Dick Fosbury’s ‘Flop’ Olympic title, 50 years later

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Saturday marks 50 years since Dick Fosbury extended the U.S. track and field team’s dominance at the Mexico City Games with his revolutionary “Fosbury Flop” to take high jump gold, clearing an Olympic record height. Fosbury reflected on his career and that gold medal in “The Wizard of Foz: Dick Fosbury’s One-Man High-Jump Revolution,” published last month. Here is an excerpt from that book on the Mexico City final … 

WHEN DICK FOSBURY curled backward over the bar, “a yowl” erupted from the Mexico City crowd like nothing Seattle Times columnist Georg N. Meyers had heard in the stadium all week. Never mind that the bar was set at the ho-hum height of 2.03 meters (6’8″); the reaction for Fosbury was strikingly loud. “From then on,” Meyers wrote, “every time the freckle-faced youngster from Medford poised and started at the bar, nothing else in the stadium existed for the fans.”

“Only a triple somersault off a flying trapeze with no net below could be more thrilling,” scrawled a German reporter, down the pressbox row from Meyers, on a notepad. Around the world, viewers seeing the style for the first time did double takes.

“I grew up with the roll and the straddle,” said Per Anderson, a jumper in the US, “but when I saw Fosbury on TV from Mexico City it absolutely took my breath away. The speed, lightness, and simplicity totally changed the way I looked at high jumping.” With the stadium crowd predominantly Mexican and with Mexico having no competitors in the event, it quickly became apparent who their favorite was: Dick Fosbury. The jumpers were all different sizes, shapes, and skin colors. They represented different countries. They wore an array of uniforms. But only one jumped backward over the bar. “The Mexicans love style,” wrote The Oregonian’s Leo Davis. “They adopted Dick immediately.”

This was it. Fosbury’s final attempt at 7’4¼”. He walked to his mark. At that precise moment, US marathoner Kenny Moore, in fourteenth place, was nearing the stadium from outside, his body wilted from having run twenty-six miles at 7,350 feet above sea level. A murmur emanated from the crowd as Fosbury took his mark. Moore started through the tunnel, where he glimpsed the rustcolored track, green grass, and through eyes blurred by fatigue, a highjumper. An American? Some white jumper. Foz?

Meanwhile, Fosbury’s focus sharpened. Anything “to fix” from the last jump? Nope; 7’4¼” was there for the taking. He knew it. He just needed to trust his body. You got this. He clenched and unclenched his hands in front of him and began his rocking, waiting for the merger of heart, mind, and soul. Whatever it takes. The murmur of the crowd rose a notch, then another. Ride their energy. Can do. Must do. Will do. Ever so subtly, the rocking back and forth intensified; there would be thirtyseven total, the crowd counting each one, the last few as if triggering a launch-pad countdown . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . ignition.

He took eight strides, each pulsing with purpose. Then came liftoff, followed by 0.9 seconds of silence—the reach for the sky, the arch of the back, the thrust of the hips, the moment of truth, the moment of relief, the softness of the Don Gordon pit on his back. Estadio Olímpico erupted with shrieks of delight; no moment, not even Beamon’s jump, had ratcheted up the roar of fans like this.

When Fosbury splashed down with the bar still in place, his joy became the joy of 80,000 fans, his smile their smiles, his two-finger peace symbol their two-finger peace symbol. For the fans, the celebration only sweetened after a weary Caruthers missed his final attempt. Not that he had failed (an Olympic silver medal is no athlete’s failure) but that Fosbury and the Flop had succeeded.

One of the worst prep high jumpers in Oregon was the new champion of the world, an Olympic gold medalist. For the first time since the 1956 Olympic Games, an American high jumper was atop track and field’s Mt. Everest.

Fosbury and Caruthers shook hands. The motor drives whirred. The crowd’s roar continued, as if the fans didn’t want to let go of their adopted hero. Fosbury shook hands with Gavrilov, the Soviet who eight months before in Seattle had first seen the Flop and said “it can’t be done.” He jogged around like a kid on stage after a school play who was waving at his parents.

Moore, the US marathoner, had broken into the sunlight of the stadium just in time for Fosbury’s jump. He had looked at the high-jump reader board: “2.24.” My God, Olympic record. “Way to go!” he yelled as he began his lap on the track. Fosbury pointed to a marathoner ahead of Moore. “Get that guy!” he yelled.

Dick’s mother, Helen, hopped up and down while hugging the Polks. Wagner whooped and hollered like a school boy, pumping his fedora into the sky with jabs from his arm. In Grants Pass, Dick’s father, Doug was “so thrilled I just about jumped through the ceiling,” he later told the press. “Told ya, told ya, told ya!” yelled Gail, back in Eugene.

Wizard of FozNearby, Sweet hoisted his beer bottle in the air. “To the wizard of Foz!” And 141 miles up, in outer space, Walt Schirra and the crew of Apollo 7 silently completed another lap around earth, oblivious to the madness in Mexico City.

In the press box, an Associated Press reporter typed a thirty-word message that, in minutes, chattered across thousands of teletype machines in newsrooms around the world: “Sports Bulletin. (Mexico City) — Dick Fosbury . . . the upside-down jumper from Medford, Oregon . . . has won the Olympic high jump with a leap of seven-feet, four and onequarter inches.”

Down the row, Meyers, who back in January had called Fosbury “the funniest high jumper you ever saw” after the Seattle Invitational, placed his fingers on his portable typewriter and began his Monday story with the description that, “World records were a peso a dozen, but the glamour boy of track and field in the 1968 Olympic Games was a rawboned Oregonian who went belly-up to a Gold Medal and the most explosive ovation of the Mexico City entertainment.”

Down press row, Arthur Daley of the New York Times started his story. “No track and field athlete at the Olympic Games drew more whoops of delight or shrieks of disbelief from the crowds—and presumably from millions of pop-eyed television viewers—than did Dick Fosbury, the architect of an acrobatic maneuver that has become known as the Fosbury Flop,” he wrote.

Once the celebration died down, Fosbury tried three times to set the world record at 7’6″. He was close on the second, but it wasn’t to be. No matter. With his jump of 2.24 meters (7’4¼”), Fosbury had broken the Olympic record, besting Brumel’s and Thomas’s 2.18 meters (7’1¾”) mark from 1964. And he had jumped higher than any American in history, eclipsing Thomas’s old mark of 7’3¾”. He had jumped higher than all but two jumpers in the world, and with both having retired, was now the greatest active high jumper on the planet.

Soon an abbreviated Associated Press story was sent around the globe: “In an Olympic Games marred by political bickering, Black Power displays and rancor on many sides, [a] gangling 6-foot-4 college boy, a third-stringer on the U.S. Olympic team, delighted 80,000 people at Olympic Stadium by winning the high jump with one of the most unorthodox performances ever seen in bigtime sports.”

Beneath the stadium, Fosbury escaped a throng of reporters—“How does it feel?” . . . “How did you come up with this style?” . . . “What were you thinking?”—and melted into a deep sense of satisfaction. Ten months of competition. Of pressure. Of expectations. Of waiting. Of wondering. It was now all over, replaced by an unfamiliar sense of relief and relaxation, which he wasn’t going to let a throng of reporters spoil.

“Sorry, no interviews,” he told the officials. “But Señor Fos—.” “Sorry. I’m wiped. And wanna see my mom.” Along with the other two medal winners, he hid from the press while awaiting the medal presentation. Nearby, marathon medalists entered a room for drug testing.

Finally, in the evening darkness, Foz stepped to the top perch on the podium, all smiles, for the medal presentation. The National Anthem played and the American flag rose in the Mexican night, Dick’s patriotism manifesting itself not so much in a connection to a country but a city, Medford, full of flawed people like him, but folks who’d believed in him. Who sent him a telegram when he was at his lowest. All smiles, no tears. When the song ended, he flashed a quick peace sign, then spontaneously raised his right fist in solidarity with his friends Tommie Smith and John Carlos, now back in the US. Nobody booed or hissed.

Beyond a few marathon stragglers, the high jump had concluded the eight-day track and field competition. Smith, Carlos, Fosbury, and the rest of the US men’s team had won fifteen gold medals and twentyeight total, fifteen more than the Soviets’ count. The US had set eight world records. Beamon had uncorked perhaps the single most amazing athletic performance in track and field history. Sprinters Smith and Carlos had defied Brundage and made a victory-stand statement about human rights that rocked the world.

And Fosbury’s gold-medal Flop had put an exclamation mark on it all.

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MORE: How to watch ‘1968,’ NBC Sports film on Mexico City Games

James, Cipres ahead of pairs’ field at Europeans

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They entered as one of the favorites and left the ice in first place: France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres won the short program of the European Championships in Minsk, 2.65 points ahead of second place Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov from Russia, and 2.85 points ahead of Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise, who are standing in third before Thursday’s free skate.

Results: Pairs’ short program

Many thought that Russia’s Alexandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, who had skated earlier in the evening, would shake up the podium. They are standing in a close fourth position, 1.12 points behind the podium.

Skating first in the last group, James and Cipres fulfilled the contract they had made for the day: emerge in first, after the flaws they experienced earlier in the season with that same short program. The performance they delivered was flawless, from their opening triple twist to a perfectly synchronized side-by-side triple toe and ample throw triple flip. Their lift was particularly impressive, as they moved from one intricate position to the next with an incredible flow. They received a +1.75 points GOE (Grade of Execution) for it. Most of their other elements were rated above 1.0 points.

“We needed to change a few things to gain more speed, when we need it through the program, especially after the twist,” James explained.

“We made adjustments with Guillaume [Cizeron, who choreographed their program] during Christmas, and he found the way to overcome our problems,” Cipres added.

“We’re very happy we made these changes,” James offered, “but we need to keep going!”

Cipres reminded everyone jokingly: last year, the team had dropped from first to fourth after the free.

The Grand Prix Final gold medalists cracked their season’s best to amass 76.55 points for their short program.

Tarasova and Morozov succeeded the French team on the ice. They returned to the spectacular program to Sergei Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto they skated to last season, and displayed the unique and amazing power they have to offer. Their triple twist was incredibly high, and their throw triple flip was impressively ample. Tarasova underrotated the triple toe of the pair’s side-by-side combination. The crowd quickly understood that the hope of a superlative program had eluded them. They nonetheless garnered 73.90 points, with an artistic mark up-to-par with that of the French team (35.40 points for the Russians, and 35.40 points for the Russians).

“Going back to last year’s program was our common decision,” Tarasova explained.

“It’s more impressive, more powerful in terms of skating, it includes good transitions and great speed. Everything in this program is bigger than in the previous one. It allows to show the strong side of our team,” Morozov added.

Della Monica and Guarise took the ice after the Russians and delivered a beautiful and inspired routine to Joe Cocker’s “Never Tear Us Apart.” Their side-by-side triple Salchow was in perfect synch, and Della Monica landed her throw triple flip in full speed and control.

“We push every day at our maximum,” Guarise emphasized after the competition was over. “Our coaches keep telling us ‘stronger, faster, stronger, faster, push, push, push’ … And we keep falling and falling. And then one day comes and you manage to stay on your feet. From then on you start to show good skating, and also your emotions. That’s the only way we know!”

Boikova and Kozlovskii certainly put the strongest energy into their program, at a level only the Italians could match. They amassed 72.58 points, a new season’s best for the fourth-place team.

MORE: Behind the scenes at the European Championships: Day 1

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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What to watch in Olympic sports this week

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A busy week in Olympic sports is headlined by two marquee figure skating events: the U.S. Championships and European Championships. Reigning world champion Nathan Chen will try to win his third straight U.S. title in Detroit, and 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell will attempt to repeat against an unpredictable ladies’ field. Coverage begins with the pairs’ short on Thursday at 5 pm, live on NBCSN. Meanwhile in Minsk, Belarus, reigning Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova of Russia will look to win her second straight European title, though she hasn’t had her best season: a rough showing last month left her fifth at the Russian national championships (PyeongChang silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva, who has struggled this season, was not named to the team). In men’s singles, 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Javier Fernandez of Spain seeks a seventh straight European title in what he says will be the final competition of his career.

Lindsey Vonn was expected to compete at this weekend’s World Cup in Germany, but after injuring her knee in her season debut last weekend, Vonn said on social media she was taking things “day by day.” The men’s alpine World Cup circuit continues in Kitzbuehel, at the renowned Hahnenkamm mountain in Austria, considered one of the most famous and thrilling races of the year. Olympians Bryce BennettTravis Ganong and Steven Nyman headline the American contingent. The Kitzbuehel races can be streamed live on NBC Sports Gold, and the speed races will air on Monday, January 28 on NBCSN.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP — Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Kitzbuehel, Austria

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 5:30 a.m. Men’s Super-G NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 4:00 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s Downhill NBC Sports Gold
10:00 a.m. Women’s Downhill* NBCSN
Sunday 4:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom (Run 1) NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Women’s Super-G Olympic Channel NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom (Run 2) NBC Sports Gold
9:00 p.m. Women’s Super-G* NBCSN

*Same-day delay All races stream live on NBC Sports Gold for “Snow Pass” subscribers and will have a replay of the event. Click here for more info.

BIATHLON WORLD CUP — Antholz-Anterselva, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 8:30 a.m. Women’s 7.5km Sprint OlympicChannel.com
12:00 p.m. Women’s 7.5km Sprint* Olympic Channel
Friday 8:30 a.m. Men’s 10km Sprint OlympicChannel.com
6:00 p.m. Men’s 10km Sprint* Olympic Channel
Saturday 7:30 a.m. Women’s 10km Pursuit OlympicChannel.com
9:30 a.m. Men’s 12.5km Pursuit OlympicChannel.com
8:30 p.m. Women’s 10km Pursuit* Olympic Channel
9:30 p.m. Men’s 12.5km Pursuit* Olympic Channel
Sunday 6:45 a.m. Women’s 12.5km Mass Start OlympicChannel.com
9:30 a.m. Men’s 15km Mass Start OlympicChannel.com
9:30 p.m. Women’s 12.5km Mass Start* Olympic Channel
10:30 p.m. Men’s 15km Mass Start* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay All races stream live on OlympicChannel.com.

BOBSLED AND SKELETON WORLD CUP — St. Moritz, Switzerland

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
5:15 a.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
7:00 a.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
8:30 a.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
4:00 p.m. Men’s Skeleton* Olympic Channel
5:00 p.m. Women’s Skeleton* Olympic Channel
Saturday 3:30 a.m. Two-Man Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
5:00 a.m. Two-Man Bobsled (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
7:00 a.m. Women’s Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
12:00 p.m. Two-Man Bobsled* Olympic Channel
3:00 p.m. Women’s Bobsled* Olympic Channel
8:30 a.m. Women’s Bobsled (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
Sunday 4:30 a.m. Four-Man Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
6:00 a.m. Four-Man Bobsled (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
3:00 p.m. Four-Man Bobsled* Olympic Channel
8:00 p.m. Four-Man Bobsled* NBCSN

*Same-day delay All events stream live on OlympicChannel.com

CROSS-COUNTRY WORLD CUP — Ulricehamn, Sweden

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 6:00 a.m. Men’ 15km OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:00 a.m. Women’s 10km Olympic Channel OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 5:15 a.m. Women’s Relay OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:15 a.m. Men’s Relay OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
4:00 p.m. Women’s Relay* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay Live races stream on OlympicChannel.com and NBC Sports Gold

CYCLO-CROSS WORLD CUP — Pont-Château, France; Hoogerheide, Netherlands

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Monday 10:30 a.m. Men’ Elite* Olympic Channel
Sunday 7:30 a.m. Women’s Elite Olympic Channel OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:00 a.m. Men’s Elite OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
1:00 p.m. Men’s Elite* Olympic Channel
2:00 p.m. Men’s Elite* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay Live races stream on OlympicChannel.com and NBC Sports Gold

EUROPEAN FIGURE SKATING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS — Minsk, Belarus

Day Time (ET) Event TV Streaming
Wednesday 3:00 a.m. Ladies’ Short Program NBC Sports Gold
10:45 a.m. Pairs’ Short Program NBC Sports Gold
4:30 p.m. Ladies’ Short Program NBCSN NBCSN
Thursday 4:00 a.m. Men’s Short Program NBC Sports Gold
11:25 a.m. Pairs’ Free Skate NBC Sports Gold
7:00 p.m. Men’s Short Program NBCSN NBCSN
11:00 p.m. Pairs’ Free Skate NBCSN NBCSN
Friday 4:40 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold
10:00 a.m. Ladies’ Free Skate NBC Sports Gold
2:00 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBCSN NBCSN
6:00 p.m. Ladies’ Free Skate NBCSN NBCSN
Saturday 3:15 a.m. Men’s Free Skate NBC Sports Gold
8:25 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold
11:00 a.m. Men’s Free Skate NBCSN NBCSN
Sunday 1:30 p.m. Ladies’ & Men’s Free Skate NBC NBC

U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Detroit, Michigan

Day Time (ET) Event TV Streaming
Thursday 5:00 p.m. Pairs’ Short Program NBCSN NBCSN/NBC Sports Gold
9:00 p.m. Ladies’ Short Program NBCSN NBCSN/NBC Sports Gold
Friday 4:00 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBCSN NBCSN/NBC Sports Gold
8:00 p.m. Ladies’ Free Skate NBC NBC/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 1:30 p.m. Pairs’ Free Skate & Men’s Short Program NBC NBC/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 p.m. Free Dance NBCSN NBCSN/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:30 p.m. Men’s Free Skate NBC NBC/NBC Sports Gold

FREESTYLE SKIING WORLD CUP –Blue Mountain, Ontario; Mt. Tremblant, Quebec; Seiser Alm, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 12:00 p.m. Ski Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
1:30 p.m. Moguls Olympic Channel OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 6:30 a.m. Slopestyle OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Slopestyle Olympic Channel

MEN’S HANDBALL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Monday 12:00 p.m. Spain vs. Brazil Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Croatia vs. Germany Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Norway vs. Hungary Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Denmark vs. Sweden Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Friday 11:30 a.m. Semifinals #1 Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
2:00 p.m. Semifinals #2 Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Sunday 8:30 a.m. Bronze Medal Game Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
11:30 a.m. Gold Medal Game Olympic Channel Olympic Channel

LUGE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 7:35 a.m. Doubles Sprint OlympicChannel.com
8:30 a.m. Women’s Sprint OlympicChannel.com
9:25 a.m. Men’s Sprint OlympicChannel.com
Saturday 5:05 a.m. Doubles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
6:35 a.m. Doubles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
8:00 a.m. Sprint Events & Doubles* NBCSN
8:15 a.m. Women’s Singles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
10:05 a.m. Women’s Singles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
7:00 p.m. Doubles* Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m. Women’s Singles* Olympic Channel
Sunday 5:00 a.m. Men’s Singles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
7:10 a.m. Men’s Singles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
9:45 a.m. Team Relay OlympicChannel.com
5:00 p.m. Men’s Singles* Olympic Channel
6:00 p.m. From Winterberg, Germany* NBCSN

*Same-day delay Live events stream on OlympicChannel.com

NORDIC COMBINED WORLD CUP –Trondheim, Norway

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 4:30 a.m. Men’s HS140 OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:00 a.m. Men’s 10km OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:00 a.m. Men’s HS140 OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:15 a.m. Men’s 10km OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

SKI JUMPING WORLD CUP — Sapporo, Japan; Rasnov, Romania

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 4:00 a.m. Men’s Individual (Qualifying) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 2:00 a.m. Men’s Individual OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Women’s Individual OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
4:00 p.m. Men’s Individual* Olympic Channel
5:30 p.m. Women’s Individual* Olympic Channel
8:00 p.m. Men’s Individual OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 6:30 a.m. Women’s Individual OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 p.m. Men’s Individual* Olympic Channel
8:00 p.m. Women’s Individual* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay Live events stream on OlympicChannel.com and NBC Sports Gold

SNOWBOARDING WORLD CUP — Seiser Alm, Italy; Moscow, Russia

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 6:30 a.m. Slopestyle Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:30 a.m. Parallel Slalom Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 10:30 a.m. Team Parallel Slalom OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

NEW BALANCE INDOOR GRAND PRIX TRACK & FIELD  — Boston, Massachusetts

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 5:00 p.m. From Boston, Massachusetts NBCSN NBCSN/NBC Sports Gold

TRACK CYCLING WORLD CUP — Hong Kong

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 6:00 a.m. Day 1 — From Hong Kong OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 6:00 a.m. Day 2 — From Hong Kong OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 7:00 a.m. Day 3 — From Hong Kong OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Monday 12:00 p.m. Day 3 — From Hong Kong* Olympic Channel