Tokyo governor to IOC: Keep Olympic marathon, race walks in Tokyo

AP
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TOKYO (AP) — The IOC has a full-blown fight on its hands trying to move next year’s Olympic marathon from steamy Tokyo to the cooler northern city of Sapporo.

The powerful Olympic body is up against Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who was once viewed as a possible Japanese prime minister candidate and is one of the country’s most astute politicians.

She’s now casting herself as the champion of the 35 million people who live in greater Tokyo, who want their metropolis showcased as runners wind over streets lined by shrines, temples and skyscrapers.

The marathons and race walks are also some of the few events that allow free admission, a precious commodity with Olympic tickets hard to find in Japan.

At the opening Wednesday of three days of meetings with the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo officials, Koike lashed out at the proposed change announced suddenly two weeks ago by the IOC.

“It is my wish for the marathon and race walk to be held in Tokyo,” Koike said, speaking both in English and Japanese.

Sitting at a front table with top IOC officials John Coates and Christophe Dubi — and facing hundreds of sponsors and Olympic officials — Koike said the announcement “came as a tremendous shock.”

“We consider it an unprecedented turn of events for the IOC to make such an abrupt proposal with no consultation or discussion whatsoever with the host city Tokyo,” Koike said.

The IOC said it made the move after seeing runners collapse in extreme heat at marathons at the world track and field championships earlier this month in Doha, Qatar.

IOC President Thomas Bach saw the television scenes and doesn’t want them repeated to billions of Olympic viewers.

“This was a decision that was taken quickly,” Coates acknowledged. “It was a decision that was taken as a consequence of what we saw in Doha.”

At one point Koike looked down the front table at Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, and reminded him that earlier this year he had lauded Tokyo’s measures to beat the summer heat: running early, providing shade for fans, and installing heat-resistant pavement.

“They were highly evaluated by you Mr. Dubi. Right?” she asked.

He nodded in agreement with Koike.

Koike said in the next several days she wanted a “detailed explanation … that can be understood by the people of Tokyo.”

Coates, a powerful IOC member and lawyer from Australia who oversees frequent inspections of Tokyo’s progress, has repeatedly said the IOC will go ahead with its plans.

He said he had already told Koike this. But he said the IOC, Koike, representatives from the national government, and local organizers would meet Friday in a working group.

But again, he suggested it was a done deal.

“I see this very much as using that political working group to set the framework as to how we implement these changes in a way that is acceptable to everyone,” Coates said.

On Tuesday, political allies of Koike in the municipal legislature told a news conference that moving the marathon would cost at least $310 million. Maybe more.

They also raised questions about who will pay for any changes — or reimburse Tokyo — and did not rule out a lawsuit.

Tokyo city officials acknowledge the city is hot in the summer. But so were Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004. City officials have offered to start the marathon at 5 a.m., which is at sunrise in the Tokyo summer.

Estimates suggest the temperature would be 81 degrees at 5 a.m., and would be 78 degrees in Sapporo for a 7 a.m. start.

The starting temperature in Doha for the women’s marathon was 91 degrees.

Tokyo’s soaring costs are also a major issue with the Olympics opening on July 24, 2020.

A government audit report last year said Tokyo was spending about $25 billion to organize the Olympics, all of which is public money except for $5.6 billion from a privately financed operating budget.

Tokyo said in its bid in 2013 that the Olympics would cost $7.3 billion.

Toshiro Mori, the head of the organizing committee and a former Japanese prime minister, acknowledge a few days ago that change could be costly.

“Our overall cost has become a humongous amount, so it would cause us pain if the cost is added to our bill,” Mori said. “So I mentioned that to Mr. Coates, and he said he will look into it. We won’t be able to pay if it’s a significant damage to our finances. I have reminded him of that.”

MORE: Tokyo Olympic organizers test artificial snow to combat heat

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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