Olympics Live: Pole Vaulter Sam Kendricks Tests Positive; Australia’s Track Team in Isolation

Olympics Live: Pole Vaulter Sam Kendricks Tests Positive; Australia’s Track Team in Isolation

Olympics Live: Pole Vaulter Sam Kendricks Tests Positive; Australia’s Track Team in Isolation

Current time in Tokyo: July 29, 2:55 p.m.

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 Thursday.

His positive result had immediate repercussions inside the athletes’ village. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the entire Australian track and field team had been asked to return to their rooms and isolate because of fears that a number of the team’s athletes had interacted with Kendricks. One of Australia’s pole-vaulters has been identified as a close contact.

“Members of the Australian track and field are now undergoing testing procedures in line with Australian Olympic team protocols,” the Australian Olympic Committee said in a statement.

The news of the 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.

Tokyo 2020 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 is 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 inside 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 Saturday, and the final is scheduled for Tuesday.

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.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

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.

“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 Times
Credit…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 Times
Credit…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.”

Swimming:

Men’s

100m

Freestyle

Final

Caeleb Dressel of the U.S. before the men’s 100 meter freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at Tokyo Aquatics Center.
Credit…Doug Mills/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. China scored a surprise win in the women’s 4×200 freestyle relay, adding to its 4×100 gold medal, with the U.S. team, including Katie Ledecky, capturing the silver.

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.

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.

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 will be the leading U.S. contender in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around final on Thursday after Simone Biles’s withdrawal.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Good morning, sports fans! It’s Day 6 of the Tokyo Games. Here are some highlights of U.S. broadcast coverage on Thursday morning, including the women’s gymnastics all-around final, tennis and the Olympic debut of Israel’s baseball team.

GYMNASTICS The U.S. women’s team is moving ahead without Simone Biles for the individual all-around final, which is expected to be a highlight of the Games. The competition should still be fierce: Sunisa Lee and Jade Carey will represent the United States against Rebeca Andrade of Brazil, Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova of Russia, and Tang Xijing and Lu Yufei of China, among others. Lee is the second-best all-around gymnast in the United States, behind Biles, and is a strong contender for a medal. The competition begins on Thursday at 6:50 a.m. Eastern and can be streamed live via the NBC Olympics site, Peacock or the NBC Sports app.

TENNIS The Olympic Channel will air a slew of matches starting at 2 a.m. In the women’s competition, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland faces Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in the singles semifinals at 2 a.m., and Elina Svitolina of Ukraine faces Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the singles semifinals at 6 a.m. In the men’s competition, Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain faces Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the singles quarterfinals, and Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays Kei Nishikori of Japan, both starting at 4 a.m.

TABLE TENNIS CNBC will air the men’s singles semifinals at 2:10 a.m. The women’s singles bronze medal match is at 7 a.m., and the gold medal match is at 8 a.m., both on NBCOlympics.com.

CANOE/KAYAK The world’s best female paddlers will battle a man-made white-water course for the canoe slalom semifinals and final beginning at 2:10 a.m. on USA Network. The women’s canoe class made its debut at the Olympics this year.

JUDO NBCOlympics.com will air men’s and women’s repechage, semifinal and medal matches in the women’s 78-kilogram and the men’s 100-kilogram weight classes starting at 4 a.m.

WATER POLO The men’s water polo preliminaries are underway, with the United States playing Italy at 1:10 a.m. on USA Network and Croatia versus Montenegro at 4 a.m. on CNBC.

FENCING Medals in the women’s team foil start with the bronze match at 5:30 a.m. on NBCSN. The gold medal match is at 6:55 a.m.

SWIMMING USA Network airs heats in the women’s 800-meter freestyle, featuring Katie Ledecky and Katie Grimes, the men’s 100-meter butterfly and more starting at 6 a.m.

BASEBALL Israel makes its Olympic debut in a game against South Korea at 6 a.m. on NBCOlympics.com.

The Japanese softball team practicing at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on Tuesday. A total of 23 athletes are confirmed to have tested positive since arriving in Tokyo.
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

Tokyo 2020 organizers on Thursday reported 24 new coronavirus infections among Olympic 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 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.



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

Rowing

Italy

July 26

Jean-Julien Rojer

Tennis

Netherlands

July 25

Jon Rahm

Golf

Spain

July 24

Bryson DeChambeau

Golf

United States

July 23

Finn Florijn

Rowing

Netherlands

Jelle Geens

Triathlon

Belgium

Simon Geschke

Road cycling

Germany

Frederico Morais

Surfing

Portugal

July 22

Taylor Crabb

Beach volleyball

United States

Reshmie Oogink

Taekwondo

Netherlands

Michal Schlegel

Road cycling

Czech Republic

Marketa Slukova

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

July 21

Fernanda Aguirre

Taekwondo

Chile

Ilya Borodin

Russian Olympic Committee

Swimming

Russian Olympic Committee

Amber Hill

Shooting

Britain

Candy Jacobs

Skateboarding

Netherlands

Pavel Sirucek

Table tennis

Czech Republic

July 20

Sammy Solis

Baseball

Mexico

Sonja Vasic

Basketball

Serbia

Hector Velazquez

Baseball

Mexico

July 19

Kara Eaker

Gymnastics

United States

Ondrej Perusic

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

Katie Lou Samuelson

Three-on-three basketball

United States

July 18

Coco Gauff

Tennis

United States

Kamohelo Mahlatsi

Soccer

South Africa

Thabiso Monyane

Soccer

South Africa

July 16

Dan Craven

Road cycling

Namibia

Alex de Minaur

Tennis

Australia

July 14

Dan Evans

Tennis

Britain

July 13

Johanna Konta

Tennis

Britain

July 3

Milos Vasic

Rowing

Serbia


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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

And yet.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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:




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