Brazil health minister says Zika not a worry for Olympics

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s new health minister went on the offensive Friday in a bid to dispel worries about the country’s Zika outbreak, which has cast a pall over the upcoming Rio Olympics.

Speaking at a news conference with the foreign press corps, Ricardo Barros added his voice to the chorus of Olympic and Brazilian officials pledging that the Aug. 5-21 Games will be safe. He insisted there’s practically “zero” risk of any of the 350,000-500,000 expected foreign visitors contracting Zika.

The virus has been linked to a surge of microcephaly — a devastating birth defect that has seen thousands of babies in Brazil born with unusually small heads and often severely compromised brains — and some athletes, journalists and others have expressed reservations about taking part in the Games.

Last month, 150 health experts issued an open letter to the U.N. health agency calling for the Games to be delayed or relocated “in the name of public health.” The agency, the World Health Organization, responded that such steps would “not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus.”

Barros highlighted the WHO’s position, categorically ruling out any changes to the Olympic calendar.

“There is not any scientific proof to recommend that kind of decision,” he said, adding that he hoped his assurances would help convince any athletes on the fence about competing in Rio to make the trip.

Barros said mosquito populations drop significantly in August, a winter month in the Southern Hemisphere, and cited data showing that infections of dengue — another virus spread by the same mosquito — tend to spike in the hot summer month and taper off in the winter.

“There’s almost zero risk” of Zika spreading during the Games, Barros said, appealing to the journalists to take that message back to the public in their home countries. Due to winter weather, “we will be in one of the regions with less circulation of the virus.”

However, experts say that because Rio’s winters tend to be extremely mild, it’s not unheard of to have mid-winter hot spells that can trigger sudden proliferations of mosquitoes. One day in August 2013, thermometers spiked to 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Barros also said the federal government was injecting 64.5 million Brazilian reais ($19 million) into Rio’s strained public health system to improve the quality of care ahead of the Games. He said about 2,400 health professionals were being recruited, though it was not clear whether they would stay on after the Games.

Rio has been particularly hard-hit by the recession slamming the country, with basic services on the chopping block as falling tax revenues have shrunken state coffers.

“The federal government sent additional funds to the state and will do it again if more resources are needed to maintain the health structure in Rio de Janeiro,” Barros pledged.

Friday’s was the second news conference this week aimed at soothing foreign fears about Zika, which is seen as the latest in a series of problems besetting the Rio Games, including the economic downturn that has seen unemployment and inflation spike, the country’s ongoing political crisis and lackluster ticket sales.

Barros, a congressman and engineer by training, is new to the Health Ministry. He was appointed last month after President Dilma Rousseff was suspended pending the end of impeachment proceedings against her, and her vice president, Michel Temer, temporarily assumed the top office.

VIDEO: Zika virus update on NBC Nightly News

Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

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Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final