Brazil sets Olympic bubble in Portugal due to pandemic at home

Yana Marques
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SAO PAULO — Brazil has set up its Olympic training camp in Rio … Rio Maior that is, a relatively small Portuguese city of 21,000 residents outside Lisbon.

Brazil’s Olympic committee feared its team would lag before the Tokyo Games next year after months of inactivity at home. So since mid-July, 72 high-performance swimmers, judokas, boxers and gymnasts have been training at the Rio Maior Sports Center to try to catch up to rivals who started earlier.

Altogether, the camp involves more than 100 Brazilians, all of whom had to test negative for the coronavirus before leaving home, and on arriving in Portugal. It was timed so they could get started last Thursday, exactly one year out from the Olympics.

The camp will eventually feature more than 200 Brazilian athletes and staffers in 16 sports until December.

There is no Copacabana Beach or Sugar Leaf Mountain but, more importantly, this Rio is free of COVID-19.

Rio’s 2016 Olympics infrastructure is mostly closed, with only a handful of athletes able to work out for the Tokyo Games. Even if training facilities were to reopen soon, the athletes fear they would quickly close again due to Brazil’s poor efforts to contain the virus.

Brazil has officially recorded nearly 90,000 deaths and more than 2.4 million cases, second only to the United States.

Rio Maior, a quiet city 46 miles north of the Portuguese capital, has zero cases.

“Rio Maior gives us a bubble,” Marco La Porta, deputy chairman of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, says.

“All workers at the sports center live in the city. And that gives the athletes a very big assurance. In Brazil, they just don’t know who has had some contact with the coronavirus. We are trying to close a gap.”

They expect Rio’s facilities to be safe to use by the end of the year. In the meantime, 120 more Brazilian Olympians will arrive in Portugal over the next few months to train in track and field, wrestling, diving, taekwondo, triathlon, sailing, handball, rugby and table tennis.

They are all receiving special permission to enter the country with help from Portugal’s Olympic Committee, their presence excused as performing professional activities. Tourists from Brazil are barred from entering the European Union because of their trouble with the coronavirus.

Brazilian Olympians discovered Rio Maior 10 years ago, preparing for other events. There are ongoing negotiations for it to become the team’s base ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024. The experience during the coronavirus pandemic makes the deal nearly certain, La Porta says.

Rio Maior includes an aquatic park with two pools, a diving platform, an athletics stadium, a multi-use gymnasium, tennis courts and a soccer pitch.

Also being used are venues in the cities of Coimbra (judo), Cascais (sailing) and Sangalhos (gymnastics).

The camp will cost Brazil’s Olympic body $3 million that was marked for other international trips before the Tokyo Games. Each athlete costs $70 per day in Rio Maior, covering accommodation, five meals a day, training facilities, laundry, and transportation.

Athletes must wear face masks all day except when they are training, running or at the gym. Their buffet meals come at different times for each sport to avoid crowding in the restaurant. Every interaction outside training is guided by social distancing recommendations.

Synchronized swimmer Laura Micucci says she spent months without training with her teammates and was relieved when they gathered in the camp last week.

“It is still strange to wear a mask and use hand sanitizers all the time,” Micucci says, “but we can feel a little taste of competition again.”

MORE: Original drawing of Olympic Rings sells for more than $200,000

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Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

Asher Hong
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Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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