Olympic torch launches into space (video, photos)

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We have liftoff.

An Olympic torch blasted into space aboard a Russian rocket in a special part of the Sochi torch relay from Kazakhstan at 11:14 ET on Wednesday night.

NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata took the torch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket with Sochi 2014 designs.

An Olympic torch has gone into space at least once before. A ceremonial torch went on the space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station before the 2000 Olympics, but this will be the first time it will go into open space on a spacewalk, scheduled for Saturday.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy will take the torch as part of a six-hour spacewalk beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET, according to Space.com. It will be tethered to make sure it doesn’t fly away.

The torch will not be lit on the expedition for safety reasons. Photos and video are expected to be made available after the spacewalk.

“We’d like to showcase our Olympic torch in space,” Kotov said, according to Engineering & Technology magazine. “We will try to do it in a beautiful manner. Millions of people will see it live on TV, and they will see the station and how we work.”

UPDATE: The torch reached the International Space Station on Thursday morning.

The torch is expected to return to Earth at 9:50 p.m. ET on Sunday, landing in Kazakhstan.

The crew that will stay at the International Space Station for six months will be able to watch the Olympics (on a delay), according to Interfax.

One of the three Sochi Olympic mascots — a polar bear — was also aboard the rocket:

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Screencap via Space.com

Here are photos from before the launch:

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Journalist says torch flame has gone out at least 44 times

Sweden drops 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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The city of Stockholm says it won’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Karin Wanngard, the city official in charge of finances, says the reason is because the International Olympic Committee will not be able to report how big the financial contribution to the host city will be.

She says the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November.”

The Swedish lawmaker, whose Social Democratic Party had been supportive of hosting the event, adds “this means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors.”

The Swedish capital, which hosted the 1912 Summer Olympics, has never staged the Winter Games. The cities of Ostersund, Falun and Goteborg all have mounted failed winter bids.

The news comes six days after the Swedish Olympic Committee named a CEO for the 2026 bid.

In January, the committee said that Stockholm staging the 2026 Winter Olympics was “possible and desirable” and that a formal bid was expected in March 2018.

In 2015, Stockholm pulled out of the race for the 2022 Winter Games after Swedish politicians refused to give financial backing. Swedish politicians were uncomfortable because of concerns over costs, the environment, post-Games use of venues, the environment and other issues.

The early 2026 bid plan called for 80 percent of the events in Stockholm, while most of the Alpine competitions would be in the northern resort of Are, more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) from the capital. A few skiing events would be in Falun, 215 kilometers (130 miles) northwest from there.

The 2026 Winter Olympics have one bidder — Sion, Switzerland.

Cities in Austria, Canada, Japan and have also discussed potential 2026 bids, as has Lillehammer, Norway, the 1994 Winter Olympic host. The U.S. is not expected to bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

The next two Winter Olympics will be in East Asia in PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, giving a European or North American city a greater opening to be the 2026 host.

The 2026 Olympic host city is expected to be chosen from an International Olympic Committee members vote in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: 2026 Olympics coverage

Serena Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

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Two weeks after learning she was pregnant, Serena Williams was unsure of committing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Williams will be 38 in 2020, older than any previous Olympic singles player.

“I can’t promise that … Tokyo 2020 is a lot,” Williams told Wowow TV of Japan after winning the Australian Open on Jan. 28.

Williams said Tuesday in a Ted Talk that she learned of her pregnancy two days before the Australian Open (video here). She was about two months pregnant at the time.

Williams broke the news publicly last week on Snapchat but deleted the post. A spokesperson later confirmed that Williams was pregnant and planned to return to tennis next season.

“Actually, it was an accident,” Williams said Tuesday of the Snapchat. “I was on vacation, just taking some time for myself. I have this thing where I’ve been checking my status and taking pictures every week to see how far along I’ve been going. … You know how social media is, you press the wrong button and there it was. Thirty minutes later, I missed like four calls. I’m like, that’s weird. Then I picked it up, and I was like, oh no. But it was a good moment. I was going to wait, literally, just five or six more days. That’s OK.”

The four-time Olympic champion has made no public comments since last week about the 2020 Olympics.

Williams confirmed Tuesday that she played the entire Australian Open knowing she was pregnant. She won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, beating older sister Venus in the final.

Williams said she was nervous after finding out she was pregnant two days before the tournament.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to think, but I just knew that at that moment, it was really important me to focus right there at the Australian Open,” she said. “I was definitely not sure what to do. I was like, can I play? I know it’s very dangerous, maybe, sometimes, in the first 12 weeks or so.”

Williams said she didn’t get sick during the tournament. She had heard about people getting tired, or really stressed out.

“I had to really take all that energy, put it in a paper bag, so to say, and throw it away,” she said. “Because I really felt like I didn’t have time to deal with any extra emotions, anything, because, pregnant or not, no one knew, and I was supposed to win that tournament, as I am every tournament that I show up, I am expected to win, and if I don’t win, it’s actually much bigger news.”

Williams is “excited to defy the odds” and return to the WTA Tour next season. She wouldn’t be the first elite player to compete after having a baby.

In January, Williams said Venus, who is 15 months older, is “crazy” and “something special” for targeting the 2020 Olympics.

“I’m really inspired by my sister,” Williams said Tuesday. “If she’s still playing, I know I can play. There’s so many. Roger Federer, he’s a little older than me, and he’s still winning everything, so I’m like, you know, I know I can do that, too. … My story is definitely not over yet. I was talking to my coach about it, and we were talking about. This is just a new part of my life. My baby’s going to be in the stands, and hopefully cheering for me, not crying too much.”

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