Tokyo Games reset: the Olympic postponement to 2021, what comes next

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The Tokyo Olympics were supposed to open on Friday. The coronavirus pandemic changed all that, causing the first postponement of a modern Olympics (in this case, by one year). A Q&A on what changed in 2020 and what to look for in 2021 …

What led to the Olympic postponement?
As the coronavirus outbreak intensified in February, the IOC created a task force with Tokyo Olympic organizers, the Japanese government and the World Health Organization (WHO). On March 22, the IOC announced it would take up to four weeks to assess the pandemic’s impact on the Olympics, including a possible postponement. After an emergency IOC Executive Board meeting, the IOC, Japanese government and Tokyo Olympic organizers agreed on a postponement to 2021 on March 24. IOC President Thomas Bach cited information from the WHO about the virus’ global spread and an increase in travel restrictions.

Then, on March 30, the new Olympic and Paralympic dates were announced: July 23-Aug. 8, 2021 for the Olympics and Aug. 24-Sept. 5 for the Paralympics, each a 364-day postponement.

What are the plans for 2021?
Organizers are preparing different scenarios for the Games, including more than 200 possible ways of simplifying them, while noting it’s impossible to know what the world will look like a year from now. “We have to consider already now whether there will be measures necessary for access to Japan, for instance,” Bach told NBC Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico in May. “Do we maybe need quarantine for athletes from different countries or for all the athletes from all the countries? How can this be managed? Do we need special measures for access to the venues? How many people can access the venues? This is part of this mammoth task.”

On April 28, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee president said the Games will be canceled if they can’t be held in 2021.

“[Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo] made it very clear from the beginning that summer 2021 is the last option,” Bach told the BBC in May. “Quite frankly, I have some understanding for this because you cannot forever employ 3,000 or 5,000 people in an organizing committee. You cannot every year change the entire sports schedule worldwide of all the major federations. You cannot have the athletes being in uncertainty. You cannot have so much overlapping for the future Olympic Games.”

MORE: Tokyo Olympics schedule | Team USA roster

How are athletes impacted?
Nearly all Olympic sports competition shut down by late March. Some have returned in socially distanced forms without fans, including the PGA Tour, the AVP (beach volleyball’s domestic tour) and track and field. U.S. Olympic Trials in gymnastics, swimming and track and field were postponed to June 2021.

Given the U.S. Olympic team will be more than 500 athletes (out of more than 10,000 Olympians worldwide), there will be those who would have made an Olympic team in 2020 who do not make it in 2021. About 74 percent of all Summer Olympians competed in just one Games, so even just a one-year delay is very significant.

Can older athletes hang on? Think Kerri Walsh Jennings in beach volleyball, Ryan Lochte in swimming and Allyson Felix in track and field. We already know it will create opportunities for athletes who had no designs on a 2020 Olympics, such as gymnasts who were too young to qualify by one year. Now, a group of U.S. women who turn 16 in 2021 can dream of Tokyo rather than waiting for Paris 2024. At least one U.S. female gymnast who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made each of the last 10 Olympic teams.

What happens next?
Tokyo Olympic organizers will spend the rest of 2020 developing core countermeasures for the coronavirus before implementing them in 2021. Specifics haven’t been announced.

A few key other storylines: The IOC is asking for athlete feedback on a longtime Olympic Charter rule restricting athlete demonstrations and protests on the field of play. The NBA’s to-be-announced 2020-21 season schedule — specifically how late the season and playoffs run — could dictate whether its stars participate in the Olympics. Christian Coleman, the world’s fastest man since Usain Bolt‘s retirement, is provisionally suspended for missing drug tests and could receive a ban through the Tokyo Games.

OlympicTalk will continue to provide the latest coverage of Olympic preparations and the resumption of Olympic sports competitions, including broadcast schedules for events on NBC Sports and Olympic Channel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: An Olympic dynasty encounters the coronavirus

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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