.29 m (56-8 3/4) on his first jump, then passed on the sixth-round shoot-out and got a huge winner at 17.50 m (57-5). Italy’s Tobia Bocchi was second at 17.04 m (55-11).

Ageless (actually 37 years old) Donald Thomas (BAH) – former World Champion – won the men’s high jump at 2.25 m (7-4 1/2). The men’s javelin was less than expected, with 2012 Olympic champ Keshorn Walcott (TTO) leading through five rounds in 82.81 m (271-8). Germany’s 90 m machine Johannes Vetter managed only 82.13 m (269-5) in the first five, but then sailed the spear to 85.25 m (279-8) in the round-six shoot-out to win the event, with the best throw of the day. German Julian Weber actually got “second” via the sixth-round bests of 77.16 m (253-2) to 76.74 m (251-9).

In the women’s 400 m, Jamaican Stephenie Ann McPherson won easily in 50.44, taking the lead on the backstraight and out-classing Jodie Williams (GBR: 50.94). Dutch star Femke Bol once again ran away from the field in the women’s 400 m hurdles, winning in 53.24, her sixth straight win in 2021 and once again defeating American Shamier Little (54.53) and Jamaica’s Janieve Russell (54.66).

American Sandi Morris, Finland’s Wilma Murto and Holly Bradshaw were the only ones to clear 4.61 m (15-1 1/2) in the women’s vault, and Morris made it over 4.71 m (15-5 1/2) on her second try, as did Bradshaw. Murto missed all three and the bar went to 4.76 m (15-7 1/4) and Morris cleared and Bradshaw passed. At 4.81 m (15-9 1/4), both missed, so Morris won thanks to her clearance at 4.76 m.

Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, the 2019 Worlds silver medalist, led the women’s long jump through the first five rounds at 6.77 m (22-2 1/2), ahead of Fatima Diame (ESP: 6.67 m/21-10 3/4) and Olympic favorite Milaika Mihambo (GER: 6.62 m/21-8 3/4). In the shoot-out, Mihambo improved to 6.65 m (21-10), but Belk-Romanchuk claimed the win at 6.67 m (21-10 3/4).

The Athletics Integrity Unit is not the sort of organization you would expect to talk smack on Twitter, but on Monday it posted:

“The [world] changed. We didn’t.

“Despite increased logistical challenges, the AIU was able to complete nearly 70 percent of out-of-competition tests planned in 2020.

“We made a commitment that we would do everything we could to keep #Athletics clean. We are delivering. Are you?”

Woah! The AIU has been busy; as of 25 June, its global list of ineligible persons runs 15 pages and includes nearly 600 athletes, coaches and support personnel suspended for doping and other violations.

American sprint star Noah Lyles is always up to something. Now:

“I’m thinking about how I’m going to get the Olympic rings tattoo. I don’t want the basic rings I want an artistic flare to it. Anyone got any ideas”

Lots of replies to that tweet!

Basketball ● The U.S. men’s Olympic Team dropped its second straight exhibition game, this time to Australia, 91-83, in Las Vegas. Once again, the game came down to the final moments and the visitors made the plays.

The U.S. played better than in its 90-87 loss to Nigeria, and led 27-24 at the quarter and 46-37 at the half. But the Aussies outscored the U.S. by 32-18 in the third and 22-19 in the fourth to emerge with an eight-point win.

Australia shot 52.9% on field goals and 10-24 (41.7%) on three-pointers, much better than the American shooting of 46.2% for the game and 13-36 (36.1%) on threes.

Star guard Patty Mills had 22 for the winners, followed by 17 from Joe Ingles and 12 from Matisse Thybulle. Damian Lillard led the U.S. with 22, Kevin Durant had 17 and Bradley Beal had 12.

The U.S. does not have Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday available yet as they are playing in the NBA Finals. The U.S. has three more exhibition games in Las Vegas: vs. Argentina tonight, vs. Australia again on 16 July and vs. Spain on 18 July.

Cycling ● The Tour de France was back in business on Tuesday, beginning its final week with a brutal 169 km course with three imposing climbs in the Pyrenees Mountains, including the 1,395 m Col de la Core.

But this does not deter Austrian Patrick Konrad, who became the third rider in his country’s history to win a stage at the Tour de France, winning by 42 seconds after running away over the Col de la Core and unchallenged over the final 35 km. A chase group of five could not catch him and Sonny Colbrelli (ITA) ended up second, just ahead of Michael Matthews (AUS) in third.

Leader Tadej Pogacar lost no time to the other race contenders and continues with a 5:18 lead over Rigoberto Uran (COL), 5:32 over Jonas Vingegaard (DEN) and 5:33 over Richard Carapaz (ECU).

Wednesday’s route is a punishing, 178.4 km triple climb from Muret to the Col du Portet at Saint-Lary-Soulan, with another misery-inducing climbing route on Thursday before a sprinter’s stage on Friday.

Football ● The group stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup is continuing, with three of the four groups completing their first of three rounds.

In Group A, Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago played to a scoreless tie (!), and El Salvador defeated Guatemala, 2-0. (Guatemala replaced Curacao as the latter had too many Covid cases to field a complete team.)

In Group B, the U.S. used a Sam Vines goal in the eighth minute to beat Haiti, 1-0, and Canada clubbed Martinique by 4-1.

In Group C, Jamaica topped Suriname, 2-0 and Costa Rica dispatched Guadeloupe by 3-1. Group D opens tonight with Panama playing guest entry Qatar and Honduras facing Grenada, with both games in Houston.

UEFA announced “disciplinary proceedings” have started in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 final last Sunday in London, with four charges listed against the English Football Association:

• Invasion of the field of play by its supporters
• Throwing of objects by its supporters
• Disturbance caused by its supporters during the national anthem
• Lighting of a firework by its supporters

And there is more:

“Separately, and in accordance with Article 31(4) DR, a UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector has been appointed to conduct a disciplinary investigation into events involving supporters which occurred inside and around the stadium.”

These are separate from inquiries in England concerning the social-media harassment of the three Black English players who missed penalty kicks at the end of the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

Skiing ● Less than a month after completing a 23-year stint as President of the Federation International de Ski, Gian Franco Kasper (SUI) passed away at age 77 on Friday (9th).

Kasper had been at the center of world skiing for 46 years, first as Secretary General and then as President from 1998-2021. On his watch, FIS expanded considerably, both in athletic and financial terms and he left the federation in a strong position financially and as the undisputed leader in terms of winter sports.

He was an IOC member from 2000-18 and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency from 2003.

Kasper was outspoken and that got him into trouble quite often. But he also had keen insight into skiing’s role in the growth of winter sports. Asked about increasing the federation’s revenues, he shot back:

“We do not care about making as much money as possible. Marketing to generate money for sports? At any time! But to generate money from sports, we do not do that. We are first and foremost [an] advertising agency for winter tourism.”

That’s a lesson worth applying in many other sectors.

Swimming ● FINA announced the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport that confirmed the nullification of results that had been manipulated at two meets in Uzbekistan in November 2020 and April 2021.

“The FINA Executive’s decision was made after receiving evidence establishing that certain results from these two events had been manipulated by the Uzbekistan Swimming Federation in an attempt to qualify Uzbek swimmers for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Following this CAS award, the FINA Ethics Panel will now investigate whether further sanctions should be imposed on the Uzbekistan Swimming Federation and any other implicated party.

“It is imperative that FINA recognise aquatics competitions to ensure that the results are not manipulated, that the results are valid and reliable, and that the competitions comply with the standards set out in the FINA rules. FINA cannot accept a lessor [sic] standard.”

FINA recognized the role of whistleblowers in the matter, without naming them. Indian swimmer Likith Prema, especially, made his concerns about the timing at the April meet publicly known with video evidence; that helped to kickstart the FINA inquiry.

Weightlifting ● Another marijuana case has popped up prior to Tokyo, but this time Arley Mendez of Chile will be able to compete.

He had been suspended for marijuana use (THC) from an in-competition test on 12 May 2021 received a reduced penalty of one month from 29 June to 28 July 2021. Since the Olympic competition in his class – men’s 81 kg – takes place on 31 July, he can compete as his eligibility was already confirmed.

At the BuZZer ● The 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama is progressing, somewhat under the radar, but with a major announcement that ticket sales began on 7 July, one year prior to the opening of the Games.

About 3,600 athletes from more than 100 countries will contest 34 sports from 7-17 July, with the Opening Ceremony at Protective Stadium at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex; tickets range from $63.75-103.80.

How about Tug of War at the University of Alabama, Birmingham? Tickets are $16.75 or $19.75 depending on the session. Aerobic Gymnastics? $24.75 to $29.75 for morning and afternoon sessions and $29.75-34.75 for evening sessions.

Flying Disc fans can see preliminary rounds for $16.75 or $19.75 and $24.75 for the finals!

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