Olympics Updates: Sunisa Lee of the U.S. Wins All-Around Gold


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Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — For years, Sunisa Lee, a teenager from Minnesota who became the Olympic all-around gymnastics champion on Thursday night, wasn’t training just for herself.

Lee, a Hmong American, went to the gym every day for all the first-generation Americans who wanted to achieve success when their parents had come to the United States with nothing. And she trained through grueling practices and painful injuries for her father, John, who sustained a spinal cord injury in 2019 and now uses a wheelchair.

Lee, 18, came into the Olympics wanting to win a gold medal for her father, who is her biggest fan, and for all the Hmong Americans who she feels are unseen in the United States. But she had publicly stated that her goal was to win silver in the all-around because her teammate Simone Biles, the four-time Olympic medalist, had been considered a lock to win that title.

But after a lifetime of chasing Biles in the all-around because Biles hasn’t lost that marquee event since 2013, Lee took advantage of her shot to do so in Tokyo. Biles, considered the best gymnast of all time, withdrew from the team event and the all-around because of mental stress, leaving Lee in position to win it all.

“I didn’t even think I’d ever get here,” Lee said. “It doesn’t even feel like I’m in real life.”

On Thursday, Lee hit routine after routine, often as if she were at practice, not at the most important competition of her life. She even nailed the floor exercise in her last rotation of the night, with new choreography and elements that had been changed by her coach, Jess Graba, that morning.

The change worked. Lee had her best floor exercise score of these Olympics.

Rebeca Andrade of Brazil won silver and Angelina Melnikova of Russia won the bronze.

Simone Biles wasn’t entered, but someone still had to win the women’s gymnastics all-around. And it was Sunisa Lee.

The U.S. picked up two freestyle golds in swimming: Caeleb Dressel won the 100 meters and Bobby Finke won the 800. China surprised the field in the women’s 4×200 relay.

The U.S. women’s rugby sevens team began play with two wins: 28-14 over China and 17-7 over Japan to clinch advancement.

Sam Kendricks, the American pole vault world champion, is out of the Games after testing positive for Covid.

Sunisa Lee used hand grips and chalk on the uneven bars during the women's gymnastics qualification round on Sunday.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

If you spend any amount of time in gymnastics facilities, you grow accustomed to the smell of chalk.

It’s everywhere — in buckets by the uneven bars, on the bars themselves, on the mats, on hands and feet and leotards. It gets in your hair. It gets in your eyes. You get used to it.

Gymnasts use chalk because of the other thing you grow accustomed to smelling in gymnastics facilities: sweat. The chalk in question is made of magnesium carbonate — distinct from the calcium carbonate of classroom chalk — and it helps keep gymnasts’ hands dry.

That’s particularly important on the uneven bars, where one of the scariest and most dangerous things that can happen is “peeling off” — having your hands slip off the bar while swinging, sending you flying. (Here’s an example from the 2004 Olympian Courtney McCool. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt.)

Along with chalk, most gymnasts use leather hand grips while competing on bars because they help reduce blistering and tearing. The grips high-level gymnasts use have a narrow rod called a dowel that rests horizontally across the fingers, providing a firmer hold on the bar. They’re secured by wrist straps and two or three finger holes.

Some gymnasts choose not to use grips because they are more comfortable having their hands in direct contact with the bar. Svetlana Khorkina of Russia, the Olympic champion on bars at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, didn’t use them, and some Chinese gymnasts don’t either. But that’s uncommon, because let’s face it, who wants patches of skin ripping off their palms?

Yeev Thoj, bottom left, and John Lee watched from Oakdale, Minn., as their daughter Sunisa Lee secured gold in the women's gymnastics all-around on Thursday.Credit…Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune, via Associated Press

As Sunisa Lee won gold in the women’s all-around gymnastics final on Thursday, cheers erupted halfway around the world, where her family and friends — including her father in a Team Suni shirt — were celebrating her victory at a watch party in the St. Paul suburb of Oakdale, Minn.

In March, Olympic organizers announced that overseas spectators would be barred from the Games. Then just weeks before the Games were set to open, organizers announced that even domestic spectators would be prohibited from attending most of the events.

That left athletes to compete in extraordinarily daunting and unusual circumstances: at largely empty venues, devoid of raucous fans and family members, the familiar faces who know more intimately than most all that it took to arrive at that moment.

“These are the people I do it all for,” Lee tweeted after the competition, sharing a video of her family’s watch party. “I LOVE YOU ALL!”

Athletes’ closest supporters have gotten creative and found ways to celebrate, holding watch parties that commence at dawn or go late into the night to follow events live.

Raising @Graytness_15 💫

The Gray family couldn’t be prouder of their trailblazing daughter!

Big thanks to Dr. Allen and Annie for inviting us in for a watch party from the Best Seat in the House. pic.twitter.com/6bTk8AfTs5

— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) July 28, 2021


WLWT was talking with Rose Lavelle’s brother, John Lavelle, when she scored the first goal for Team USA. pic.twitter.com/otglEtsDOf

— WLWT (@WLWT) July 24, 2021

And at least one athlete didn’t have to wait long to share her excitement. The U.S. swimmer Brooke Forde’s father, Pat Forde, is a writer at Sports Illustrated and is covering his ninth Olympics.

Rebeca Andrade of Brazil performing on the balance beam during the women’s gymnastics all-around competition.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

At the beginning of June, Rebeca Andrade did not know if she would even qualify for the Olympic Games. On Thursday, the 22-year-old gymnast won the silver medal in the all-around, making her the first Brazilian to win any Olympic medal in women’s gymnastics and also the first woman to win an all-around medal for a country that did not qualify a full team for the Games. And she did so after tearing a ligament in her knee twice in five years.

One of the injuries kept her out of the 2019 world championships, Brazil’s last chance to qualify a full team for the Tokyo Games and Andrade’s best chance to qualify as an individual. Without her, Brazil finished 14th with nine teams earning spots.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Andrade got another chance to make the Olympics at the Pan American Championships in June, where the top two eligible finishers would earn spots in Tokyo. She won.

Andrade’s Olympic medal was the culmination of an effort that began at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, when she did well in qualifying but ended up finishing in 11th place. This time, she qualified in second place behind Simone Biles of the United States, and was nearly able to replicate the performance in the final. Her total score on Thursday was only a tenth of a point lower than her score in qualifications.

She started with a showstopper of a vault, sticking a Cheng, which is a roundoff onto the springboard, a half twist onto the vault, and a front layout with one and a half twists. She hit her bars routine and stuck her dismount. Her only real errors came on the floor, where she stepped out of bounds twice. She finished just 0.135 behind Sunisa Lee.

After all she had been through, silver was as good as gold.

 Hou Zhihui of China won weight lifting gold in the women’s 49-kilogram division in Tokyo and shattered three Olympic records.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

TOKYO — Six days a week since she was 12 years old, with only a few days off each year, Hou Zhihui has been driven by one mission: heaving more than double her body weight into the air.

At the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday, her dedication paid off. She won gold in the 49-kilogram division and shattered three Olympic records, part of a fearsome Chinese women’s weight lifting squad that aimed to sweep every weight class it was contesting.

“The Chinese weight lifting team is very cohesive, and the support from the entire team is very good,” Hou, 24, said after winning gold. “The only thing we athletes think about is focusing on training.”

China’s sports assembly line is developed for one purpose: churning out gold medals for the glory of the nation. Silver and bronze barely count. By fielding 413 athletes in Tokyo — its largest ever delegation — China aims to land at the top of the gold medal count — even if the Chinese public is increasingly wary of the sacrifices made by individual athletes.

It’s no coincidence that nearly 75 percent of the Olympic golds China has won since 1984 are in just six sports: table tennis, shooting, diving, badminton, gymnastics and weight lifting. More than two-thirds of China’s golds have come courtesy of female champions, and nearly 70 percent of its Tokyo delegation are women.

Women’s weight lifting, which became a medal sport at the 2000 Sydney Games, was an ideal target for Beijing’s gold medal strategy. The sport is a niche pursuit for most athletic powerhouses, meaning that female lifters in the West must scramble for funding. And with multiple weight classes, weight lifting offers up four potential golds.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.

Mima Ito became the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal in singles table tennis.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Chinese players took the top two medal spots in women’s singles table tennis on Thursday night, continuing the nation’s domination of the sport and providing a salve for the upset defeat to Japan in the mixed doubles event earlier this week.

But even as Chen Meng, 27, won gold and Sun Yingsha, 20, took silver, another player, Mima Ito, made history by winning the bronze medal match, becoming the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal in singles table tennis.

China has had a near lock on the sport since it was first introduced to the Olympics in 1988, winning the gold medal in the women’s singles event at every Games since then, and often capturing silver as well. In Rio in 2016, China swept all four gold medals in table tennis.

Ito was the female half of the mixed doubles team, with her partner Jun Mizutani, that took the gold on Monday after a hotly contested match. She is considered the biggest threat to Chinese supremacy on the women’s side.

Tomokazu Harimoto, 18, Japan’s top-ranked male table tennis star, was considered a medal contender but fell to Darko Jorgic of Slovenia on Tuesday and was eliminated before the quarterfinals.

Ilona Maher, right, of the United States in action with Honoka Tsutsumi of Japan.Credit…Andrew Boyers/Reuters

The American women’s rugby sevens team opened the Olympic tournament with victories against China and Japan on Thursday, assuring the United States a spot in the quarterfinals on Friday.

The team’s remaining group stage match on Friday against Australia, which is also unbeaten, will determine which team will have the top seed from the group.

Unlike the men’s rugby sevens team, which was lumped into a so-called group of death, the women’s team started the tournament by playing two relatively weak foes.

In the first match, the Americans pulled away from China in the second half thanks to two long runs for tries by Kristi Kirshe, securing a 28-14 win. In the second match, the Americans built a 17-0 lead after tries by Ilona Maher and Jordan Matyas, and won 17-7.

Chris Brown, the U.S. team’s head coach, said there was still room for improvement. “Two years ago, the men’s and the women’s sides were No. 2 in the world,” he said. “So we need to put a performance out there that people are excited to get into. I’m sure we’ll bounce back tomorrow and show that stronger.”

Earlier in the week, the U.S. men also qualified for the quarterfinals, but lost to Britain, 26-21, ending their medal hopes. They finished sixth in the tournament.

Novak Djokovic won his quarterfinal match in 70 minutes.Credit…Edgar Su/Reuters

Novak Djokovic is roaring again.

After three mostly quiet matches at the Olympic tournament, the man chasing the “Golden Slam” started letting out his trademark roars to fire himself up in his 6-2, 6-0 demolition of hometown favorite Kei Nishikori of Japan to reach the semifinals.

Neither Nishikori’s game nor the several hundred credentialed Japanese who came out to support him bothered Djokovic very much. The win put Djokovic nine matches away from achieving the “Golden Slam” — winning the four Grand Slams and the Olympic gold medal in a calendar year. No man has ever achieved the feat.

Djokovic, playing his usual relentless style, had Nishikori on the ropes from the start, breaking his serve at his first opportunity and giving Nishikori few opportunities to draw even the rest of the way. Djokovic played the match like he had a dinner reservation to get to, winning in just 70 minutes.

The roars arrived in the first game of the second set, when Nishikori had his lone chance to break Djokovic’s serve. Djokovic unleashed a forehand winner to draw even and let out the first roar, then unleashed another forehand winner to take the game and screamed once more.

Nishikori had beaten Djokovic in a big spot before, taking him out in the U.S. Open semifinal in 2014, but Djokovic is playing a different style now — and on another level — and he has not lost to Nishikori since then. He has also added an aggressive net game to his arsenal, giving him the ability to finish points more quickly and limit the energy he expends in each match.

He got a little assistance on that front Thursday as the tournament organizers acceded to pressure from Djokovic and other players to move start times to the middle and later afternoons. Paula Badosa of Spain ended up using a wheelchair on Wednesday after playing in truly oppressive conditions. Djokovic and Nishikori took the court Thursday as evening descended and a breeze off the water picked up.

“It’s completely different,” Djokovic said. “It’s still very humid, but you don’t have the heat. You don’t have the sun.”

Djokovic won nearly twice as many points as Nishikori and gave up just seven points on his second serve. He will face either Alexander Zverev or Jeremy Chardy in the semifinals Friday. His most dangerous potential opponent, Daniil Medvedev of Russia, the No. 2 seed, lost Thursday to Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain.

Credit…Photographs by Emily Rhyne; composite image by Jon Huang

Sunisa Lee’s skills make her one of the best gymnasts in the world. On Thursday, they made her the all-around gold medalist at the Tokyo Games.

On the uneven bars, where Lee performs one of the hardest routines, she has few equals. In the floor exercise, she not only tumbles well but also turns and leaps with grace. And on the balance beam, she consistently and flawlessly executes difficult moves that other gymnasts avoid.

Lee began the all-around competition on the vault, which she executed cleanly. She nailed her double-twisting Yurchenko with just a slight pike on the landing — meaning she wasn’t as straight as the judges would prefer — for a score of 14.6.

Here’s more about the moves that made Lee unstoppable in the all-around.

We also spent time with Lee at Midwest Gymnastics in Minnesota, where she trains, as she prepared for her Olympic debut. Watch her grueling regimen.

Kayakers and canoers have been shooting down the man-made course at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre.Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times

TOKYO — Some Olympic sports look grueling, like the marathon or rowing.

Some look a little scary, like platform diving or the pole vault.

Some look painful, like boxing or taekwondo.

But do any of them look more fun than white-water canoeing?

For the past few days, kayakers and canoers have been shooting down the 250-meter course at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre, cascading over rapids, thrashing with their paddles and contorting their bodies to avoid touching gates.

Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times

And is it fun?

“I am out here because I love doing my sport; I have so much fun on the water,” said Evy Leibfarth, a U.S. canoer who placed 12th in kayak and 18th in canoe. “I love competing and I love traveling, so all that put together is a happy Evy.”

“My whole family does it,” said Martina Wegman of the Netherlands, who placed seventh in kayak. On holidays, my father would always bring a canoe. I loved it so much. I spent all my money on traveling to go canoeing on as many rivers as possible.”

Not that it is easy.

The Tokyo course is the first man-made canoe-slalom course in Japan, costing seven billion yen ($60 million). The water cascades along a bouncy run, coursing over blocks set up as obstacles, as paddlers muscle through a series of upstream and downstream gates.

This Olympic course is particularly challenging, paddlers say, with even some top competitors finding themselves rolling over during the course of their runs.

Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times

After past Olympics, some slalom venues have become white elephants. What can you really do with a canoe slalom course after the Games are over? The plan after Tokyo is to continue to hold competitions at the slalom course and open it to the public for rafting and other activities, ones that are probably a lot less challenging than Olympic canoe/kayaking.

It might look fun, but the Olympic white-water competition began with some skulduggery at the 1972 Munich Games. West Germany was eager to win many medals in the new sport, especially since the course was constructed there and their paddlers had unlimited access to it in the run-up to the Games.

But the East German team visited the course, then made a duplicate in order to train its own paddlers. The final tally at the 1972 Games: East Germany won four golds, West Germany zero.

Correction: July 29, 2021

An earlier version of this article misidentified the host city of the 1972 Summer Olympics. It was Munich, not Berlin.

Sam Kendricks is the sixth U.S. athlete to test positive for the coronavirus.Credit…Christine Olsson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — Sam Kendricks, the reigning world champion in the men’s pole vault, was ruled out of the Tokyo Games after he tested positive for the coronavirus, U.S. Olympic officials announced on Thursday.

His positive result had immediate repercussions inside the athletes’ village. All 41 athletes and 13 officials from Australia’s track and field team returned to their rooms and briefly isolated as a precautionary measure after three of the team’s athletes reported that they had interacted with Kendricks. After all three returned negative tests, the rest of the team was allowed to return to its normal activities.

The news of Kendricks’s positive test, and the potential consequences for Australia, was a chaotic development the day before the start of the full slate of track and field competition. Kendricks, 28, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics, had been expected to contend for a medal again in Tokyo, but his sudden exit was another indication of the precarious nature of these Olympics.

Olympic organizers on Thursday reported 24 new coronavirus infections among Olympic personnel, including three athletes. Kendricks is the sixth American athlete to test positive.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a statement that Kendricks had been transferred to a hotel to be placed in isolation, and that his close contacts had been informed.

“Sam is an incredible and accomplished member of Team U.S.A. and his presence will be missed,” the statement said. “Out of respect for his privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time.”

It was unclear if Kendricks had been vaccinated. His father, Scott, who is also his coach, wrote in a since-deleted post on Instagram that Kendricks “feels fine and has no symptoms.”

Before he left for Tokyo, Kendricks had a big send-off in Oxford, Miss. He and Shelby McEwen, an Olympic high jumper who also grew up in the area, were feted with a parade, and Kendricks did a final public workout in front of an outdoor crowd.

Kendricks, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve and a two-time world champion, famously stopped mid-run before one of his attempts at the 2016 Olympics to stand at attention when the national anthem began to play in the stadium for another athlete’s medal ceremony.

In Tokyo, he appeared poised to challenge for another spot on the podium. Mondo Duplantis, who grew up in Louisiana but competes for Sweden, is the heavy favorite to win the gold in his first Olympics.

Qualifying for the men’s pole vault is on Saturday, and the final is scheduled for Tuesday.

The three Australian athletes who had reported close contact with Kendricks will be allowed to train and compete but will be subject to strict protocols that limit their contact with others, the Australian Olympic Committee said in a statement.

“We will continue to be very thorough in our observance of the Tokyo playbooks and our own additional measures,” Ian Chesterman, the Australian team’s chef de mission, said in the statement. “We want every Australian athlete to be in a position to have their Olympic moment. We will continue to be vigilant.”

Caeleb Dressel had won three Olympic gold medals in relays, but this was his first for an individual event.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

TOKYO — American men won gold medals in two very different freestyle distances on Thursday morning at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, and Katie Ledecky earned a silver medal anchoring the United States 4×200-meter freestyle relay team.

Ledecky, swimming the final leg, entered the pool a distant third place as China and Australia looked to be in a two-team race. But Ledecky swam the fastest leg in the event, and the United States finished 0.40 seconds behind China’s world-record time.

“It’s just so easy to get up for a Team U.S.A. relay, so I wasn’t as nervous, maybe,” Ledecky said, surrounded by teammates, all draped in silver medals. “I just knew I was going to let it go and go for it, each lap of that race.”

It capped a big day for the Americans, as Caeleb Dressel 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 rival Kyle Chalmers of Australia by six-hundredths of a second.

Dressel sprang out of the blocks six-hundredths of a second faster than Chalmers — the final margin at the finish. Dressel and Chalmers 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?”

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 off.

Credit…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.”

Bobby Finke, another Floridian, won the Olympic 800-meter freestyle in different fashion, coming from behind in the last lap to beat Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri. It was a surprise even to Finke, 21, who later said he had “no idea” he would win.

His victory was the first for an American man in an Olympic distance race since 1984.

Paltrinieri arrived with one of the 10 best times in history, but he had struggled in Tokyo and was relegated to an outside lane for the final. He jumped out to the early lead, and held it through 14 of the race’s 16 laps.

The pack pulled closer with each turn, and Finke was fourth with 100 meters to go. He surged in the final 50 meters, swimming the last leg in 26.39 seconds, 1.65 seconds faster than Paltrinieri.

Finke finished in 7 minutes 41.87 seconds, a quarter-second ahead of Paltrinieri, who held on for silver. Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine captured the bronze. The 800 was the first such race for men since 1904.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Ledecky continued her interesting Olympic odyssey by earning a second silver medal in Tokyo with teammates Allison Schmitt, Paige Madden and Kathryn McLaughlin.

Ledecky took to the water in third, but Ledecky’s time of 1:53.76 was the fastest leg of the race for any team. She raced past Australia to nearly catch China, claiming silver for the United States.

The usual strategy, she said afterward, is to pace yourself through the first 100 meters, saving a dose of energy for the final sprint to the finish. Ledecky hit the water at full speed.

“I’ve had enough experience at that relay to know that even when I try to pull back that first 100, it’s still really fast and I can still come home,” she said. “So I just kind of let it go.”

Australia was a big favorite with Ariarne Titmus, who won the individual 200 and 400 freestyles, ahead of Ledecky both times.

The Aussies came to Tokyo looking to lower the world record of 7:41.50 that it established in 2019. Australia’s swimmers had already won the 4×100 free relay on Sunday, setting a world record.

In Tokyo, so far, Ledecky has a gold and two silver medals, plus a fifth-place finish. She has spent a career raising gold-or-bust expectations, and is now swimming with the curse of having to explain that she does not win every race.

Ledecky’s come-from-behind leg, faster than any rivals and lifting her team, showed that there would be no shame in silver.

















Simone Biles after pulling out of the women’s gymnastics team final on Tuesday.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 she is valued for more 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.

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.

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.”

The Japanese softball team practicing at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on Tuesday. A total of 198 people connected to the Games have tested positive since July 1.Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

Olympic organizers on Thursday reported 24 new coronavirus infections among personnel, including three athletes. A total of 198 people connected to the Games have tested positive since July 1.

Among them are 23 athletes, including six from the United States, which is fielding the largest Olympic delegation in Tokyo and also has the most members who have tested positive. They include the pole-vaulter Sam Kendricks, the reigning world champion and a bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Games, who was forced to withdraw from competition, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said on Thursday.

Outside the Olympic bubble, coronavirus cases are rising. Tokyo recorded 3,177 new infections on Wednesday, setting a record for the second consecutive day as health experts warned that tougher restrictions might be needed to control the spread of the Delta variant.

Across Japan, the average number of daily cases is up by 149 percent from two weeks ago, according to New York Times data. On Thursday, Japanese officials reported more than 9,500 cases nationwide, a new daily high.

Athletes who have tested positive for the coronavirus

Scientists say that positive tests are expected with daily testing programs, even among the vaccinated. Little information on severity has been released, though public reports suggest that cases among athletes have generally been mild or asymptomatic. Some athletes who have tested positive have not been publicly identified.

July 29

Sam Kendricks

Track and field

United States

July 28

Bruno Rosetti



July 26

Jean-Julien Rojer



July 25

Jon Rahm



July 24

Bryson DeChambeau


United States

July 23

Finn Florijn



Jelle Geens



Simon Geschke

Road cycling


Frederico Morais



July 22

Taylor Crabb

Beach volleyball

United States

Reshmie Oogink



Michal Schlegel

Road cycling

Czech Republic

Marketa Slukova

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

July 21

Fernanda Aguirre



Ilya Borodin

Russian Olympic Committee


Russian Olympic Committee

Amber Hill



Candy Jacobs



Pavel Sirucek

Table tennis

Czech Republic

July 20

Sammy Solis



Sonja Vasic



Hector Velazquez



July 19

Kara Eaker


United States

Ondrej Perusic

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

Katie Lou Samuelson

Three-on-three basketball

United States

July 18

Coco Gauff


United States

Kamohelo Mahlatsi


South Africa

Thabiso Monyane


South Africa

July 16

Dan Craven

Road cycling


Alex de Minaur



July 14

Dan Evans



July 13

Johanna Konta



July 3

Milos Vasic



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