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Tokyo marks 1,000 days until 2020 Olympics

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TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo marked 1,000 days until the 2020 Olympics on Saturday with a ceremony that included a demonstration of new sports that will debut at the Summer Games.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa were among the dignitaries attending the festivities in the Nihonbashi district in downtown Tokyo.

“The Olympic Games has the power to bring dreams to children and cultivate a peaceful society,” said Tsunekazu Takeda, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee. “The success of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is necessary so that sport can contribute to foster a better society and world peace.”

Four floats numbered 1-0-0-0 were carried through the streets to a main stage where a countdown display was unveiled. Organizers said 15,000 people attended Saturday’s event.

In an effort to give the games a more youthful and urban appeal, the IOC has added several new sports to the program.

Saturday’s event included demonstrations of three of those sports: 3×3 basketball, skateboarding and BMX freestyle cycling.

Sports climbing, surfing, baseball and softball, and karate are the other new sports added to the program. Karate and the combined sports of baseball and softball were added because of their popularity in Japan.

Tokyo’s preparations so far have won high praise from the International Olympic Committee.

“Of course there are still a lot of things that need to be done over the next three years and we must achieve them successfully,” said Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.

While Tokyo organizers are eager to showcase their progress, the preparations have not been without difficulties.

In a bid to reduce costs, some sports venues originally included in Tokyo’s compact bid, have been moved to existing facilities in neighboring prefectures, some as far as two hours away by train.

The IOC is calling for further cuts of $1 billion from a $12 billion budget.

Meanwhile, the building of the new national stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field, has been plagued by a series of problems and delays.

The initial design by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid had risen to $2.65 billion, more than twice the original forecast.

The Japanese government decided to scrap that plan and approved a new project totaling nearly $1.5 billion. Officials say construction will be completed by November 2019.

More recently, a water quality survey during the summer at the triathlon venue in Tokyo Bay found E.coli at concentrations up to 21 times the levels permitted by the sport’s governing body, a surprise for a country known for cleanliness.

This raised concerns among athletes but organizers insist the water will be clean and safe.

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Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks win USATF Athlete of the Year awards

Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks
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Emma Coburn and Sam Kendricks followed Rio Olympic bronze medals with their first world titles in August. And now, they both won USATF Athlete of the Year honors.

Coburn, 27, took the female award named after Jackie Joyner-Kersee after becoming the first American woman to bag 3000m steeplechase gold at the Olympics or worlds.

Coburn led an emotional U.S. one-two with Courtney Frerichs in London on Aug. 11 (video here). She broke the American record (by five seconds) and the world championships record by winning in 9:02.58.

Kendricks, 25, captured the Jesse Owens Award after an undefeated season that included the first Olympic or world pole vault title by an American man in 10 years.

The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve won all 17 of his competitions in 2017, clearing six meters for the first time. No American had eclipsed that barrier since 2008.

Coburn and Kendricks won the USATF honors over the likes of fellow world champions Justin Gatlin and Tori Bowie (100m), Christian Taylor (triple jump), Phyllis Francis (400m), Kori Carter (400m hurdles) and Brittney Reese (long jump). Plus Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp, who each won World Marathon Majors this fall.

Rio gold medalists Michelle Carter (shot put) and Matthew Centrowitz (1500m) won the awards last year.

Coburn is the first steeplechaser to take home a USATF Athlete of the Year award. They’ve been handed out since 1981.

Kendricks joined 2000 Olympic champion Stacy Dragila as the only pole vaulters to earn the honor.

More from USATF on the awards here.

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Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champ and Olympic medalist, dies at 49

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PRAGUE (AP) — Jana Novotna, who won the hearts of the tennis world when she sobbed on the shoulder of a member of the British royal family after a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, has died at the age of 49.

The WTA announced Novotna’s death on Monday, saying she died Sunday in her native Czech Republic following a long battle with cancer.

Novotna died “peacefully, surrounded by her family,” the women’s tennis body said.

Her family confirmed her death to the Czech Republic’s CTK news agency. No details were given.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia, tweeted: “The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.”

Novotna won her only Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, eventually triumphing after two losses in the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1993 and 1997.

She added three Olympic tennis medals — singles bronze at Altanta 1996 (knocking out top seed Monica Seles) and doubles silver in 1988 and 1996 with Helena Sukova.

She also lost in the 1991 Australian Open final.

While she finally captured the Grand Slam singles title she longed for in 1998, she won over the Wimbledon crowd five years earlier after wasting a big lead in the decisive set in a tough three-set loss to Steffi Graf.

Unable to hide her disappointment, Novotna cried on the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent at the prize giving ceremony and was gently comforted by the royal, who told her: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Novotna ultimately had her moment five years later when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to win Wimbledon. At the time, she was the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam singles title at age 29.

There wear tears again from Novotna, this time of joy, and the Duchess of Kent was present again to congratulate her.

“She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” Wimbledon organizers the All England Club said in tribute to Novotna. “The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.”

Fellow Czech and four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who coached Novotna for her Wimbledon win, said: “It’s hard to find words. Jana was a great girl and I’m happy that she won Wimbledon after all. It’s so sad when someone so young dies.”

During a 14-year professional career, Novotna won 24 singles titles and reached a career-high No. 2 in the singles rankings in 1997. She was a prolific and top-ranked doubles player, collecting 16 slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles.

She also won the Fed Cup with her country in 1988. Novotna was inducted into tennis’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even after retiring in 1999, Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.

“I’m dependent on tennis,” she said in an interview two years ago. “A day without it would be terrible.”

Members of the current Czech Fed Cup team said Novotna “supported us in the stands any time she could be there. We’ll miss her.”

“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA.”