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What you need to know about the Tokyo Olympics, six months out

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A look at the top storylines, athletes to watch and important dates on the road to Tokyo, six months from the Opening Ceremony on July 24 …

Who will be the Face of the Tokyo Olympics?
Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt retired since Rio, creating an opening for new alpha athletes at the Games. Successors emerged at recent world championships.

Simone Biles is a familiar name, having earned four gold medals in Rio. After a one-year break, she returned even more dominant than before. She could earn five golds in Tokyo, and perhaps medals in all six events.

In swimming, Caeleb Dressel could try for seven gold medals and Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky for six each. They won’t approach the Phelpsian feat of eight golds, but the addition of a mixed-gender relay and the women’s 1500m freestyle will make the U.S.’ best even busier than in Rio.

Bolt’s world records don’t look under threat, but the U.S. is set to retake the throne of men’s sprinting. Christian Coleman is the reigning world 100m champion, Noah Lyles the reigning world 200m champion and Michael Norman the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year. Coleman and Lyles are each expected to attempt the Bolt triple of the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.

Final Olympics for legends
Biles has said she’s 99 percent sure the Tokyo Olympics will be her final competition at age 23. She’s not the only megastar bidding for a farewell this summer.

No more evident than in tennis. Come 2024, Venus Williams will be 44; Roger Federer and Serena Williams 42 and Rafael Nadal 38. It’s possible if not likely that they all retire at some point in the next Olympic cycle. Federer, Serena and Nadal are all but assured to qualify for Tokyo. Venus might need a doubles invitation.

Tiger Woods, if he was from any other nation, would be a near-lock to qualify. But he’s currently outside the cutoff for the U.S., by far the deepest golf nation. Woods must be ranked among the top four Americans after the U.S. Open to make it to Tokyo at age 44.

LeBron James, 35, has not publicly committed to playing, but he has massive respect for new U.S. coach Gregg Popovich. And everyone within USA Basketball has to be motivated after a seventh-place finish at last year’s FIBA World Cup without the NBA’s best stars. Two of the greatest female players in history, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, are back for their fifth Olympics.

Allyson Felix eyes her fifth and likely last Olympics, too, and her first as a mom. She owns six gold medals so far. Two more would tie swimmer Jenny Thompson‘s record for an American woman. But can she qualify for the U.S. individually by placing top three at the trials in June? She was sixth in the 400m in her comeback meet at nationals last year, eight months after childbirth.

Another mom, Kerri Walsh Jennings, is making her sixth and final Olympic push. This time with another new partner, Brooke Sweat. They’re in position to make it as the second and final U.S. team, though they’re not assured with five months left in qualifying. Walsh Jennings, 41, is older than any previous Olympic beach volleyball player.

Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe will lead the U.S. women’s soccer team in qualifying later this month. Even FIFA World Cup star Kylian Mbappe expressed interest in playing in the men’s tournament, which is mostly comprised of players 23 and under. But he may be back in four years when Paris hosts as an over-age exception.

What’s new for 2020?
Five sports were added to the Olympic program for Tokyo — karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing for the first time — and the return of baseball and softball for the first time since 2008.

The U.S. has reigning world champions in skateboarding and surfing, the latter with a team so deep that the world’s third-best woman didn’t qualify. Neither did 47-year-old Kelly Slater, ranked eighth in the world. The U.S. softball team had no problem qualifying as world champion, but baseball will come down to qualifiers in two months.

What about Russia?
Russia’s doping issues haven’t gone away since PyeongChang, when sanctions included having their team name changed to “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” Though December headlines labeled Russia as being banned from the Olympics for four years, in reality it might not be much different than in South Korea in 2018. Its athletes are still in line compete, even if they must be cleared by anti-doping authorities. But perhaps without the Russian flag or anthem (as it was in PyeongChang). Perhaps the word “Russia” will be removed entirely from the Games, but nothing goes into effect until after an appeals process plays out.

Who qualifies for Team USA?
That’s the primary question from now until Olympic competition starts July 22. So far, these 31 athletes are on Team USA. By July, it will be more than 500. Key events this spring:

April 4-5: Wrestling trials
June 14-21: Diving trials
June 19-28: Track and field trials
June 21-28: Swimming trials
June 25-28: Gymnastics trials

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MORE: 20 Olympic sports events to watch in 2020 (before the Tokyo Games)

Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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MORE: Ledecky, Manuel welcome Olympic decision after training in backyard pool

Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement