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Doping raises its head as BMX marred by crashes

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American swimmer Ryan Murphy stoked controversy at the Tokyo Games on Friday when he raised the spectre of doping after losing his second Olympic title to Russian rival Evgeny Rylov.

Murphy, who won three gold medals at the 2016 Rio Games, said his 200 metre backstroke final was “probably not clean” after he lost to Rylov, competing as part of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).

The comments threw an unwelcome spotlight on doping for Tokyo 2020 organisers as the blue riband athletics competition got under way, on a day further marred by accidents on the BMX track, including a horrendous spill that saw 28-year-old American favourite Connor Fields rushed to hospital.

Held in Tokyo without spectators and after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been characterised by tumult and scandals from the get-go.

With China and Japan jostling for top spot in the medal tally https://graphics.reuters.com/OLYMPICS-2020/MEDALTALLY/rlgpdynkjvo/media-embed.html ahead of the United States, it hasn’t been a ratings boon for global broadcasters either.

Data from the opening ceremony and the first few nights show the Tokyo Games are so far the least watched Olympics in recent history across Europe and in the United States.

TV viewership is up in Australia and Japan, however.

COVID-19 infections have also risen, totalling 3,300 in Tokyo on Friday, after hitting a record 3,865 a day earlier, adding to the strain on the medical system.

The government broadened a state of emergency to four more prefectures and extended Tokyo’s until the end of August from Aug. 22.

‘THOUGHTS WOULD GET ME INTO TROUBLE’

Murphy, who won gold in the 100 metre and 200 metre Rio finals, surrendered both titles to Rylov in Tokyo.

“I’ve got 15 thoughts, 13 of them would get me into a lot of trouble,” he said when asked by a reporter if he had any doping concerns about his races, subsequently suggesting the 200m had been tainted.

Later, said he had no intention of making an allegation against his opponent. Rylov said Murphy was entitled to his thoughts given that there had been scandals.

The World Anti-Doping Agency handed Russia a four-year ban from top sporting events in 2019. Those sanctions were then lessened by a sports arbitration court.

More than 300 Russian athletes are competing at the Tokyo Games as part of the ROC. While they are not allowed to compete under their own flag, they can wear their tri-colour uniforms.

In other swimming events, the medals were again spread between countries other than traditional powerhouses.

South African Tatjana Schoenmaker won the women’s 200 metre breaststroke in a world record time, while China won their first men’s swimming gold in Tokyo with Wang Shun’s victory in the 200 metre medley.

Emma McKeon won the 100 freestyle for Australia’s sixth gold in the pool, holding off Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey down the final straight to win by 0.31 seconds.

BILES’ STRUGGLES

In gymnastics, Zhu Xueying led China to the top two podium positions in the women’s trampoline as Canada‘s Rosie MacLennan was denied a golden hat-trick.

That sport has also been overshadowed by drama around U.S. star Simone Biles. On Friday, she spelled out her struggles to perform, days after pulling of competitions, but shed no clear light on whether she would take part in further events.

In fencing, the top four teams in the men’s team epee crashed out in the quarter-finals. One of the day’s biggest surprises, Japan, ranked eighth, defeated top-ranked France, who will miss out on a medal for the first time since 1992.

In badminton, world number three Nozomi Okuhara was beaten by number nine China’s He Bing Jiao. Another surprise was the entry of world number 59, Guatemala’s Kevin Cordon, into the men’s quarter-finals.

The final day of Olympic rowing also delivered thrills when Greece’s Stefanos Ntouskos upset the favourites in the men’s single sculls and Canada ended U.S. dominance of the women’s eights. Four-time Olympian Emma Twigg, of New Zealand, ensured her country kept a grip on the sport with another gold in the women’s single sculls.

Athletics exploded into life with the women’s 100 metres round-one heats. Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou roared across the finish line with a blistering 10.78 seconds at a hot and spectator-less Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.

Defending Olympic champion Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah ran a scorching 10.82 seconds to advance, while compatriot Shelly Anne Fraser-Pryce posted 10.84 seconds.

AMERICAN “AWAKE” AFTER CRASH

Reigning BMX champion Fields, who crashed heavily in the third run of his semi-final, was “awake” in hospital awaiting further checks to determine the extent of his injuries, an American team spokesperson said.

He was close to the front heading into the first steeply-banked corner at the Ariake Urban Sports Park and appeared to tangle with another rider, crashing heavily.

The semi-finals were marred by other crashes after a 45-minute rain delay, although the course was dry and did not appear to be a factor.

“I don’t think that the track or the weather had anything to do with the crashes,” Dutch rider Merel Smulders, who took bronze in the women’s race after her sister Laura also crashed in the semi-finals, told Reuters.

“I feel like there were a lot more crashes in Rio. But there were some bad crashes today and no one wants to see that.”

(Reporting by David Dolan and Mari Saito; Writing by Leela de Kretser and David Dolan; Editing by Stephen Coates and John Stonestreet)

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LeBrun: What's at stake for the Maple Leafs this season? 'I don’t think we can hide from it' – The Athletic

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TORONTO — To be blunt, the Toronto Maple Leafs could go 82-0 this season, rewrite the regular-season record book and there would be large segments of their fan base and people around the hockey world who would say: Yeah, but …

That “but” hangs over this season like a massive anvil.

This is my 27th year covering the NHL, all of them based here in Toronto, and I would argue this franchise has never in that time frame felt this kind of pressure to deliver.

Doug Gilmour’s overachieving Leafs teams were too beloved by the fan base to be second-guessed. Wendel Clark is still a Leafs God for a reason. He left it all on the ice.

Mats Sundin’s Leafs teams a decade later didn’t deliver the ultimate prize but the faith of the fan base didn’t waver too much through some decent playoff runs.

This current team has done nothing come playoff time.

Nothing yet, anyway.

Which is why despite always being a team that garners plenty of leaguewide attention, sometimes for no real reason, the Leafs are genuinely one of the most compelling stories this season in the NHL, win or lose.

Up 3-1 on their rival Montreal Canadiens in May, the Leafs crumbled in a seven-game series loss that won’t soon be forgotten.

And yet the painful lessons from yet another first-round exit had to be addressed before the Leafs could turn the page.

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In final clash before potential playoff duel, Rays torment Blue Jays once more – Sportsnet.ca

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – No team torments the Toronto Blue Jays quite like the Tampa Bay Rays, and adding insult to injury in their final regular season meeting was getting a beatdown from their archnemesis and then watching them clinch a playoff berth.

The finale of a three-game set at Tropicana Field lacked the typical drama most of Wednesday afternoon after Ross Stripling got lit up for five runs in a six-run third that effectively decided a 7-1 Rays win. But theatre arrived in the eighth when Ryan Borucki hit Kevin Kiermaier, who triggered ill will Monday by grabbing a data card dislodged from Alejandro Kirk’s wristband during a play at the plate, prompting words to be exchanged and the dugouts to empty.

Relative calm prevailed as Rays manager Kevin Cash ranted to the umpiring crew, which then gathered by the mound after and ejected Borucki. That prompted pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo to argue, and Walker was restrained before he was ejected, too.

David Robertson closed things out in an incident-free ninth inning and the Rays poured out on the field afterwards for business-as-usual handshakes.

As usual, the Rays got the better of season series with 11 wins, and at 94-59, now have a magic number of four to clinch the American League East in back-to-back seasons. Of their 19 clashes this season, it was only the sixth time the game was decided by four runs or more, in contrast to the 10 contests settled by two or less.

The Rays winning the East is an inevitably at this point and should the Blue Jays successfully clinch a wild-card berth and then win that game to reach the division series, the Rays are likely to be waiting for them there.

There are steps to be taken for them to get there, but the math remains fairly favourable for the Blue Jays (85-67), who fell even with the New York Yankees (85-67) for the second wild card and dropped two games back of the Boston Red Sox (87-65) for the first, pending Wednesday night’s action. The Yankees were scheduled to host Texas, the Red Sox home to the Mets.

With 10 games left, beginning with a four-game set at the Minnesota Twins opening Thursday, a 6-4 run would push them to 91 wins, a total likely enough to get them into the playoffs. After the Twins, the Blue Jays have three-game series at home versus the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, so the opportunity for 7-3 or even better is certainly there.

A big weekend versus the Twins while the Red Sox and Yankees play three in New York this weekend is a pivotal chance to gain ground before Boston closes out against Baltimore and Washington. The Yankees finish against the Rays after playing Boston and Toronto.

Nothing should be taken for granted, but the Blue Jays are set up fairly well, even after their bullpen game Wednesday went terribly awry.

Stripling, entering behind opener Julian Merryweather as the bulk pitcher, got through his first inning unscathed but didn’t survive the next, going single, double, walk, sacrifice fly, three-run homer by Austin Meadows and single before Montoyo came with the hook.

Taylor Walls added a two-run single in the frame before it was over and, with the Rays’ bullpen game going much more to plan, this was a hole the Blue Jays offence couldn’t dig out of.

Surviving as best as possible for Thursday became the priority at that point, and essential on that front was the 2.1 shutout innings delivered by Anthony Castro. That allowed the Blue Jays to both get Jordan Romano and Trevor Richards needed rest and keep Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza available for the Twins opener.

Pearson was pressed into duty after Borucki’s ejection.

Castro’s work may very well get him optioned, as Thomas Hatch, at one point a candidate to be activated from the taxi squad for Wednesday, is likely to join the bullpen Thursday.

Another reinforcement could be Santiago Espinal, whose return from a rehab assignment at triple-A Buffalo is suddenly more urgent with Breyvic Valera on the COVID-19 IL for coming into close contact with a family member.

Valera is fully vaccinated and produced a negative test, but when he’s eligible to return will be dependent on returning more negative tests and getting sign-offs from both MLB and the union. Kevin Smith was recalled from the Bisons to cover for the time being.

Cavan Biggio is a possibility to join the club next week, although the Blue Jays are hoping he can establish some rhythm at the plate before he’s returned from his rehab assignment.

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2020 Ryder Cup: The significance of the numbers on Team Europe's Ryder Cup golf bags – Golf Channel

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Analytics have become an increasingly important part of the entire Ryder Cup process, but European captain Padraig Harrington is taking his numbers game to a new level – literally.

Stitched on the golf bags of all 12 of Harrington’s players this week at Whistling Straits is a number. The digits are unique to each player and signify where they fit on Team Europe’s historical timeline, which has featured 164 players, from the first eight Brits in 1927 to Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, who was the last rookie selected for this year’s squad.

“Mine is the smallest number, obviously: 118,” said Lee Westwood, who is competing in his 11th Ryder Cup this week.

The 48-year-old Westwood, who has played in 44 career cup matches, just three shy of Phil Mickelson’s record. His first match came back in 1997 at Valderrama, where the Europeans, captained by the late Seve Ballesteros, edged the Americans by a point.

It was a solid debut for Westwood, who went 2-3 and teamed with Nick Faldo for all four team sessions, but the Englishman doesn’t remember the birdies and bogeys from that week as much as the passion that exuded from the European team.

“I knew from day one, really, [how important the Ryder Cup was],” Westwood said. “Listen, that week the captain was Seve Ballesteros. There may have been one or two people over many generations as passionate as Seve about the game of golf, but I doubt there’s been many as passionate about the Ryder Cup as Seve was. … You just fed off him, really. With Nick Faldo as my partner, Seve and Nick both held the Ryder Cup in high regard, and just being around them, you could see how much it meant to them.

“Passion for the Ryder Cup was never something that I had to learn or gain. Pretty much like European team spirit is not something we have to work on; it’s just there.”

Sergio Garcia can attest. The Spaniard, whose 25 ½ career points earned is a Ryder Cup record, has played in nine of these matches. His debut came in 1999, and he teamed with Jesper Pernevik to go 3-0-1 in team play, though the Euros lost by one at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

But when it came to his number, Garcia had no clue until Monday night when Harrington played a short, inspirational video before presenting each player his number and bag.

“I’ve always known that being a part of the Ryder Cup team is very difficult, but I didn’t know that only that little amount of players have made it,” said Garcia, who is No. 120. “So, that showed you how difficult it really is. That’s why every time I’m a part of a team or the rest of our teammates, that’s why we give it the respect that it deserves, because it’s so difficult to be a part of it.

“It’s an honor, and we treat it like that.”


Harrington using numbers to inspire Team Europe


McIlroy, No. 144 (behind just Westwood, Garcia, No. 130 Paul Casey and No. 134 Ian Poulter), described some of the video presentation, which featured the theme, “Make it count.”

“To put it into context: 570 people have been into space. I think over 5,000 people have climbed [Mount] Everest. 225 have won a men’s major. When you sort of break it down like that it’s a pretty small group and it’s pretty cool,” McIlroy said.

“It’s a small collection of people that have played for Europe in the Ryder Cup,” McIlroy added. “I think that’s what brings us very close together, and that’s been one of our sort of big focus points this week is just being here is very special and being part of a European team. Very few people can call themselves a European Ryder Cup player.”

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