Hideki Matsuyama skips Olympics due to Zika virus

Hideki Matsuyama
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AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama said Sunday he was pulling out of the Olympics because of the Zika virus, making him the seventh golfer to cite the mosquito-borne virus for sitting out golf’s return to the Olympics after 112 years.

Matsuyama, who won the Phoenix Open earlier this year in a playoff for his second PGA Tour victory, told Japanese reporters of his decision after he finished the Bridgestone Invitational. He later issued a statement through his management company.

“Although I am excited that golf is returning to the Olympics and I realize that my potential success would help grow the game in Japan, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot put myself or my team member’s health at risk,” he said.

That makes seven players from the top 25 in the world who have said they are not going to Rio next month. The others are Jason Day and Adam Scott of Australia, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and the South African trio of Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Of the 11 golfers who said they would not go, seven specifically cited Zika.

Brazil has been the hardest hit of the approximately 60 countries that have reported an outbreak of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults.

“I have been getting information from all the concerned parties as well as my doctors about the situation in Rio, but I cannot be 100 percent sure about my safety, and my team’s safety, from the Zika virus,” Matsuyama said. “Additionally, my body has a tendency to react strongly to insect bites.”

He called the choice “heart wrenching” not to go to the Olympics.

His announcement capped a tough week for golf, which last was part of the Olympics in 1904. Day is the No. 1 player in the world and said on Tuesday he would not be going. Shane Lowry said Wednesday that he was too concerned about the Zika risk because he married in April and wants to start a family.

Jordan Spieth said he remained undecided.

Golf is assured of being part of the Tokyo Games, though the International Olympic Committee votes next year to determine if the sport will be part of the program beyond 2020.

With one week remaining before qualifying ends through the world ranking, Japan’s two spots currently would go to Hideto Tanihara and Yuka Ikeda. Tanihara won on the Japan Golf Tour on Sunday to move into the No. 2 spot among Japanese players even before Matsuyama withdrew.

Each country is allowed two players until the 60-man field is set, with a maximum of four players provided they are among the top 15 in the world.

MORE: Golf faces uncertain Olympic future due to dropouts

12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

Chloe Covell
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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

Francesco Friedrich
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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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