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Michael Phelps has strong feelings about new Olympic swimming events

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NEW YORK — Michael Phelps is glad for gender equality in his sport, but overall he’s not supportive of adding swimming events to the Olympics.

Last week, the IOC announced it added the men’s 800m freestyle, women’s 1500m freestyle and a mixed-gender 4x100m medley relay to the Olympics for 2020.

Swimming’s international governing body also hoped to have 50m events in backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly added, but those were rejected even though they are already on the world championships program.

Phelps supported having women able to race the 1500m free at the Olympics, which the men have done for more than 100 years.

But ensuring gender equality for Tokyo 2020 also meant adding the men’s 800m free to match the women’s 800m free, which has been on the program since 1968.

Adding events to the Olympics “takes away from the sport,” Phelps said in Manhattan at an appearance for Krave Jerky on Thursday. He hopes the 50m backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly remain off the Olympic program.

“What else are we going to add? Are we going to do, like, 75m frees? How many other events are we going to add?” he said. “It’s just like what we had in 2009, after world championships, having those high-tech suits [that were banned in 2010]. It’s not swimming anymore. We’ve had this event schedule for so long, and now we’re just going to pick and choose what events we want? I could go into more detail, but I’m really not going to. It’s a touchy subject. I hope swimming takes the turn for the right direction, and we continue to grow.

“When you add something like an 800m for men and a 1500m for women, and you’re adding mixed relays and 50s of strokes. I don’t want to say it, but it seems like there’s too much going on. It seems like, so then we’re going to grow the team by a handful of other people? I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s what swimming has been through all of this time, and hopefully we don’t have it for too long, but it’s not in my power. I can’t really do anything. I’ll just sit and watch.”

The added events give Katie Ledecky at least one more medal shot in Tokyo, leading to wonder how close she could get to Phelps’ record-tying eight medals at one Olympics (and all gold, his record alone). Ledecky won five golds with the same program at the 2015 World Championships and added the 4x100m freestyle relay for Rio, where she took silver.

Phelps said he doesn’t care if somebody matches or breaks his medal records with the aid of events that weren’t on the Olympic program during his career.

“It’s good to have somebody out there that is willing to challenge himself in a way that they had no idea,” Phelps said. “So if they have a chance to do something great like that, then I would love to see it.”

Ledecky’s more realistic hope in 2020 is to match the female record of six golds at one Olympics. Still, some are already talking eight.

“It’s great to be able to see Katie potentially go for eight,” Phelps said. “I think it’s great to see different events added for Katie because then you can really challenge where her limit is. … Then you bring a lot more excitement to the sport from a marketing standpoint.”

Phelps never would have raced an 800m freestyle at a major meet, but given his 100m butterfly prowess would have been a prime candidate for a mixed medley relay. And he does have experience racing against women.

He swam the leadoff leg of the 2007 Duel in the Pool mixed 4x100m freestyle relay against Australia. Phelps clocked 48.72, while Trickett swam 52.99, at the time the fastest 100m ever by a woman. It was not ratified as a world record because it came in a race with men.

In April 2015, Phelps famously (jokingly) challenged Katie Ledecky to a race on-air at a meet. They had swum the exact same time in separate 400m freestyle heats that day within about a half-hour of each other.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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Another Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal being sold

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One of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Olympic gold medals will be put up for sale next week by Goldin Auctions.

Owens triumphed in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the Berlin Games, taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

This could be the second Owens gold to be sold in recent years, after one was auctioned in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Two more were said to be put up for auction in 2017, but there are no widespread reports of sales actually happening.

This gold medal was gifted by Owens to John Terpak, a U.S. Olympic weightlifter in 1936 and 1948, after Terpak helped Owens garner speaking engagements, according to Goldin. The previous gold that sold for $1.4 million was gifted by Owens to a different friend.

Terpak died in 1993 and passed the medal on to his son and daughter, who consigned it to Goldin.

The medal is part of Goldin Auctions’ Holiday Auction from Monday through Dec. 7 on GoldinAuctions.com. The listings also include Tommy Lasorda‘s autographed lineup card from the 2000 Olympic baseball gold-medal game.

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