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Indian Wells tennis tournament postponed after coronavirus confirmed

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The BNP Paribas Open, the near-major tennis tournament set to begin this week in the California desert, won’t be played as scheduled after a case of coronavirus was confirmed in the Coachella Valley.

It’s the largest U.S. sporting event to be called off over concerns about the spread of the disease. The South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, was canceled Friday.

The announcement came Sunday night after many players were already in the desert practicing. Qualifying matches were to begin Monday with women’s main draw matches starting Wednesday and the men’s draw beginning Thursday.

“We’re here and still deciding what’s next,” tweeted Rafael Nadal, the world’s second-ranked player. “So sad for all that is happening around the world with this situation. Hopefully soon solutions from the authorities. Stay all well and safe.”

The Riverside County Public Health Department declared a public health emergency for the desert cities 110 miles east of Los Angeles, including Indian Wells where the ATP and WTA tours were to play the two-week tournament.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency. California has reported 114 cases of the virus.

“There is too great a risk, at this time, to the public health of the Riverside County area in holding a large gathering of this size,” Dr. David Agus, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, said Sunday. “It is not in the public interest of fans, players and neighboring areas for this tournament to proceed. We all have to join together to protect the community from the coronavirus outbreak.”

The event typically draws upwards of 450,000 fans. It is commonly referred to as the “fifth slam” because of its popularity among the players and its stature, ranking points and over $17 million in prize money that place it one rung below tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments. This year’s field includel Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff. Kim Clijsters was set to continue her comeback at the event.

“So sad to hear the news about the postponing of @BNPPARIASOPEN,” Gauff tweeted. “I was so excited to make my debut in IW, but safety is always the no. 1 priority. Stay safe.”

Tournament director Tommy Haas said organizers are prepared to play the event on different dates and will explore options. However, the pro tennis calendar is tightly scheduled and the summer months in the desert are notoriously hot.

“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” Haas said in a statement.

Already some smaller tennis events in China and Italy — the two countries hardest hit by the virus — had been affected. The Miami Open, which follows Indian Wells later this month, could be in jeopardy. The Ultra music festival in that city has already been canceled. The year’s second Grand Slam tournament, the French Open, is set to be played in Paris in May.

The decision to postpone Indian Wells was based on the guidance of medical professionals, the Centers for Disease Control and state of California officials, tournament officials said.

“We understand the decision which has been made in the interest of public health and safety which is the top priority at this time,” WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement. “It is too soon to speculate about what will happen to other tournaments that follow. We will continue to closely monitor the situation. Health and safety will always come first.”

Refunds for this year’s event or a credit toward next year’s tournament are being offered.

Riverside County health officials said the individual with the first case of locally acquired coronavirus is being treated at Eisenhower Health in nearby Rancho Mirage after testing positive. The person is not being identified because of confidentiality rules.

Heath officials are following up on people who may have been exposed and an investigation is underway to find out how the person contracted the disease.

It’s the second case recorded in Riverside County. A cruise ship passenger from Riverside County was diagnosed with COVID-19 recently and is recovering at a Northern California medical facility. That person hasn’t returned home since leaving the Diamond Princess ship.

“We have always known this was a possibility,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer, said of the first case. “We have been planning for weeks and are prepared to take the necessary steps to protect the health of our local community.”

A charity event featuring Nadal set for Tuesday night at Indian Wells Tennis Garden has been canceled, tournament spokesman Matt Van Tuinen said.

Nadal was set to be joined by defending BNP Paribas Open champion Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and American Taylor Fritz for the Eisenhower Cup, a $150,000 winner-take-all event.

Earlier in the week, officials had announced several measures to protect players, fans and staff at the tennis tournament.

Ball kids were going to have to wear gloves and not touch the towels of players on the court. Organized player and fan interaction was also going to be limited at the tournament. Besides ball kids, restaurant and food supply workers were going to wear gloves as well as volunteers taking tickets at entrances. Over 250 hand sanitizing stations were set up throughout the venue.

Other major sports and entertainment events in the desert are scheduled for next month.

The LPGA Tour is to play the first women’s golf major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, on April 2-5 in Rancho Mirage.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in nearby Indio is set for April 10-12 and April 17-19. It typically draws 250,000 people over two weekends. The Stagecoach Festival, featuring country music, is scheduled for April 24-26 at the same Indio venue.

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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

MORE: Top U.S. Olympic boxing hopeful cleared of doping violations caused by sex

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