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IOC president focused on gender balance and climate initiatives; doesn’t speculate on coronavirus

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International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach showed determination on Wednesday to forge ahead with Olympic programs in the short term and long term despite the spread of the coronavirus.

Speaking after an executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, Bach devoted most of his 15-minute opening statement to initiatives on climate and gender, along with positive reports from Tokyo 2020 and other future Olympic hosts, including the 2022 Olympic delegation that traveled from Beijing.

The questions that followed were heavily focused on the coronavirus’ possible impact on this summer’s Olympics. Bach didn’t deviate from the IOC’s stance of moving forward with the games.

“Today in the meeting of the executive board neither the word cancellation nor the word postponement was even mentioned,” Bach said in response to the first question, which asked about contingency plans.

After several more questions about dealing with the coronavirus, Bach teased the assembled reporters.

“You have an agreement among yourselves that you’ll try to get me into speculation?” Bach asked with a smile. “The IOC is fully committed, and we are not engaged in any speculation.”

For the long term, the keywords Bach stressed the IOC’s social responsibility initiatives, starting with progress on combating climate change.

From 2030, Bach said, the Olympics will be “climate-positive,” which he defined as having future organizers create enough carbon savings to exceed any negative impact the games may create. The IOC will also plant an “Olympic Forest” in Africa.

Bach said it is projected that 48.8 percent of the athletes in Tokyo will be women, which would be a new high for an Olympics. The IOC has said its goal is to eventually have a 50-50 split.

Bach also noted two specific efforts:

  • All nations participating in Tokyo must have one female and one male athlete.
  • Nations will be allowed to have two flag bearers, one female and one male, at the Opening Ceremony. (Editor’s note: While rare, there were previously multiple flag bearers at Opening Ceremonies. Most recently in PyeongChang with Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and North and South Korean athletes carrying a unified Korea flag.)

The organizers of the next Olympics, Beijing 2022, were able to participate in the meeting despite the spread of coronavirus in China, and Bach was impressed with their progress on an “engagement program” that aims to familiarize 300 million people in the host nation with winter sports. Organizers have reported 670,000 applications for 39,000 volunteer positions, and applications will still be going for another year.

Bach also gave some historical perspective to counter the notion that the last month has been the most difficult in his career as an athlete and IOC official. He cited political tensions that threatened the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, concern over the Zika virus at the 2016 Olympics, the terrorist attack in 1972, and the dueling boycotts in 1980 and 1984.

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s road back through destruction, death

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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