PANORAMA: IOC helps save Afghans, suspends North Korea; Crouser and Ewen sweep Zurich shot titles; U.S. men crush Honduras, 4-1

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Key status updates on the urgent stories in Olympic sport:

● International Olympic Committee ● The first post-Tokyo 2020 meeting of the IOC Executive Board was headlined by the IOC’s activities in Central Asia:

“[A] significant number of members of the Olympic community in Afghanistan – around 100 – received humanitarian visas and could leave the country with the help of the IOC and other partners from the Olympic Movement.”

IOC chief Thomas Bach (GER) explained that it was contacted on 8 August – the final day of the Tokyo Games and a week before the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul – by the National Olympic Committee of Afghanistan for help. He noted:

“As a result of all our efforts, all athletes who participated at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 are outside the country. Two winter sports athletes are also outside the country and continue training, hoping to qualify for Beijing.”

Bach confirmed that Afghani Samira Asghari, the youngest member of the IOC at 27, is safe, but gave no details of her whereabouts. He also praised the efforts of many individuals within the Olympic Movement who worked to help, including asking governments for humanitarian visas. And this work will continue. As to the five Afghan athletes who competed in Tokyo, the IOC announced:

“[T]he IOC will extend scholarships to all of the Afghan participants of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 so they can continue training, the IOC President announced. The IOC will also continue to support the two winter athletes who are currently receiving Olympic Solidarity scholarships already.”

There will be further developments on this. There were no reports on the continuing inquiry into governmental abuse of athletes in Belarus, on the status of weightlifting for the Paris 2024 Games, or on any disciplinary action to be taken on American Raven Saunders’ post-awards ceremony protest in Tokyo. Maybe in October.

The IOC did slap back at North Korea – formally known as the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” – which violated the Olympic Charter by being the only National Olympic Committee not to attend the Tokyo Games, citing Covid-19 concerns.

The North Korean NOC has been suspended through 2022, any IOC funds allocated to it have been forfeited and no support will be forthcoming during the suspension. If any North Korean athletes qualify for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, the IOC will consider whether and how they might compete.

As regards Beijing 2022, expect new versions of the “playbooks” to be issued in October.

Several reporters questioned on Bach on the IOC’s position on a possible switch in FIFA’s World Cup schedule to every two years, possibly conflicting with the summer Games. Bach noted that the decision is still in discussion within FIFA and that’s who should be consulted.

● Athletics ● The first of two days of the Wanda Diamond League final in Zurich (SUI) took place on Wednesday in the Sechselaeutenplatz in front of the Zurich Opera House in the city center. Facilities for the long jump, high jump and shot put and a three-lane, tri-cornered, partially banked 560 m track were installed along with some home-straight bleachers, supposedly “bringing the sport to the people.”

Inside the oval, Americans Ryan Crouser and Maggie Ewen won the shot competitions, giving them the seasonal Diamond League crowns and a direct entry into the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

Tokyo silver medalist Joe Kovacs of the U.S. took the lead at 22.29 m (73-1 3/4) in the second round, but Crouser boomed his third-round try out to 22.67 m (74-4 1/2) in the third round, which proved to be the winner (no sixth-round-takes-all in the Diamond League final).

Ewen, who failed to make the U.S. Olympic Team, got off a big throw to close the first round at 19.41 m (63-8 1/4) and no one could match it! Portugal Auriol Dongmo was second (18.86 m/61-10 1/2) and American Chase Ealey was fourth (18.49 m/60-8).

Olympic champion Mariya Lasitskene (RUS) was yet again in a struggle with silver medalist Nicola McDermott (AUS) and bronze winner Yaroslava Mahuchikh (UKR), and emerged with a world-outdoor-leading clearance of 2.05 m (6-8 3/4). Mahuchikh finished second at 2.03 m (6-8) and McDermott was third at 2.01 m (6-7).

In the long jumps, Swede Thobias Montler had the lead over American Steffin McCarter going into the final round and got his best mark on his sixth jump at 8.17 m (26-9 3/4). McCarter was second at 8.14 m (26-8 1/2). Rio Olympic bronze medalist Ivana Spanovic (SRB) came from behind in the fifth round over Khaddi Sagnia and then improved in the sixth round to win at 6.96 m (22-10) to Sagnia’s 6.83 m (22-5).

The strange 5,000 m races, run over just short of nine laps on the temporary track, were showcases for Burundi star Francine Niyonsaba and Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi. Niyonsaba outfought two-time World Champion Hellen Obiri (KEN) in the final 300 m, winning by 14:28.98 to 14:29.68. Aregawi was in a five-men fight on the final lap, but finally ran away from Birhanu Balew (BRN) and Jacob Krop (KEN), 12:58.65-13:01.27-13:01.81.

The main part of the program comes Thursday at the famed Letzigrund Stadium, with NBCSN televising the meet in the U.S. beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern time.

● Football ● The U.S. men’s National Team’s struggles on offense continued at the start of its third World Cup qualifying match, Wednesday night in San Pedro Sula against Honduras. Both teams had tied their first two matches and while the possession was roughly equal during the first 25 minutes, Honduras had many more chances and was better organized in the offensive end.

On an innocent-looking ball into the U.S. end in the 27th minute, Honduran defender Edwin Rodriguez sent a hard cross toward the middle of the field and Brayan Moya’s diving header got the ball past U.S. keeper Matt Turner for a 1-0 lead.

The remainder of the half was more of the same: Honduran attacks and an occasional U.S. foray that rarely resulted in a shot. Honduras ended the half with 55% possession and an 11-3 edge on shots.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter brought in Antontee Robinson, Brenden Aaronson and Sebastian Lleget for more offense in the second half, and it paid immediate dividends as Robinson found the back of the net off a rebound from a Christian Pulisic pass to the front of the Honduras goal, intended for striker Ricardo Pepi, in the 48th minute for a 1-1 tie.

Pulisic was lost to an injury in the 62nd minute, with Cristian Roldan coming on. But the game had opened up by then and both sides got more frequent chances. Shortly after DeAndre Yedlin replaced James Sands in the midfield, the U.S. was on the attack and Yedlin sent a cross from the far edge of the box to the front of goal and Pepi – in his first USMNT appearance – headed it in for a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

Then the roof fell in for the home team. After a loss of possession by Honduras at midfield, Pepi broke loose down the right side and sent a perfect cross to Aaronson in front of the Honduran goal and he finished for a 3-1 lead in the 86th minute to take the air out of the game. In stoppage time, Pepi was open on the left side of goal, and while his shot was saved by keeper Luis Lopez, Lleget was there to knock in the rebound at 90+3 for the 4-1 final. All this despite 47% possession and 12-18 deficit in shots.

The win gave the U.S. a 12-match unbeaten streak (10-0-2) against Honduras and a 18-4-5 all-time match record. It was the fourth World Cup qualifying win at Honduras for the U.S.

The draw-draw-win results of the first group of World Cup qualifiers was less than hoped for, but four goals on the road Wednesday after scoring one in the first two games is a hopeful sign for the future.

Also on Wednesday in European qualifying, Italy stomped Lithuania, 5-0, in Reggio Emilia, to extend its record unbeaten streak to 37 consecutive games (28-0-9).

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