Rio Olympics six months out: Must-see Olympic events

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A more detailed schedule is here, but one must-watch Rio Olympic event per day, starting with a spectacle six months from today (all times Eastern):

Friday, Aug. 5 — Opening Ceremony (7 p.m.)
The cauldron will be lit at the famed Maracanã, preceded by the usual Parade of Nations and artistic performances.

Saturday, Aug. 6 — Swimming women’s 4x100m freestyle relay (9 p.m. session)
This could be the Rio debut for Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky, who should be vying for several medals each in the first week of the Games. The U.S. hasn’t won this event since 2000 and finished third (without Ledecky) at the World Championships on Aug. 2.

Sunday, Aug. 7 — Swimming men’s 4x100m freestyle relay (9 p.m. session)
No swimming race has provided more consistent drama over the last four Olympics, and this year’s edition is dripping with potential storylines. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte could be part of the U.S. quartet looking to take the Olympic title back from the French. Host Brazil has a deep pool of young sprinters, plus one of its most recognizable athletes, Cesar Cielo. Australia and Russia may also factor in.

Monday, Aug. 8 — Rugby women’s medal matches (4:30 p.m.)
The first Olympic rugby medals since 1924 will be awarded, though it will be the first for women and the first for the sevens version. The previous Olympic rugby tournaments were 15 players per side.

Tuesday, Aug. 9 — Gymnastics women’s team final (3 p.m.)
The U.S. looks to repeat as Olympic women’s team champion for the first time. It should be heavily favored over China and Russia given easy wins at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships.

Wednesday, Aug. 10 — Gymnastics men’s all-around final (3 p.m.)
Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the six-time reigning World champion, could become the first repeat Olympic champion in 44 years and further the argument that he’s the greatest gymnast of all time.

Thursday, Aug. 11 — Gymnastics women’s all-around final (3 p.m.)
Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas went one-two at the World Championships on Oct. 29. Biles is the three-time reigning World all-around champion. Douglas is the reigning Olympic all-around champion.

Friday, Aug. 12 — Swimming men’s 100m butterfly (9 p.m. session)
It’s been said before, but expect this to be Phelps’ last individual Olympic swim. He captured the 100m butterfly at the last three Olympics and posted the world’s fastest time for 2015. Franklin (200m backstroke) and Ledecky (800m free) may also race individually for the last time (in Rio, not overall) in events they won four years ago.

Saturday, Aug. 13 — Tennis women’s singles final
Serena Williams could become the first singles player to repeat as Olympic champion.

SIX MONTHS OUT: Burning Questions | Team USA Roster | Rio Schedule Highlights | Key Qualifying, Trials Dates | Records Watch | Brazil’s Preparations

Sunday, Aug. 14 — Track and field men’s 100m final (9:25 p.m.)
In what’s expected to be his final Olympics, Usain Bolt could try to become the first male runner to win the same individual Olympic event three straight times. The last man other than Bolt to win the event — 2004 champ Justin Gatlin — could be his biggest competition.

Monday, Aug. 15 — Track and field women’s 400m final (9:45 p.m.)
Allyson Felix could capture the first of a possible four gold medals in six days. She is the reigning Olympic 200m champion and World 400m champion and was part of gold medal-winning 4x100m and 4x400m relays in London.

Tuesday, Aug. 16 — Weightlifting men’s super heavyweight final (6 p.m.)
The world’s strongest man will be crowned. At the 2015 World Championships, Russian Aleksey Lovchev lifted a world-record combined 1,047 pounds in the snatch and clean and jerk for gold.

Wednesday, Aug. 17 — Beach volleyball women’s final (9 p.m. session)
Three-time U.S. Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and new partner April Ross could spoil the Brazilian party on Copacabana Beach in one of the nation’s most popular sports. However, the two best beach teams last season were Brazilian pairs.

Thursday, Aug. 18 — Track and field men’s 200m final (9:30 p.m.)
This could be Bolt’s final individual Olympic race, one that he has dominated, winning every Olympic and World title since 2008. Again, Gatlin may play spoiler.

Friday, Aug. 19 — Soccer women’s final (4:30 p.m.)
The U.S. women could be going for a third straight Olympic gold medal, while host Brazil may seek its first Olympic men’s or women’s soccer title at the Maracanã.

Saturday, Aug. 20 — Volleyball women’s final (9:15 p.m.)
Brazil defeated the U.S. in the last two Olympic finals. But the Americans, now with Karch Kiraly coaching, swept Brazil in the 2014 World Championship semifinals en route to gold.

Sunday, Aug. 21 — Basketball men’s final (2:45 p.m.)
The biggest challenge ahead for the U.S. men’s program could be which players to leave off its 12-man Olympic roster. Anything less than a third straight gold medal could be the shocker of the entire Games.

Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open, said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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