Current time in Tokyo: July 29, 12:41 p.m.
Here’s what you need to know:Simone Biles during the women’s gymnastics final at Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo on Tuesday. She pulled herself from the competition that day, saying she was not mentally prepared to continue. Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Simone Biles, the American superstar whose run at the Tokyo Games came to an abrupt halt when she pulled herself from the women’s gymnastics team final, says the reaction to her decision has helped her realize that there’s more to life than competing and winning medals.
“The outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,” Biles tweeted on Thursday, several hours before the individual all-around gymnastics final.
the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before. ?
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) July 29, 2021
U.S.A. Gymnastics said on Wednesday that Biles would not participate in the all-around, which tests athletes in four disciplines to determine the most well-rounded gymnast. Biles said she was not in the right place mentally to compete.
She skipped her turns in the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise during the team final after stumbling on the landing of her vault, and she said she had lost her sense of direction in the air as she was twisting and flipping. Had she continued, she said, she would have risked injury or hurt her team’s chances to win. “It just sucks when you are fighting with your own head,” said Biles, who won four golds at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and is widely considered the best gymnast of all time.
The United States won the silver during the team final on Tuesday night, with Biles’s teammates subbing in for her on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Russia won the gold, more than 3 points ahead of the Americans, and Britain won the bronze.
Biles also qualified for four event finals next week, but it is not clear whether she will compete in them. Her departure from the all-around final opened up a spot for Jade Carey, an American who specializes in the floor exercise and vault. If Biles does not compete in the various event finals, spots would open up for those who were on the cusp of qualifying.
Sunisa Lee of the United States competing on the uneven bars during the women’s team final on Tuesday.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
TOKYO — The men’s golf tournament got underway on Thursday with many top players, but not Bryson DeChambeau of the United States or Jon Rahm of Spain, who both tested positive for the coronavirus.
In swimming, there were five finals scheduled on Thursday morning (Wednesday evening U.S. time). Caeleb Dressel, who has three career relay golds, got his first individual win, in the men’s 100-meter freestyle. Australia is the big favorite in the women’s 4×200 freestyle relay, and a win would add to its 4×100 gold medal.
The women’s gymnastics individual all-around final, expected to be a highlight of the Games, lost a good deal of its luster after the withdrawal of Simone Biles. But the competition on Thursday should be fierce, with two Americans, Sunisa Lee and Jade Carey (who replaces Biles), in the mix for the medals. The event starts at 7:50 p.m. Tokyo time (6:50 a.m. Eastern) and is expected to be carried on the Peacock streaming app.
The U.S. women playing the Russian Olympic Committee team in three-on-three basketball.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Here are some highlights of U.S. broadcast coverage on Wednesday evening, including medals in three-on-three basketball, the opening match of women’s rugby sevens and lots of swimming.
RUGBY A replay of the bronze and gold medal matches of the men’s rugby seven games will be broadcast at 7 p.m. on NBCSN. At 9 p.m., USA Network will broadcast the U.S. women’s rugby sevens team’s opening match against China.
GOLF The men’s individual stroke play tournament starts at 6:30 p.m. and continues through the evening on the Golf Channel.
GYMNASTICS The men’s individual all-around kicks off NBC’s prime-time coverage, beginning at 8 p.m.
BEACH VOLLEYBALL Also at 8 p.m., USA Network will broadcast a women’s beach volleyball match between Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil of the U.S. and Gaudencia Makokha and Brackcides Khadambi of Kenya. The Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena take on Julian Azaad and Nicolas Capograsso of Argentina in a men’s match at 10 p.m. on USA.
THREE-ON-THREE BASKETBALL In a replay of the sport’s first Olympic gold medal game, Allisha Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Stefanie Dolson of the United States take on Russia, starting at 8 p.m. on NBCSN.
FENCING The women’s team foil quarterfinals start at 11 p.m. on CNBC, with the semifinals at 12:55 a.m.
BMX RACING CNBC will air the men’s and women’s quarterfinals at Ariake Urban Sports Park, starting at 10 p.m.
SWIMMING Gold medals are up for grabs tonight, in events including the 100-meter men’s freestyle, in which the American swimmer Caeleb Dressel hopes to win his first individual Olympic medal. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
BASKETBALL NBCSN has a replay of the U.S. men’s game against Iran at 11:30 p.m.
WATER POLO The U.S. men face Italy in a Group A game at 1 a.m. on USA Network.
ARCHERY CNBC will cover the elimination rounds of the individual archery competitions starting at midnight.
Elena Mukhina on the beam during the 1978 World Championships.Credit…Corbis/VCG, via Getty Images
Before Elena Mukhina broke her neck doing the Thomas salto, a skill so dangerous it is now banned, she told her coach she was going to break her neck doing the Thomas salto.
But her coach responded dismissively that people like her did not break their necks, and Mukhina, a 20-year-old Soviet gymnast, didn’t feel she could refuse. Besides, she recalled later in an interview with the Russian magazine Ogoniok, she knew what the public expected of her as the anointed star of the coming Olympic Games.
“I really wanted to justify the trust put in me and be a heroine,” she said.
Less than a month before the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Mukhina under-rotated the Thomas salto and landed on her chin. She was permanently paralyzed and died in 2006, at the age of 46, from complications of quadriplegia. After her injury, she told Ogoniok, fans wrote to her asking when she would compete again.
“The fans had been trained to believe in athletes’ heroism — athletes with fractures return to the soccer field and those with concussions return to the ice rink,” she said. “Why?”
The history of women’s gymnastics is strewn with the bodies of athletes like Mukhina, who sustained life-altering or life-ending injuries after being pressured to attempt skills they knew they couldn’t do safely or to compete when they didn’t feel up to it. On Tuesday, withdrawing from the Olympic team final after losing her bearings in the middle of a vault and barely landing on her feet, Simone Biles effectively said that she refused to be one more.
Biles did not mention Mukhina. Nor did she mention Julissa Gomez, the 15-year-old American gymnast who was paralyzed shortly before the 1988 Olympics — and died three years later — as a result of a vault that she had never been able to perform reliably, but that her coaches had told her she had to do if she wanted to be competitive. Biles did not have to mention Mukhina or Gomez. Their stories are infamous in the gymnastics world.
the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before. ?
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) July 29, 2021
Gymnastics is inherently dangerous, and gymnasts can be seriously injured even when they feel mentally strong. Adriana Duffy, a former Puerto Rican national champion, was paralyzed while training on vault in 1989. The Chinese gymnast Sang Lan sustained a similar injury on vault in 1998 when her coach tried to adjust the position of the springboard as she ran toward it. Melanie Coleman, a collegiate gymnast in Connecticut, died from a spinal cord injury in 2019 after her hands slipped off the uneven bars during practice.
Gymnasts accept that risk every day, but they also know what can increase the risk beyond a level they are comfortable with. And yet, until recently, it had been extremely rare for any high-level gymnast to refuse to compete under those circumstances.
After Biles withdrew, some critics compared her unfavorably to Kerri Strug, who — the popular narrative goes — secured the team gold medal for the United States at the 1996 Olympics by vaulting on an injured ankle. The suggestion was that Biles ought to have done the same for the team.
But Strug performed that vault under pressure from her coach, it injured her ankle further, and the U.S. would have won without it. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times shortly afterward, she said that if she had known her vault wasn’t necessary, she wouldn’t have done it.
“Everybody was yelling at me, ‘Come on, you can do it!’” she said. “But I’m out there saying to myself: ‘My leg, my leg. You don’t understand. Something’s really wrong here.’”
Strug, who never competed again, tweeted a message of support for Biles on Tuesday.
One of her teammates on the 1996 Olympic squad, Dominique Moceanu — who has been outspoken about the training practices used by the former national team coordinators Bela and Marta Karolyi — tweeted a video clip from her own routine in the balance beam final in those Games.
Moceanu’s foot slipped as she landed one flip and took off into another, and she crashed headfirst onto the beam. She clung to it, pulled herself up and continued her routine, then competed in the floor exercise final almost immediately afterward with no spinal examination. It did not occur to her to do otherwise.
Biles’s decision, Moceanu tweeted, “demonstrates that we have a say in our own health — ‘a say’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian.”
Ilona Maher of the United States plays against Canada in the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.Credit…Sergio Moraes
Ilona Maher has already become an Olympic star and she has yet to step on the field. The 24-year-old from Vermont and her U.S. women’s rugby sevens team are looking for their first Olympic medal.
The quest begins tonight in the opening match against China.
Maher has been creating TikTok videos at a fast clip, where she takes social media users inside the Olympic Village’s rooms and dining halls. The videos show her having fun with her teammates, and joking about kissing and marrying a male athlete. They’ve been viewed millions of times.
She graduated with a nursing degree from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., where she led her team to three consecutive championships of the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association.
Maher, who plays center, garnered All-American honors all three years and was named the nation’s top collegiate player, following her junior season in 2017. At Burlington High School, she was known for her outstanding play in field hockey, basketball and softball.
She gravitated toward rugby at 17 because her father played the sport at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. The state is represented by three Olympians, including Maher, who is at her first Summer Games.
“We are not known as this athletic state,” Maher told The Burlington Free Press this month.
“No matter where you are from, they are great athletes and you can be a great athlete. I love Vermont and I love the community and culture of it. I cannot wait to go back to Vermont after being at the Olympics to hopefully bring rugby back to the state and grow it more there.”
Rugby sevens was played for the first time at the 2016 Summer Olympics for both men and women. Australia, New Zealand and Canada won gold, silver, bronze, respectively. The U.S. women finished in fifth place.
Jane Nicholas of the Cook Islands competing in the women’s canoe slalom heats on Wednesday. She did not reach the finals.Credit…Adam Pretty/Getty Images
Nearly 30 years after canoeing made its Olympic debut, women finally have a shot at gold.
On Tuesday, 22 women made history as they navigated the manufactured rapids of a white-water course in the slalom competition, the first time women appeared in an Olympic canoeing event. Eighteen of them are moving on to the semifinals, which begin at 1 a.m. Eastern on Thursday. The final is slated to start at 2:55 a.m.
During qualifying heats on Tuesday, Britain’s Mallory Franklin, the 2017 world champion, set the fastest time, at 105.06 seconds. Jessica Fox of Australia, a four-time canoe slalom world champion, and Evy Leibfarth, a 17-year-old from North Carolina, will also compete on Thursday. Leibfarth is the youngest competitor in the event.
“Women generally have had less opportunity,” Franklin, who is considered a pioneer in the sport, told The Guardian this month. “There is a lot of history surrounding this. I am appreciative that I am able to be the person creating that history, even if it doesn’t actually change my job.”
Slalom kayakers use two-bladed paddles and sit with their legs in front of them. In canoeing, paddlers use a one-bladed paddle and sit with their legs under them. Paddlers navigate 25 gates down the white-water course, six of which are upstream.
Canoeing at the Tokyo Games will be contested in two main disciplines — slalom and sprint. Slaloming, for both men and women, concludes Thursday and Friday, and sprinting, which includes 200-meter, 500-meter and 1,000-meter head-to-head races on flat-water courses, begins on Monday. In the sprint event, athletes kneel on one knee in their canoes as they paddle. The American Nevin Harrison, 17, is expected to contend for a medal in canoe sprint.
Excluding women from sports has a long Olympic history. On Wednesday, Katie Ledecky became the first female swimmer to win a 1,500-meter freestyle race at the Games. It had been a men’s event since 1904. In 1984, women competed in a marathon for the first time, nearly 100 years after men first raced the event at the inaugural Games in Athens in 1896. Women first competed in the Olympics in the 1900 Games in Paris.
Bianca Buitendag competing in the gold-medal heat.Credit…Francisco Seco/Associated Press
Bianca Buitendag, a 27-year-old surfer from South Africa, barely made it to the Tokyo Olympics.
She was set to retire years ago. She had a false-positive coronavirus test just days before departing for Japan. On the final day of competition, she missed not one but two buses to Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach, the Olympic venue.
“Every obstacle fuels the fire,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief 24 hours after clinching an Olympic medal.
Buitendag spent a few years on surfing’s championship tour and had her top performance in 2015, finishing ranked fourth. She thought she had given all she had to the sport, but then surfing was added to the Olympic roster in 2016.
“I figured OK, just two more years,” she said. “And then of course that became three.”
The pandemic’s disruption of travel and competitions tested her patience, but also enabled her to train without interruption.
Buitendag taking part in the semifinals on Tuesday.Credit…Nic Bothma/EPA, via Shutterstock
Then there was the close call with the coronavirus. With South Africa gripped by a deadly third wave, Olympic athletes were making their way to Tokyo carrying file folders filled with documentation of their physical well-being.
Two days before her flight to Tokyo, Buitendag’s coronavirus test came back positive. She underwent a full medical examination, submitted blood samples and received two consecutive negative tests. She got on the plane.
Conditions at the Tsurigasaki beach, in Ichinomiya — a nearly two-hour drive from the Olympic Village, across Tokyo Bay and the Boso Peninsula — were not ideal. The first few days the surf was flat as a lake, hardly advantageous, especially for the 6-foot-1 Buitendag.
And unlike some competitors who had entourages of managers, coaches and videographers, Buitendag had one person waiting for her on the beach: her coach, Greg Emslie.
Her underdog spirit flared when she was matched against the Australian Stephanie Gilmore, a seven-time world champion. “I knew for me to have any chance against the most decorated and best female surfer in the world, I would have to be on a pretty quality wave,” Buitendag said. “By a miracle it came.”
She knocked Gilmore out, finishing with a score of 13.93 to Gilmore’s 10.
Buitendag would return to the beach for another day. If the quarterfinals went well, she would be onto the semifinals and the gold-medal heat.
But first she had to catch the bus.
On Monday, Buitendag set her alarm for 3:30 a.m., aiming to make a 4 a.m. bus and arrive at the beach with time to warm up. But she grabbed a cup of coffee and missed the bus. The next scheduled bus didn’t show. She realized she could miss her heat.
Eventually a bus arrived, delivering Buitendag to the quarterfinals in time to face Yolanda Hopkins of Portugal. She advanced.
Buitendag congratulating Carissa Moore of the United States, who beat her for the gold medal on Tuesday.Credit…Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
In the semifinal on Tuesday, she faced Caroline Marks, an American favorite, but it was another win for Buitendag. Finally, she was in the gold-medal heat against the American Carissa Moore — and lost, taking silver.
On Wednesday, Buitendag was still in awe.
“I didn’t have much of an expectation coming into it,” she said, a rainbow at her back. “The occasion was almost too big for me.”
But as it turned out, she was exactly where she needed to be.
Caeleb Dressel won the 100-meter freestyle by six-hundredths of a second.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Caeleb Dressel, the American swimmer, won his first Olympic gold medal for an individual race on Thursday, setting an Olympic record of 47.02 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle and beating out Kyle Chalmers of Australia by six-hundredths of a second.
As the announcer blared “new Olympic record,” Dressel turned and looked at the time and, beaming, climbed up on the lane rope. He hoisted both arms in jubilation and hung there for a moment, smiling, a long pause on top that made you wonder if somebody was going to tell him it was time to get out of the pool.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
“I thought I executed my race plan perfectly,” he said. “I couldn’t change anything. That’s how I felt in that moment.”
Dressel and Chalmers are rivals, and they swam two lanes apart.
“I could actually see him in my peripherals, I knew he was right there,” Dressel said. “I couldn’t see him, but you can see disturbances in the water. I knew — who else would it be besides Kyle?”
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Dressel exploded out of the blocks — the deciding six-hundredths of a second faster than Chalmers — and was ahead from the start. Kliment Kolesnikov earned bronze, 0.42 seconds off of Dressel’s pace.
The 100 free is the classic event, one that every swimmer swims as a child before splintering off to various specialties. This version of the men’s 100 free came spiced with a rivalry that has been building since the 2016 Rio Games, when Chalmers, then 18, won gold and Dressel finished sixth, just shy of his 20th birthday.
But Dressel has won a pair of world championships in the event since, and the Tokyo Games felt like a true splashdown to broader fame.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Now 24, Dressel led the United States to a gold medal in the 4×100 free relay this week in Tokyo, over Italy and Australia. His gold medal in the glamour event of the 100 could be a type of coronation for Dressel, who has two other events yet to swim, the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly.
Dressel said he had hoped for an even faster time, but recognized that the Olympics are not just about the clock.
“The goal here for everybody is to get your hands on the wall first,” he said. “So I had no complaints.”
Reshmie Oogink of the Netherlands at the 2016 Olympics. She tested postive for the coronavirus and could not compete in Tokyo.Credit…Issei Kato/Reuters
The quarantine measures at the Tokyo Games have come under scrutiny in recent days, with members of the Dutch delegation criticizing the restrictions for those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, including not being allowed to go outside.
On Tuesday, Candy Jacobs, a Dutch Olympic skateboarder who tested positive for the virus and is under quarantine, protested with members of the Dutch delegation in the lobby of the hotel where they are isolating. “Not having any outside air is so inhuman,” the 31-year-old Jacobs said in a now-deleted video message on Instagram. “It’s mentally super draining. Definitely more than a lot of humans can handle.”
The athletes remained in the lobby until they reached “a solution about getting fresh air,” Reshmie Oogink, a Dutch taekwondo competitor who tested positive for the virus and participated in the protest, told The New York Times.
In a message, Oogink confirmed that they were now permitted to get 15 minutes of supervised visits to an open window. But because the windows in the athletes’ rooms are sealed shut, they are brought to another room where the windows open. It was unclear whether athletes go to the room individually or together, and who is supervising the visits.
“There is not much freedom here,” Oogink said, adding that otherwise athletes can leave their rooms only to get food.
Oogink has passed the time by competing in her hotel room in what she calls the Covid Games. For these Olympic “events,” she turns garbage bags into basketball hoops and uses miniature Dutch wooden shoes as a basketball — ensuring there is a Covid-safe distance of one-and-a-half meters (about 5 feet) between her and the basket.
“Being creative kills time during the day,” she said.
Oogink, 31, who participated in the 2016 Rio Games, came back from three A.C.L. injuries to qualify for another Olympics. But because of positive tests, Oogink and her Dutch teammate Jacobs missed their competitions.
“My dream has been shattered,” she said.
Oogink tested positive on July 21 and went into quarantine the next day. She was not experiencing any symptoms and felt OK, she said, adding that the situation has had “more impact on the mind.” She did not have to undergo any tests for her first five days in quarantine, and said that those who produce a negative sample using a P.C.R. test on Day 6 and again on Day 7 can be released from quarantine.
According to the Olympic playbooks, athletes with positive P.C.R. tests are to be isolated at designated facilities, though the location and length of isolation vary depending on the severity of the case. Japan’s health authorities require a 10-day quarantine at facilities outside the Olympic Village, and multiple negative P.C.R. tests before discharge, an I.O.C. official said in an email.
Xander Schauffele of Team U.S.A. during a practice round.Credit…Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Xander Schauffele always watched the Summer Olympics growing up. He had no choice. His father, Stefan, is a former Olympic hopeful for Germany in the decathlon.
“My dad loved to watch the track and field,” Schauffele said.
Stefan’s Olympic aspirations ended nearly 40 years ago when his car was struck by a drunken driver and a piece of windshield lodged in Stefan’s left eye, leaving him blind. Stefan was 20.
“His dream was swiped from him,” Xander Schauffele, who is fifth in the men’s world golf rankings, said in an interview last week. “As a young golfer, I could relate to a situation where something you’ve worked at for so many years is taken away. It was tragic.”
When golf returned as an Olympic sport in 2016 after a 112-year absence, Schauffele, who had just joined the PGA Tour, suddenly had a new goal beyond his hopes for major titles. Qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics would be a chance to fulfill a family ambition.
Or as Stefan, who has been his son’s lifelong swing coach, said last week: “Sort of like a full circle of my own dream.”
In Japan on Thursday (Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time), Schauffele will tee off for the United States in the first round of the men’s Olympic golf competition. Because of protocols established to stage the Games amid a pandemic, he was allowed to bring only one person with him from his native San Diego to the Olympics. Stefan made the trip to Japan.
That decision may have seemed obvious, but for the Schauffeles there were other considerations. Xander’s mother, Ping-Yi Chen, who met Stefan when both were San Diego college students, was born in Taiwan but was raised in Japan and has nearly 100 relatives living in the Tokyo area.
Schauffele will be one of four Americans at the Olympic golf competition and a favorite to win a gold medal at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, about 23 miles north of Tokyo, given his track record in major championships.
Stefan equated a victory at the Olympics with winning one of the four majors in professional men’s golf.
“It is not a fifth major,” Stefan said, “but it is as important as a major.”
Xander Schauffele did not disagree.
The men’s 100-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., in June.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
The Olympic marathons will be held 500 miles north of Tokyo, to escape the smothering blanket of its average August weather: a high of 88 degrees; humidity at 73 percent; a “feels-like” temperature of 101.3 degrees.
But when the men’s and women’s sprints begin Friday (Thursday night in the United States), most competitors will embrace the hot weather, reveling in conditions that Carl Lewis, the nine-time Olympic champion sprinter and long jumper, calls “the Caribbean without the breeze.”
“Ninety-nine percent of sprinters love it, especially Americans,” said Lewis, now an assistant track and field coach at the University of Houston. He might have added, so do Jamaicans, the world’s other dominant sprinters.
Historically, top performances from 100 meters to the metric mile, at 1,500 meters, and field events like the long jump have mostly come in July and August, when major international competitions are held.
If the past is any guide, some extraordinary results could occur in Tokyo, perhaps especially in sprinting and jumping performances enhanced by many factors, including rapid muscle contraction in the heat and, to a lesser extent, the physics of reduced air resistance.
There is another weather-related phenomenon, widely discussed but little understood, in the track and field world: A handful of astonishing record performances, in Tokyo and elsewhere over the past half-century, occurred just before or after stormy weather.
“If it rains right before a race, I’m going to run fast,” said Noah Lyles of the United States, the Olympic favorite in the men’s 200 meters.
Coincidence? A correlation between performance and stormy weather, when the atmosphere becomes electrically charged with molecules known as negative ions? No one knows with any certainty.
Performance advantages for sprinters in hotter weather are relatively small, gains of 1 to 2 percent, scientists say. Other factors like altitude, biomechanics and doping are considered to have a bigger impact.
And not all athletes respond to heat the same way. But it will play a role. Hotter temperatures help boost the short-term power output needed for world-class sprinting. There is probably an optimal temperature range in skeletal muscles for unleashing the energy-producing molecule in cells known as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP; for activating motor nerves and for quicker muscle contractions that increase the rate or frequency of a sprinter’s strides, scientists say.
“Those slightly warmer temperatures like 80-90 degrees are going to be much better than 60-70 degrees for that,” said Robert Chapman, an environmental physiologist at Indiana University and the director of sports science and medicine for U.S.A. Track and Field, the national governing body.
Japanese school children cheer as the teams arrive on the field at the Kashima Stadium in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
KASHIMA CITY, Japan — For a few days, some Olympic soccer players have been treated to the rarest of privileges at the Tokyo Games: spectators.
While fans have been barred from the vast majority of venues as one of the measures to contain coronavirus infections, three host prefectures are still allowing a limited number of spectators at Olympic venues.
Over the last week, the bulk of the fans at Kashima Soccer Stadium, about 70 miles northeast of the Olympic Stadium in Ibaraki Prefecture, were schoolchildren, dressed identically in their summer uniforms and sitting two seats apart.
The stadium was by no means full: no more than 1,200 schoolchildren, chaperoned by teachers and school officials, were allowed into a venue that has a capacity of more than 40,000. Wearing face masks, the children were instructed that they could clap but never cheer out loud.
Of course, enthusiasm sometimes overtook them. At the match between the United States and Australia, played on Tuesday beneath muggy skies, the children mostly followed the rules and kept quiet. But when Alex Morgan, a forward for the U.S., sent a ball into the goal, a few shouts erupted. (The goal was nullified by an offside ruling, and the game ended in a 0-0 tie.)
Plans to bring in children as spectators predated the pandemic, and originally, many more students were to attend the Games. Close to 10,000 students from 53 schools in the prefecture originally applied for the student tickets. But after the Games were postponed by a year, many parents withdrew their children. Only about 3,400 students attended the soccer matches over three days.
Some parents decided the opportunity was simply too good to pass up. “The Olympics are very special,” said Hiroyuki Onuma, principal of Kashima Fuzoku Junior High, who accompanied 60 students to the stadium on Tuesday. “This probably will be the first and the last chance for these children. It will be a wonderful memory for them.”
A boy held an ice pack to his head to cool off during the hot temperatures.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Honoka Kikuta, 12, said she felt bad that more spectators were unable to attend. “I think seeing a game in person is very special,” said Honoka, who brought an American flag to cheer on the U.S. team. With the relative silence in the stadium, she could hear the players’ chatter on the field, although she did not understand the English words.
Go Saito, 14, said it had been more than a year since he set foot inside the stadium, where a local team, the Kashima Antlers, regularly plays. “Some of my friends didn’t come as they were worried about infections,” he said. “I’m not worried. We are doing well in the prevention measures. And the Olympics are very special, and may or may not happen here only once in my life.”
For the athletes, the presence of somebody — anybody — in the stands was a blessing.
“It was wonderful to have some fans, to have somebody in the stands, clapping, cheering a little bit,” Morgan said after the match on Tuesday. “It’s challenging to play in front of an empty stadium. So it was a nice surprise for us.”
Team Israel during a stop in New York earlier this month.Credit…Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times
Israel is set to play its first-ever Olympic baseball game on Thursday, against the defending champion, South Korea.
The outcome of the game (11 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday) might seem foretold. Israel is ranked last among the six teams playing in the Tokyo Games, and in Beijing in 2008 — the last time baseball was played in the Olympics — South Korea beat Cuba, 3-2, for a gold medal.
This year, South Korea is fielding a young team seen as likely to medal.
On Friday in Tokyo, Israel faces the U.S., whose team is unable to field major league players because they are in midseason. And there are formidable teams in the later elimination rounds: the Dominican Republic, a medal possibility; Mexico, another medal possibility; and Japan, which is heavily favored for the gold.
Israel’s team has only four players native to the country. The rest are mostly American players whose Jewish roots allowed them to obtain citizenship in Israel.
The team’s star is Ian Kinsler, 39, a second baseman and four-time major league All-Star. He announced his retirement from the majors in early 2020 and traveled to Israel to gain citizenship that March, just before Israel locked down to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The team is also fielding some current minor league players, and some amateurs. The team’s veteran pitcher works in Manhattan as head of programming for City Winery, a wine, food and music space. Another pitcher is an investment analyst with Goldman Sachs.
Team Israel was formed in the 1990s but rarely had much success until recently. Four years ago, the team was ranked 48th in the world, but in a stunning turn, it qualified for the World Baseball Classic, making it into the tournament’s second round. In 2019, the Israeli team continued its surprising run by qualifying for the Olympics.
“We joke that we’re a combination of the Bad News Bears and the Jamaican bobsledding team,” the team’s trainer, Barry Weinberg, said during the team’s recent visit to New York City. Mr. Weinberg served stints as a trainer for the New York Yankees, the Oakland A’s and the St. Louis Cardinals, and has earned seven World Series rings.
Daiki Hashimoto of Japan won the gold medal in the men’s gymnastics all-around.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Which country is doing best in the Tokyo Olympics? It might depend on whom you ask — and how they count.
As of Wednesday at 10 a.m. Eastern, Japan stood atop the official Olympic medal table, which sorts nations based on their number of gold medals. That’s how much of the world does it, using silver and bronze only to break ties.
By another measure, the United States leads because it has the most medals overall (31, at last count). Publications in the U.S., including The New York Times, often take this approach.
Which way of counting is superior? It’s possible neither is. Maybe the ideal method is somewhere in between.
That’s where you come in.
In the link below we’ll show all the places a country might land on a medals table, given different ways of measuring the relative worth of a gold medal to a silver, and a silver to a bronze. It’s up to you to decide which is best, with one obvious limitation: A gold can’t be worth less than a silver, and a silver can’t be worth less than a bronze. Give it a try: