Showstoppers at the Rio Games five years ago, Canadian women swimmers are back in a big way serving notice they are driven to be a world powerhouse in their sport.
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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
There’s a lot of talk right now about the Tokyo Olympics possibly being cancelled. If you’re confused about what exactly happened and what it means, here it is:
The British tabloid The Times reported last night that “the Japanese government has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus, and the focus is now on securing the Games for the city in the next available year, 2032.”
The story, written by a Tokyo-based journalist, cites only one source — a “senior member of the ruling coalition.” This person says that the latest wave of coronavirus infections, which has compelled the Japanese government to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and other cities, has convinced officials that the Olympics are doomed. The source thinks that the defiant statements we’ve heard lately from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga about the Games going ahead are just a way to convince the International Olympic Committee that Japan tried its best and would still make a good host in the future.
The story quickly went viral — leading to the false impression that “multiple reports” or “multiple” sources” said the Olympics were toast. To be clear, it’s still only one report, and that report cites one source.
Nevertheless, the ensuing firestorm — fuelled partly by recent speculation about the Tokyo Games being in trouble — forced the IOC, Japanese politicians, the Tokyo organizing committee and even the Canadian Olympic Committee to issue statements denying or at least downplaying the report.
The IOC’s statement referenced a “Japanese government” statement calling the “reports” (even they thought there was more than one) “categorically untrue.” The IOC added that it is “fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of” the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics “this year.”
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike dismissed the report and was quoted as saying “we should submit a complaint” about it. Japanese cabinet member Manabu Sakai sounded more nuanced. He was quoted as saying there was “no truth” to the idea that a decision has been made to give up on the Olympics. But he didn’t rule it out for the future. “We will decide on whether to actually hold the event at some point,” he was quoted as saying. “But until then, the Japanese government will do what needs to be done.”
The Tokyo organizing committee presented a united front, saying all its “delivery partners” — including the Japanese and Tokyo governments, the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee — are “fully focused on hosting the Games this summer.”
Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker wrote on Twitter last night that his organization “has confidence that the Games can be staged safely and successfully given what has been learned in sport over the last several months and the emphasis the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee have placed on COVID-19 countermeasures.” In a letter to national sports organizations last night that was obtained by CBC Sports, the COC said: “We know the IOC was communicating with [Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga] as recently as today and no such signals [about cancellation] were shared.” Canadian chef de mission Marnie McBean said she’s “confident” the Games will go on.
Suga has repeatedly insisted that the show will go on. Just this week, he vowed to hold the Tokyo Olympics as “proof of human victory against the coronavirus.” IOC president Thomas Bach has also projected confidence. Hours before the report was published, he said the IOC has “no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo.”
Still, there’s smoke. That source quoted in the Times report isn’t the first to suggest these Olympics will not or should not happen. A much-cited recent poll in Japan found that 80 per cent of respondents favoured cancelling the Games. And can you blame them? How would you feel about tens of thousands of visitors from all corners of the earth coming to Canada this summer? It’s possible the vaccine and the arrival of warmer weather make that a less scary proposition, but who knows? The Japanese government, Tokyo organizers and the IOC could soon find themselves in the same position they were in before the Games were postponed last March — clinging to an event no one else wants to be a part of anymore.
There’s no need to rush a decision right now, especially given the higher stakes this time. Everyone involved in staging these Olympics has said another postponement is not an option. But a call will need to be made pretty soon. The Games are scheduled to open six months from tomorrow — on July 23. Last year’s announcement that they were postponed came on March 24 — two months from now.
Maybe that’s enough time for Japan and the rest of the world to turn things around. Maybe not. So a cancellation can’t be ruled out. And this time, as Bach keeps saying, “there is no Plan B.”
In sports and in life, we tend to glorify the shooting stars. Better to burn out than to fade away, as the man said. But maybe what we really need is more Hank Aarons.
In his 23 big-league seasons, the unassuming Alabaman won only one MVP award and topped out at 47 home runs. But he hit at least 40 homers eight times, and from his age-21 through age-39 seasons he averaged 37. That’s how Hammerin’ Hank broke Babe Ruth’s revered all-time home run record in 1974 and finished his career two years later with 755. The mark has since been smashed by Barry Bonds, whose desire to be one of those shooting stars pushed him to certain pharmaceutical lengths that render his accomplishment illegitimate in the eyes of some baseball fans.
There were never any such doubts about Aaron, who broke Ruth’s record with quiet excellence and grace while enduring disgusting, racist threats. Til the day he died — today at age 86 — Aaron remained a beacon. He made his final public appearance a couple of weeks ago to say he’d received the vaccine and urge Black Americans to do the same. Atlanta, Aaron’s longtime team, said he died peacefully in his sleep. Read more about his life and career here.
A delayed and condensed long-track season opened today in the Netherlands, where skaters are bubbled for two World Cup meets and the Feb. 11-14 world championships.
This should have been a promising season for Canada, which won nine medals — including three gold — at the world single distances championships last February in Salt Lake City. But the team cautioned us to not expect much in the Dutch bubble — it’s been close to a year since Canadians last competed, and the pandemic also curtailed their ice time. The Calgary oval where they normally train has been closed since September, forcing Canadian skaters to get their workouts in on short tracks and an outdoor oval in Alberta. A two-week training camp in northern B.C. in November was the team’s only chance to skate on a proper surface before the season.
But, to everyone’s surprise, Canada won medals in both of the medal races held today: gold in the women’s team pursuit and bronze in the men’s team pursuit. Read more about those results here.
Thirteen Canadians are competing in the Dutch bubble, including two of the country’s three gold medallists from last year’s worlds. Ivanie Blondin is the reigning world champion in the women’s mass start, and Ted-Jan Bloemen is the reigning men’s 5,000-metre world champ and 10,000m Olympic champ. Graeme Fish, who won the men’s 10,000 at last year’s worlds (Bloemen took silver) decided to skip this season.
Blondin was part of today’s women’s team pursuit victory, along with Isabelle Weidemann and Valérie Maltais. That trio took bronze in this event at last year’s worlds. Bloemen teamed with Jordan Belchos (the mass start silver medallist at last year’s worlds) and Connor Howe for the men’s bronze today.
You can watch Canadian skaters go for more medals live Saturday from 8:15-11:50 a.m ET and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. The World Cup event also leads off Saturday’s edition of Road to the Olympic Games, which you can watch from noon-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network and CBC Sports’ digital platforms. Read more about how Canadian skaters are approaching the bubble here.
Conor McGregor is back in the octagon Saturday night. The UFC’s biggest star has fought only five rounds since his loss to Floyd Mayweather in a boxing ring in August 2017. Khabib Nurmagomedov tapped him out in the fourth in 2018 and, a year ago, McGregor knocked out Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds. After the UFC returned from its (briefer than most) pandemic pause, McGregor couldn’t get a fight to his liking and “retired” for the third time. To no one’s surprise, he’s back and will take on Dustin Poirier, who he KO’d in the first round in 2014. McGregor is expected to beat him again, but the ultimate goal (for both McGregor and the UFC) is to lure Khabib out of retirement for what would be one of the biggest MMA bouts ever.
The Super Bowl matchup will be decided Sunday. Green Bay hosts Tampa Bay in the NFC championship game at 3:05 p.m. ET, and Kansas City hosts Buffalo for the AFC title at 6:40 p.m. ET. Quick storylines: K.C. should have reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes (concussion protocol) at quarterback after he practised for the third consecutive day today. Buffalo is looking for its first Super Bowl appearance since it lost its fourth in a row in 1994. Green Bay is trying to make it for the first time since 2010, when Aaron Rodgers won the only ring of his brilliant career. If the Buccaneers win, they’ll be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. And there will be fans. The NFL announced today that it will allow 22,000 people into Tampa’s open-air venue. 7,500 of those tickets will be set aside for vaccinated health-care workers. Read more about that here.
Us waiting for Sunday:
Oral history of the Sale-Pelletier screwjob: The Canadian figure skating pair was robbed of a gold medal by corrupt judges at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The injustice was later corrected and they got their gold, but not before the scandal became an international news story of near Kerrigan/Harding proportions — complete with Jay Leno jokes and everything. Rediscover one of the most infamous moments in Olympic history through the words of the people who lived it in this piece by Vicki Hall. You should also watch this wonderful video treatment of the saga by CBC Sports’ Steve Tzemis.
Winter Olympic sports: In addition to the speed skating World Cup event already mentioned, this weekend’s live-streaming menu features the second of two men’s downhills on the famed (and feared) Streif course in Kitzbühel, Austria on Saturday, plus a super-G on Sunday. There’s also World Cup competition in women’s alpine skiing, luge, bobsleigh, ski cross, snowboard cross, aerials and snowboard halfpipe. See the full schedule here.
Road to the Olympic Games: Saturday’s show features speed skating, a women’s downhill, snowboard halfpipe, ski cross, bobsleigh, skeleton and a men’s downhill at Kitzbühel. Watch from noon-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Sunday’s show features ski cross, bobsleigh and skeleton. Watch it from noon-2 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app or check local listing for TV times.
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TOKYO — It was far from the performance Felix Auger-Aliassime was hoping for in his Olympic debut.
Playing on centre court of Tokyo’s Ariake Tennis Park on Sunday, Auger-Aliassime was eliminated in just under two hours by a player ranked 190th in the world who was not even scheduled to compete.
Australian Max Purcell, replacing the injured Andy Murray, upset the 15th-ranked Canadian in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the first round.
The 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime never got into any kind of rhythm, except for a three-game winning streak that saw him go from down 1-3 to up 4-3 in the second set.
The Montrealer’s performance otherwise did not live up to expectations.
“It’s difficult to explain,” said the ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime a few minutes after the loss. “You have to give credit to Max for playing such a good match. Even if he’s more of a doubles player, he’s dangerous, he serves well.
“Despite everything, I still had chances to do better in this match. I had a very bad service game in the first set, which cost me. After that, I did not find ways to get back into the match. A little in the second set, but it was not enough.”
Purcell broke the Canadian to take a 4-3 lead in the first set and won all four points in the next game to go up 5-3.
“I played with confidence,” said Purcell. “I just had two great tournaments in singles. I won a Challenger just last week.
“I need to make the most every time I get in. I went out there thinking I could win, and I think I had just as much to lose as Felix in my mind.”
The Australian earned another break early in the second set to take a 3-1 lead. Auger-Aliassime then strung together his best tennis of the encounter, winning three games in a row to give renewed hope to his team gathered around the court.
But it was short-lived. The two players exchanged serves until the tiebreaker, where Auger-Aliassime fell flat.
“You always have to try to find solutions, to adapt,” said the Canadian. “It’s difficult, we don’t always play our best tennis. That was the case today.
“My first service game has been good. There was no reason (to struggle today). In training (Saturday), I served well. (Sunday,) I didn’t have a lot of good first serves, I couldn’t find the right pace.
“In the second set I started to serve better, but it was almost too late. He had gained confidence, he was leading the game and I was going through it. I tried to find solutions, but it didn’t work out.”
Auger-Aliassime was supposed to face Murray, but the two-time defending Olympic champion withdrew a few hours before his clash with the Quebecer.
Murray, 104th in the world, suffered a quadriceps injury in his right leg. He is still lined up to play the doubles portion of the tournament with teammate Joe Salisbury.
“It’s not easy for anybody, adjusting at the last second,” said Frank Dancevic, Auger-Aliassime’s coach. “You think you’re going to play one guy and somebody else comes, a different game style than Andy. So it was just a little bit of mental adjustment.”
Auger-Aliassime now turns his attention to mixed doubles, which kicks off later this week, with teammate Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa.
“It doesn’t change that much for me. Whether I play against Andy or Max, I had to play a good game” said Auger-Aliassime. “I would have had to find solutions.
“It for sure hurts. Coming here, I had the possibility of having a better tournament. Leaving so early is a bit unexpected and I am very disappointed. I have to accept it and I will try to bounce back in the mixed doubles.”
Purcell will next face Germany’s Dominik Koepfer, who downed Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2021.
Showstoppers at the Rio Games five years ago, Canadian women swimmers are back in a big way serving notice they are driven to be a world powerhouse in their sport.
Anchored by yet another brilliant swim from 2016 superstar Penny Oleksiak, the 4 x 100-metre relay team claimed their country’s first medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday night, finishing second in the final.
It was a buoyant performance on the first medal night of the meet, immediately backing up the breakout six-medal heist the Canadian women extracted out of the pool in Brazil. The silver medals the four Canadian women placed around each other’s necks during the post-race ceremony were a shiny update from the bronze they captured in Brazil.
And the legend of Oleksiak continued as she won a fifth Olympic medal, tying middle-distance runner Phil Edwards and rowing coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie for the most summer Olympic medals among Canadian athletes.
Based on the form the foursome flashed, Saturday’s effort set the tone for more success to come in the nine-day meet. Medal opportunities could come almost nightly and the confidence created from the opening silver could be huge for the Canadians who had far less racing opportunities than most of their competitors.
First-time Olympian Kayla Sanchez swam the opening leg of Saturday’s event, held at a spectator-free Tokyo Aquatic Centre. Sanchez was followed by Maggie Mac Neil and Rebecca Smith. Those three kept the medal pursuit alive, even if the favoured Australians were sprinting away to a runaway gold.
And then it was Oleksiak – the four-time medallist from 2016 – who brought it home, sending an early indication that she’s returned to top form by doing what she does best. The 21-year-old once again showed her pure racing prowess, a trait that earned her gold in the 100-metre freestyle event at Rio.
“If you are going to want someone racing the 100 free or anchoring your relay, you probably want it to be Penny,” Sanchez said in an interview prior to the Games. “She knows how to finish those last 50 metres. She knows how to do anything in her power to touch that wall first.”
Favoured Australia took gold, as expected and set a world record in the process while U.S. with Simone Manuel anchoring took bronze.
Gunning for Canada’s first medal of the Games, the Swimming Canada braintrust juggled the lineup from the heats to the final, a strategy it has employed in the past for big event relays. Taylor Ruck, who like Oleksiak was part of the 4 x 100 bronze medal relay squad in Rio, was replaced by Mac Neil for Saturday’s final and inserted in the second spot, following leadoff swimmer Sanchez.
“I’m so proud to be part of this team,” Sanchez said. “We did what we needed to do. We’ve been saying all afternoon: ‘it’s Game 1 and Canada has so much more to go.”
It was the first Olympic medal for Sanchez, Mac Neil and Smith, who are all making their Games debut.
Despite limited racing opportunities over the past four years, the Canadians have kept their competitive drive engaged, something Oleksiak unleashed yet again on Saturday.
“Honestly, we are already one of the most dominant countries in the world in swimming and all the girls are working so hard every single day,” Oleksiak said. “I’m really excited to see these specific girls make a mark on the world again.
“Hopefully we can get a few more going.”
And in every event they have been called upon to leave the blocks.
The focus on strong relay teams is a huge part of the Canadian program under head coach John Atkinson. With an emphasis on depth, Canadian women showed their strength in that area at the 2016 Rio Olympics where they captured a pair of medals.
The emphasis for most swimmers such as freestyle ace Oleksiak, backstroker Kylie Masse and butterfly speedster Mac Neil is their individual events. But Atkinson is determined to parlay that talent into relay success.
“It’s a nine-day competition in the pool,” Atkinson said. “We have selected a team that can compete in six relays and be competitive through all nine days, in individual events as well as relays.”
TOKYO (AP) — Naomi Osaka is back playing, still winning, and also talking to the media again.
The Japanese superstar who lit the Olympic cauldron defeated 52nd-ranked Zheng Saisai of China 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday in her first match in nearly two months.
Osaka hadn’t played since she withdrew from the French Open in May to take a mental health break, revealing that she has dealt with depression. She then sat out Wimbledon.
Osaka stopped to talk with reporters afterward, having said in Paris that she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before meeting with the media and that she would be skipping news conferences.
“More than anything else I’m just focused on playing tennis,” Osaka said. “The Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a kid so I feel like the break that I took was very needed. I feel definitely a little bit refreshed and I’m happy again.”
She added that she was “happy” that reporters were asking her questions, then added: “I feel a little bit out of my body right now.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my body, I just felt really nervous,” Osaka said. “I haven’t played since France so there were definitely some things that I did a bit wrong but I think I can improve in the matches that I continue playing.”
The second-ranked Osaka was sharp from the start, serving an ace down the T on the opening point of the match and and racing out to a 5-0 lead.
Wearing a bright red dress and a red visor and with her hair styled in red-and-white braids to match the colors of the Japanese flag stitched onto the left side of her chest, Osaka served six aces in all and produced 25 winners to Zheng’s 10.
Osaka’s match was originally scheduled to open the tournament on Saturday but then was pushed back a day before her starring role in Friday’s opening ceremony.
“I feel very very proud,” Osaka said, revealing that Olympic organizers asked her to handle the cauldron honors back in March.
“When I lit the flame I was super honored,” she added. “I think that’s a position that you dream about and not anyone can do it so for me when they asked me if I wanted to I was very surprised but very honored and I’m just very happy to be here and very happy to play — especially in Tokyo.”
Osaka will next face 50th-ranked Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.
For other top players in the tennis tournament at the Tokyo Games, it wasn’t so straightforward.
Top-ranked Ash Barty was upset by 48th-ranked Spanish opponent Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4, 6-3 and two-time defending gold medalist Andy Murray withdrew from singles because of a right quad strain.
Both still remain in the doubles competition.
Barty won with Australian partner Storm Sanders on Saturday while Murray and British partner Joe Salisbury beat the second-seeded French team of Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.
Barty’s singles defeat came 15 days after she won Wimbledon for her second Grand Slam title.
She struggled with a whopping 55 unforced errors to Sorribes Tormo’s 13 and got in only 54% of her first serves compared to her opponent’s 83%.
Murray pulled out shortly ahead of his scheduled opener against ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada on Center Court.
“I am really disappointed at having to withdraw but the medical staff have advised me against playing in both events, so I have made the difficult decision to withdraw from the singles and focus on playing doubles with Joe,” Murray said.
It’s the latest setback for the 34-year-old Murray after only recently returning to the tour from a three-month absence because of a groin problem. He has also had serious issues with a bad hip that wound up requiring two operations.
Murray has a total of three Olympic medals. He also won a silver in mixed doubles at the 2012 London Games with Laura Robson.
Max Purcell of Australia was to play Auger-Aliassime instead.
Heat and humidity were issues again with the temperature rising to 91 degrees F (33 degrees C) and the sun baking the hard courts at Ariake Tennis Park.
Also advancing was Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who beat Alize Cornet of France 6-1, 6-3, while third-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus eliminated Magda Linette of Poland 6-2, 6-1.
Carla Suarez Navarro, the Spaniard who plans to retire this year, beat Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-4, 6-1 for her first victory since recovering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Camila Giorgi of Italy eliminated Jennifer Brady, the American who was this year’s Australian Open finalist, 6-3, 6-2.
Among the men advancing were fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany, seventh-seeded Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and 12th-seeded Karen Khachanov of ROC.
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