Tonga flag bearer Pita Taufatofua
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Tonga flag bearer eyes history with two sports at Tokyo Olympics

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Pita Taufatofua, the viral Tongan flag bearer from the last two Olympics, wants to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Games in two sports — his trademark taekwondo and an individual sprint kayak event.

Two problems: He hasn’t competed in taekwondo in two and a half years. He just started training in a kayak last month and keeps capsizing.

Qualifying to return to the Olympics looks unlikely.

“Largely impossible,” he said. “It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on.”

Taufatofua, 35, became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

He soon announced a 2020 Olympic bid in a new sport that involved water but did not disclose his choice until Monday.

“It’s something that’s much more aligned with my heritage,” said Taufatofua, who is also releasing his book, “The Motivation Station,” a life story with lessons, this week. “As a Polynesian, we traveled across the seas for a thousand years. The only way we knew how to get there was canoes, kayaks, outrigger canoes at the time. I wanted to do a sport that paid homage to my heritage and to my ancestors. But I also wanted to bring awareness to some of the problems that the world is facing. Climate change, pollution in the ocean.”

Taufatofua might have better luck reaching Tokyo in taekwondo, though he said he hasn’t competed in that sport since Rio.

The initial focus is on kayak’s two-pronged qualifying, beginning with the world championships in Hungary in August. Tonga must have an entrant at worlds to be eligible for the Olympics, an International Canoe Federation official said.

First, Taufatofua must learn to stay afloat for a 200m race that takes the world’s best 36 seconds to complete.

“At the moment the thing keeps tipping over,” he said. “I’ve got all the strength and conditioning training ready to propel me forward, but I can’t manage to stay on at the moment.”

He has time. Taufatofua’s result would only matter at an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayaker from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships. Bird did not respond to a message seeking comment on his new competition.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga. But he is, for the moment, adamant on qualifying outright.

“Learning the techniques of the sport is going to take some time and hard work,” said NBC Olympic analyst Eric Giddens, a 1996 Olympian in kayak’s slalom event. “That’s not to say he can’t do it. The system in place, there’s a path. It’s not impossible.”

Taufatofua said he grew up fishing on a recreational kayak. He began kayak training in March, splitting his time between Tonga and Australia. His coach is his taekwondo coach, though he said the retired three-time Olympic medalist Katrin Borchert has helped with technical advice.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

Taufatofua would also be the first athlete in multiple sports at one Summer Games since 1992, when a pair competed in modern pentathlon and fencing (though fencing is also one of the five disciplines in modern pentathlon).

Furthermore, he would be the first to compete in two distinctly different sports at one Summer Games since Aristidis Roubanis threw the javelin and played for the Greek basketball team in Helsinki in 1952.

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2019 Vuelta a Espana TV, live stream schedule

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The Vuelta a España, the cycling season’s third and final Grand Tour, airs live for every stage between NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA the next three weeks.

NBC Sports Gold streams live, commercial-free coverage of all 21 stages via the “Cycling Pass.”

NBCSN and Olympic Channel combine for daily TV coverage of the Spanish Grand Tour.

Colombian Nairo Quintana headlines the field, eyeing his third Grand Tour title and his first since the 2016 Vuelta. Perhaps the most most accomplished rider is Movistar teammate and world road race champion Alejandro Valverde.

Steven Kruijswijk, who was third at the Tour de France, and Primož Roglič, who was third at the Giro d’Italia, are other podium contenders.

Tejay van Garderen is the most accomplished of the nine U.S. riders in the field, coming back from a crash that prematurely ended his Tour de France in July.

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Date Time (ET) Stage Platform
Sat., Aug. 24 12:35 p.m. Stage 1 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
4 p.m. Stage 1 Olympic Channel
Sun., Aug. 25 1 a.m. Stage 1 NBCSN
9 a.m. Stage 2 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 2 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Mon, Aug. 26 1 a.m. Stage 2 NBCSN
9 a.m. Stage 3 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 3 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Tues., Aug. 27 9 a.m. Stage 4 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 4 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Wed., Aug. 28 9 a.m. Stage 5 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 5 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Thurs., Aug. 29 9 a.m. Stage 6 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 6 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Stage 6 NBCSN
Fri., Aug. 30 9 a.m. Stage 7 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 7 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Sat., Aug. 31 9 a.m. Stage 8 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 8 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Sun., Sept. 1 9 a.m. Stage 9 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 9 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Tues., Sept. 3 9 a.m. Stage 10 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 10 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Wed., Sept. 4 9 a.m. Stage 11 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 11 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Thurs., Sept. 5 9 a.m. Stage 12 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 12 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Fri., Sept. 6 9 a.m. Stage 13 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 13 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Sat., Sept. 7 9 a.m. Stage 14 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 14 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Sun., Sept. 8 6:35 a.m. Stage 15 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 15 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Mon., Sept. 9 1 a.m. Stage 15 Olympic Channel
7:05 a.m. Stage 16 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 16 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Wed., Sept. 11 9 a.m. Stage 17 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 17 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Stage 17 NBCSN
Thurs., Sept. 12 6:05 a.m. Stage 18 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 18 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Fri., Sept. 13 9 a.m. Stage 19 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 19 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
12 p.m. Stage 19 NBCSN
Sat., Sept. 14 5:40 a.m. Stage 20 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
10 a.m. Stage 20 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
Sun., Sept. 15 10:45 a.m. Stage 21 (LIVE) NBC Sports Gold
1 p.m. Stage 21 (LIVE) Olympic Channel
3 p.m. Madrid Challenge – Women’s Race Olympic Channel
Mon., Sept. 16 1 a.m. Stage 21 NBCSN

Noah Lyles a must-see in Paris; Diamond League TV, live stream schedule

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The last time Noah Lyles raced a Diamond League 200m, he became the fourth-fastest man in history. His follow-up comes against a field of similar strength in Paris on Saturday

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs live coverage from 2-4 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage starting at noon.

Lyles could look to improve on the 19.50 he ran in Lausanne on July 5, when he moved to No. 4 on the all-time list behind Usain BoltYohan Blake and Michael Johnson. There’s reason to believe he can, given the Swiss race was into a slight headwind.

And because most of the major players from Lausanne are back for Paris. That includes Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev, who won the 2017 World title while Lyles was out injured.

Two more notables — Olympic bronze medalist Christophe Lemaitre of France and Nigeria’s Divine Oduduru, the third-fastest man this year — are in Saturday’s field after missing the July event.

Lyles may also be looking at Paris as a lead-up to the two biggest international meets of the year — a Diamond League final in Brussels on Sept. 6 and the world championships in Doha three weeks later.

Here are the Paris entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:02 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put
12:35 — Women’s Triple Jump
1:17 — Women’s Discus
1:40 — Women’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:09 — Men’s High Jump
2:14 — Men’s 800m
2:24 — Women’s 100m
2:32 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:35 — Men’s 1500m
2:48 — Women’s 400m
2:57 — Men’s 200m
3:06 — Women’s 800m
3:29 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
3:50 — Men’s 110m Hurdles

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m. ET
All six women who have cleared 4.80 meters this season are here, topped by world leader and London Olympic champion Jenn Suhr. But Suhr hasn’t won a top-level meet outside the U.S. since 2012. Watch out for Rio Olympic and world champ Katerina Stefanidi, the Greek who beat Suhr in Birmingham, Great Britain, last Sunday. And Olympic and world silver medalist Sandi Morris at her first Diamond League in two months.

Women’s 100m — 2:24 p.m. ET
Olympic champ Elaine Thompson takes her No. 1 world ranking into her first Diamond League 100m in two and a half months. Thompson rebounded from a blemished 2018 to win June’s Jamaican Championships in 10.73 seconds, cementing herself as the world championships favorite. Three other women in this field have a personal best in the 10.8s, including 2018 U.S. champion Aleia HobbsTeahna Daniels, the surprise 2019 U.S. champ, is coming off a third-place, 11.24 finish in Birmingham against a largely unaccomplished field.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:32 p.m. ET
Americans Christian Taylor and Will Claye go head-to-head for the 48th time in this event, according to Tilastopaja.org. Taylor, who owns five combined Olympic and world titles, has a 25-22 edge and hasn’t lost to his countryman on the Diamond League level in five years. But Claye, who owns five combined Olympic and world medals (but no gold), ranks No. 1 in the world this year with his personal-best 18.14-meter mark from June 29. The winner here is likely the favorite for worlds.

Men’s 200m — 2:57 p.m. ET
Lyles has never lost to anyone in this field in senior competition. In fact, only one man has beaten him in a 200m in the last three years, countryman Michael Norman, who is focusing on the 400m this summer. Last year, Lyles made a statement by breaking 19.8 in the 200m on four separate occasions, something only Usain Bolt had previously done. Lyles is at three sub-19.8s so far this season with at least three meets left.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:50 p.m. ET
Grant Holloway
, the only man to break 13 seconds this year, makes his Diamond League debut after turning professional following his junior season at Florida. He takes on the second- and third-fastest men this year, including former NCAA rival Daniel Roberts, who upset Holloway at the USATF Outdoor Championships.

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