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Will Rio de Janeiro be ready for the 2016 Olympics?

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Brazil just hosted the biggest sporting event in its history, a largely successful World Cup following a lead-up of fears over protests, delayed construction and transportation madness.

The first Olympics in South America, which will open in Rio de Janeiro two years from today, pose an even greater challenge.

Nearly 11,000 athletes (14 times as many as the World Cup) from more than 200 countries compete in 28 sports crammed into 16 days of medal competition (half the length of the World Cup). That scale and complexity also carries an estimated $20 billion price tag, several billion more than spent on the World Cup.

The weight falls on not the entire country, but mostly on a city nicknamed Cidade Maravilhosa.

Will the Marvelous City be ready?

International Olympic Committee officials gained reassurance from the World Cup.

“We are very happy that many of the concerns which were mentioned before this World Cup did not turn into reality,” IOC president Thomas Bach said before his nation, Germany, won the World Cup final at Rio’s Maracanã Stadium, which will hold the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and soccer finals in 2016. “We can really see that there is a great dynamism in their preparations.”

Bach also stressed that organizers must stay vigilant and dedicated.

That encouraging/mindful dichotomy runs through officials’ comments since the spring, when the IOC organized a special task force following problems such as construction delays, a workers’ strike and communication issues between Brazilian government and organizers.

Two years out: Rio’s readiness | Storylines: Swimming | Track and Field | Gymnastics | More Sports

Gilbert Felli, the IOC executive director for the Olympic Games, flew to Rio several months earlier than expected to oversee the acceleration of preparations.

In July, three months after being dispatched, Felli said he expected most projects back on schedule by September. He also described some deadlines as “very tense” in an Associated Press interview.

Specific tasks include the construction of the Deodoro Complex, one of four clusters of venues and that Felli said was two years behind schedule in May.

Rio mayor Eduardo Paes said Monday that 55 percent of the Olympic facilities are ready or need adjustments, according to the city’s prominent newspaper, O Globo. For comparison, Paes showed media a picture of what London’s Olympic Stadium looked like two years before the 2012 Games. It was a construction site.

Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue, is polluted, though the worst of the reported water conditions are not in competition areas, according to US Sailing. Authorities have acknowledged they won’t be able to meet a vow of cutting the pollution by 80 percent (50 percent is the new goal).

The course construction for the first Olympic golf tournaments since 1904 was also delayed, but work sped up in recent months. All of the grass is expected to be planted by the end of 2014. A test event is scheduled for August 2015.

There has also been concern over the completion of transportation between clusters and a shortage of hotel rooms.

The IOC will receive another official progress report in September.

Paes said Monday that Rio’s concerns actually helped the city win the IOC vote over Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo back in 2009.

The next two years, and the last five years, are not a burden but an opportunity for the city to prove its mettle as a bellwether for expanding the Olympics to new areas.

“The time has come for the Brazilian people to deliver something on time, on budget, with full transparency,” said Sidney Levy, Rio 2016 CEO, according to Bloomberg.

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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