Tokyo Olympics one year out: What to watch for in summer 2021

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July 23 marks one year out from the Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony. Here’s an early preview of what to look for in the summer of 2021 …

“A Beacon of Hope”
When the Tokyo Games were postponed by one year due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers believed that the Olympics would become a symbol of resilience and a festival of unity in 2021.

“Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic Flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel,” the IOC and the Olympic organizing committee said in a joint statement on March 24.

The modern Olympics, first held in Athens in 1896, have never been comprehensively postponed. Only World War I (1916) and World War II (1940 and 1944) ever stopped the Games from happening completely.

Organizers are preparing different scenarios for the Games, trying to plan for uncertainty.

“We have established one principle at the very beginning of all this discussion, way before the postponement [was announced], and this is that the Games must be organized offering a safe environment for all the participants,” IOC President Thomas Bach told NBC Olympics primetime host Mike Tirico in May. “At this moment, nobody can give you a reliable answer to the question of how the world will look like in in one year.”

Simone Biles’ Farewell
It’s a second and almost definitely final Olympics for Biles, considered by many the greatest gymnast in history. She earned four golds in Rio and could bag medals in all six events in Tokyo, leading another dominant U.S. women’s team.

If the previous Olympics were about Biles’ breakthrough, this cycle has been about her evolution to become a leading voice in sports. Biles has repeatedly called for (and often brought about) change in gymnastics since returning from a one-year break in 2017.

She also upped her domination, introducing new skills and winning by greater margins than in 2016. In Tokyo, Biles can become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic all-around titles since 1968. She can become the first U.S. woman in any sport to win five golds at a single Games. She can end her career without an all-around defeat in eight years.

U.S. Swimmers Look Lethal Without Phelps
Michael Phelps‘ retirement doesn’t change this: the U.S. still rules the pool. Caeleb Dressel, who earned two relay golds in Rio, is now the world’s top male swimmer and expected to go for seven golds in Tokyo, one shy of Phelps’ record from Beijing.

Simone Manuel, who in Rio became the first Black female swimmer to win an Olympic title for the U.S., has a chance at six golds in Tokyo. Katie Ledecky, with the addition of the women’s 1500m freestyle to the Olympic program, can go from four golds in 2016 to five in 2021.

The U.S. has more returning gold medalists, including breaststroker Lilly King and backstroker Ryan Murphy, plus rising stars like 18-year-old Regan Smith, who broke three world records between two races at the 2019 World Championships. Don’t forget about 35-year-old Ryan Lochte, who at trials will bid to become the oldest man to make a U.S. Olympic swim team.

Usain Bolt’s Successor? Look to the USA
Two U.S. sprinters emerged the last four years to take the mantle from the retired Usain Bolt as the world’s fastest man.

Christian Coleman, a relay-only runner in Rio, was the world’s fastest 100m sprinter in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and entered 2020 as the clear Olympic favorite. But Coleman’s status for the Tokyo Games is in doubt for missing drug tests. Coleman, though he has never failed a test or been linked to banned substances, could be suspended up to two years in an ongoing case.

Noah Lyles, who missed the Rio Olympic team by one spot out of high school, is now the Alpha at 200m. Lyles is the reigning world champion and last year became the fourth-fastest man in history at the distance, clocking 19.50 seconds, .31 off Bolt’s world record. Lyles, like Coleman, harbors hopes of gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m in Tokyo.

In other track events, Allyson Felix bids for her fifth Olympic team and first as a mom. With nine medals, she is one medal shy of Carl Lewis’ record for a U.S. track and field athlete.

Team USA: Ladies First
The U.S. is again expected to top the medal standings with most of its medals coming from women. Biles, Manuel and Ledecky should be the biggest contributors.

Then there are the team sports. The women’s soccer team, potentially led by Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, looks to rebound from a quarterfinal loss in Rio. The women’s basketball team hasn’t lost at the Olympics since 1992 and wants to send Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi off with a fifth gold each. Kerri Walsh Jennings, a triple Olympic champion, could become the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player ever, but April Ross and Alix Klineman are the U.S. medal favorites.

In tennis, it could be the last Olympics for Venus and Serena Williams, who each own four gold medals, and the first for 16-year-old sensation Coco Gauff.

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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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