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Rio unveils largest athletes village in Olympic history

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The media got a sneak peak at the “soul” of the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics with a visit Thursday to the athletes’ village, the brand new complex of residential towers where nearly 11,000 athletes and some 6,000 coaches and other handlers will sleep, eat and train during the upcoming games.

Local organizers said the complex, which they described as a “city within the city,” is the largest in Olympic history. In addition to the 31 17-story towers, the complex includes a massive cafeteria and gym, a post office, a first aid center and bank.

“This is where the soul of the games will develop,” said Mario Andrada, spokesman of the local organizing committee.

While athletes aren’t required to stay in the village – and indeed many of the biggest-name stars may end up staying in alternative housing outside the complex – organizers said the village will be the highest-security facility of a games patrolled by 85,000 police and soldiers. That’s twice as the number of security forces as at the 2012 games in London.

A double fence will ring the perimeter of the complex, and everyone coming in and out will be subject to airport security procedures, complete with X-rays of all incoming bags and luggage, organizers said.

The idea is that once the athletes and their retinue are inside the security perimeter, “they won’t need to leave the village,” said Mario Cilenti, the facility’s director.

The 3,600 units include two-, three-, or four-bedroom apartments with white tile floors and small balconies, some of which overlook a nearby “favela” hillside slum.

All the bedrooms are doubles, kitted out with two beds that can be extended out to 2.3 meters for the tallest athletes, as well as what appeared to be a disposable wardrobe made out of fabric stretched over a metal frame. In the living room, there are a few basic armchairs and a clothes drying rack. Crucially, the apartments all come with air conditioning units and electric mosquito-repelling apparatuses – aimed at preventing the spread of the Zika virus, which has been linked to a surge in Brazil cases of the birth defect microcephaly.

Cilenti described the set-up as hitting the sweet spot between functionality and austerity – now a guiding principle of games that come as Brazil is immersed in the most severe economic recession in decades.

“It’s the basic,” Cilenti said, adding, “there are no frills, just the basic necessities.”

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has repeatedly stressed that very little public money was spent on the Olympic project, with private companies taking on many of the key construction projects – in exchange for concessions from the city. Case in point, the Olympic village, which was built by a consortium that is renting the complex to Olympic organizers during the games. In exchange for building the complex, City Hall exempted the development from local zoning laws, allowing for taller-than-normal towers.

The developers have long been marketing the apartments to the public at large, with buyers expected to move in after the games.

Officials at Thursday’s press visit declined to give any financial details about the Olympic village, explaining only the builders could provide the project’s cost or the asking price for the units.

However, the local Olympic committee spokesman acknowledged that with a recession hitting Brazil, sales weren’t living up to expectations.

The consortium behind the project, which will be known as “Ilha Pura,” or “Pure Island” after the games, is made up of mega-construction companies Carvalho Hosken and Odebrecht. Odebrecht is a key player in the sprawling corruption investigation centered around state-run oil company Petrobras. Graft had long been such an engrained part of the company’s modus operandi that it even had a specific department whose mission was to distribute bribes, investigators in the case have said.

Mayor Paes has insisted all Olympic projects are corruption-free.

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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

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

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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