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Olympic table tennis tables suit Tokyo to a T

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The tables upon which Olympic athletes will serve and slam in 2020 are not your basement ping-pong tables.

Japanese company San-Ei designed and built the tables for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and the manufacturers are building a new style for the 2020 Games in their home country.

The most distinctive part of the table is the undercarriage, which has graceful curves spelling out the letter T — “T” for Tokyo and “T” for table tennis. 

San-Ei is using monarch birch wood from the Tohoku region in Japan, which the company says is part of an effort to help the tsunami-stricken region rebound.

A promotional video for the new table shows machinery rolling the birch logs and cutting them into sheets that workers assemble into a surface that is painted before it is subjected to tests to make sure the bounce and friction meets precise specifications.

The tables are not in use this week at the ITTF Team World Cup this week in Tokyo, which is being live-streamed on the ITTF site.

In the first day of group play, South Korea swept the U.S. men, setting up a must-win for the U.S. against Sweden. The U.S. features 19-year-old Kanak Jha, once the top-ranked under-18 player in the world and now ranked 26th at the senior level. Jha was the youngest U.S. athlete at the 2016 Olympics.

The U.S. women are in the same situation, needing a win against Austria after a 3-0 loss to Japan. Two-time Olympian Lily Zhang, who last month became the first U.S. player to reach a semifinal in the World Cup, is currently ranked 33rd.

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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