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The Sports Report Olympics Edition: Tokyo Games still feel like a reward for many

Spain's Carmen Martin celebrates during a handball match against Brazil on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning (probably) and welcome to today’s Olympic newsletter, where you’re joining us from the Main Press Center where we just discovered the gates in Olympic canoeing are hanging above the water — not sprouting out of it.

It’s Dan Woike, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how there are really a bunch of different Olympics happening here in Tokyo all at the same time.

Before we get into that, let’s get the big stuff out of the way first.

Olympic medal count

U.S. Olympic athlete tracker

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Tokyo Olympic medal winners

Thursday and Friday TV schedule

U.S. swimmer Regan Smith reacts after winning silver in the women's 200-meter butterfly on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

So I’ve been spending most of my time with the men’s and women’s basketball teams in Saitama, a city about an hour of way from the Times’ makeshift offices near the Tokyo Bay. Both teams are filled with professionals from the NBA and WNBA, and with the men’s team, in particular, there’s a lot of talk about the sacrifices players have made to compete in these Games.

They’ve given up vacations, offseason training, time with family etc. etc. to try and win gold in a sport they’re already at the peak of.

Venture away from that building and talk to American athletes in other venues, the Olympics feels like more of a reward than an inconvenience. Yeah, there are the same pressures whether it’s in archery or on the basketball court and the prizes are the same. But the appreciation of the moment just seems more present.

Take the U.S. men’s water polo team — I went out to the pool Thursday and watched them lose an incredibly close match against the heavily favored Italian team. I’m working on kind of a silly story (more on that this weekend), and even though they just lost, players were so willing to advocate and explain their sport, grateful that it’s getting attention.

With a focus on the pressure cooker the Olympics can be on people such as Simone Biles — one of the “faces of the Games” — it’s been nice to be reminded of the other, sort of less professional version of the Olympics.

Both are fun to watch, the greatest professionals and the unknown athletes with day jobs (like this story about the Israeli baseball team by Jorge Castillo) all competing under the same Olympic tent. And bouncing between those worlds has been maybe my favorite part of being here.

Twisties and shouts

U.S. gymnast Simone Biles stands on the sideline after withdrawing from the women's team final.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

There’s been sooooooo much said about Simone Biles in the last few days by soooooooo many people with incredibly strong opinions, so there’s little point to try and add to that.

But one thing I did learn (in addition to “Don’t get your sports takes from cable news shows”) is that the twisties sound terrifyingly awful.

This story and Helene Elliott’s excellent column explained what has to be the second scariest version of the yips (diving has to be the worst).

Gymnastics

Sunisa Lee finishes on the uneven bars during the women's all-around gymnastics final on Thursday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Helene Elliott on the women’s all-around final: A star was born at the women’s Olympic all-around gymnastics final on Thursday.

Sunisa Lee, an 18-year-old from St. Paul, Minn., won the all-around gold medal, taking the lead after the third of four rotations and cementing her hold with a strong performance in the floor exercise routine in her finale. A standout on the uneven bars but versatile and compelling in every facet, Lee finished with 57.433 points. She was the first American of Hmong heritage to make the U.S. Olympic team.

Lee is the fifth straight American woman to win all-around gold, a streak begun by Carly Patterson in 2004 and continued by Nastia Liukin in 2008, Gabby Douglas in 2012 and Simone Biles in 2016.

Rebeca Andrade of Brazil stepped out of bounds twice during the floor exercise routine in her finale, ending her chances of overtaking Lee. Andrade finished second, with 57.298 points. Angelina Melnikova of the Russian Olympic Committee — which won the women’s team title on Tuesday — took the bronze medal with 57.199 points at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre.

Swimming

U.S. swimmer Caeleb Dressel celebrates after winning the 100-meter freestyle on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Nathan Fenno on swimming: Relief washed over Caeleb Dressel.

Facing a television camera a few feet from the pool at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the newly minted gold medalist panted and choked back sobs and searched for the right words.

The swimmer carrying the burden of being the natural successor to Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, finally had the first individual Olympic gold medal of his career.

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“I knew that weight was on my shoulders,” Dressel said later. “I’d won [Olympic] relay medals, but never individual, so it was really special.”

In one of the tightest races at the Summer Games, Dressel edged Australia’s Kyle Chalmers at the wall to win the 100-meter freestyle Thursday. Dressel finished in 47.02 seconds, an Olympic record and six-hundredths of a second better than Chalmers, the defending champion in the event.

What is the ROC?

Flag bearers Sofya Velikaya and Maxim Mikhaylov of ROC lead the team during the Olympic opening ceremony.
Flag bearers Sofya Velikaya and Maxim Mikhaylov of ROC lead the team during the Olympic opening ceremony last week.
(Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Gary Klein on the Russian Olympic Committee: Thousands of athletes from around the globe paraded into Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games, all but one team proudly carrying its nation’s flag.

Late in the procession, a large contingent nattily outfitted in red and black enthusiastically made its way across the stadium field. Two athletes held a pole flying a white flag that featured red, white and blue flames above the Olympic rings. Others behind them waved smaller versions of the same flag.

The athletes and officials were from Russia, but there was no visible sign of their country’s traditionally recognizable symbols.

In the aftermath of 2019 sanctions levied against Russia for state-sponsored doping, the International Olympic Committee determined that while Russian athletes could compete in these Games and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, they could not do so under their country’s banner. They would be without their flag and, should they win gold medals, without their national anthem.

Russian athletes are competing as ROC, an acronym for “Russian Olympic Committee.”

Diving

U.S. divers Michael Hixon, left, and Andrew Capobianco compete in the synchronized 3-meter springboard final.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

David Wharton on diving: Olympic divers look at the pool a little differently than the rest of us. They see angles and molecular attractions and cohesive forces. They recognize the unfortunate circumstances that can make entering the water feel like “slamming into the floor.”

This is the science of their sport. A human body plummeting from a 10-meter platform, head-first, reaching speeds of approximately 32 miles an hour. The sudden jolt from water’s relatively high surface tension of 72 millinewtons per meter.

“People have no idea,” says Kassidy Cook, a veteran of the U.S. national team and past Olympian. “When you hit the water, it’s as hard as concrete for a split-second before you break through.”

So, as the diving competition proceeds at the Summer Games over the next week, the competitors will look graceful on television, their flips and spins both dazzling and elegant. But know that many of them have long histories of pain.

Broken wrists and dislocated shoulders. Twisted necks and elbows and ruptured eardrums. Concussions are relatively common, as are pulmonary contusions in which the force of impact bruises the lungs.

TV schedule for Thursday and Friday

Marta Martyanova of the Russian Olympic Committee, right, and Astrid Guyard of France compete in the women's foil team final.
Marta Martyanova of the Russian Olympic Committee, right, and Astrid Guyard of France compete in the women’s foil team final on Thursday.
(Hassan Ammar / Associated Press)

TOKYO — Here’s a rundown of Olympic events airing Thursday and Friday on NBCUniversal networks during the Tokyo Games:

THURSDAY

Multiple sports — 11 p.m. (Wednesday)-9:30 a.m., USA

  • Men’s water polo — U.S. vs. Italy (live)
  • Canoe slalom — Women’s final (live)
  • Rugby — Women’s qualifying round (live)
  • Swimming — Qualifying heats (live)
  • Archery — Individual eliminations
  • Women’s volleyball — U.S. vs. Turkey (live)
  • Beach Volleyball — Qualifying round

Multiple sports — 11 p.m. (Wednesday)-2 a.m., CNBC

  • Fencing — Women’s team foil semifinals (live)
  • Table tennis — Men’s semifinals (live)
  • Men’s water polo — Croatia vs. Montenegro

Multiple sports — 11 p.m. (Wednesday)-5:10 a.m., NBCSN

  • Rugby — Men’s bronze medal and gold medal matches
  • Soccer — Men’s qualifying round
  • Men’s beach volleyball
  • Badminton — Elimination round
  • Fencing — Women’s team foil bronze medal and Final (live)

Tennis — 11 p.m. (Wednesday)-11 p.m., Olympic Channel

  • Men’s singles and mixed doubles — Quarterfinals
  • Women’s singles and doubles — Semifinals
  • Men’s singles and mixed doubles — Semifinals
  • Men’s doubles — Final

Gymnastics

  • Women’s all-around final — 3 a.m., Peacock (live)

Men’s basketball

Spain vs. Argentina, 5:10 a.m., NBCSN

Multiple sports — 7 a.m.-5 p.m., NBCSN

  • Table tennis — Women’s singles final
  • Women’s handball — Montenegro vs. Norway
  • Badminton — Elimination rounds
  • Archery — Individual eliminations
  • Women’s handball — Sweden vs. France
  • Rowing — Finals
  • Women’s Volleyball — China vs. Russian Olympic Committee
  • Rugby — Women’s qualifying round

Multiple sports — 9 a.m.-2 p.m., NBC

  • Rowing — Finals
  • Men’s water polo — U.S. vs. Italy
  • Cycling — BMX racing quarterfinals
  • Canoe slalom — Women’s final
  • Women’s volleyball – U.S. vs. Turkey
  • Swimming — Qualifying heats

Multiple sports — 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m., USA

  • Table tennis — Men’s semifinals
  • Fencing — Women’s team foil final
  • Shooting — Women’s trap final
  • Judo — finals
  • Boxing — Elimination rounds
  • Canoe slalom — Women’s final

Men’s Basketball

  • Spain vs. Argentina, 3 p.m., USA

Golf

  • Men’s second round — 3:30 p.m.-2 p.m. (live)

Multiple sports — 5-8:30 p.m., NBC

  • Gymnastics — Women’s all-around final
  • Swimming — Finals: Women’s 200 breaststroke; men’s 200 backstroke; women’s 100 freestyle; Men’s 200 individual medley (live)
  • Gymnastics — Women’s all-around final
  • Swimming — Women’s 200 backstroke semifinals
  • Track and Field — Qualifying rounds: Women’s 800; Men’s 400 hurdles; Women’s 100 (live)

Multiple sports — 5-9:30 p.m., USA

  • Track and Field — Qualifying rounds (live)
  • Rugby — Women’s qualifying round
  • Archery — Women’s elimination round
  • Multiple sports — 9:40-11:30 p.m.

Multiple sports — 5-11 p.m., CNBC

  • Men’s volleyball — U.S. vs. Brazil (live)
  • Beach volleyball — Women’s qualifying round (live)
  • Rowing — Finals (live)
  • Women’s rugby — U.S. vs. Australia (live)
  • Cycling — BMX racing finals (live)
  • Badminton — Women’s singles quarterfinal
  • Gymnastics — Women’s trampoline final (live)

Multiple sports — 5-11 p.m., NBCSN

  • Men’s water polo — U.S. vs. Italy
  • Women’s volleyball — U.S. vs. Turkey
  • Beach volleyball — Men’s qualifying round
  • Women’s handball — Montenegro vs. Norway
  • Rugby — Women’s qualifying round

Rugby

  • Women’s qualifying round, 8:30 p.m.

Multiple sports — 9:05-11 p.m., NBC

  • Track and Field — Qualifying rounds
  • Cycling — BMX racing finals

Women’s basketball

  • U.S. vs. Japan, 9:40 p.m. (live)

FRIDAY

Multiple sports — 11 p.m. (Thursday)-11 a.m., USA

  • Women’s basketball — U.S. vs. Japan (live)
  • Diving — Women’s springboard qualifying (live)
  • Table tennis — Men’s singles final
  • Women’s rugby — Quarterfinals (live)
  • Men’s volleyball — U.S. vs. Brazil
  • Swimming — Qualifying heats (live)

Multiple sports — 11 p.m. (Thursday)-1 a.m., CNBC

  • Gymnastics — Women’s trampoline final (live)
  • Women’s Water Polo — U.S. vs. Russian Olympic Committee (live)
  • Archery — Women’s individual final (live)

Multiple sports — 11 p.m. (Thursday)-11 a.m., NBCSN

  • Baseball — U.S. vs. Israel
  • Men’s handball — France vs. Spain
  • Women’s soccer — Quarterfinal
  • Women’s Volleyball — China vs. Russian Olympic Committee (live)

Tennis

  • Men’s doubles final; men’s doubles bronze medal match, men’s singles semifinal match, mixed doubles semifinals, 11 p.m. (Thursday)-4 a.m., Olympic Channel (live)
  • Men’s doubles gold medal match; men’s singles semifinals, men’s singles semifinals, mixed doubles semifinals; 4 a.m.-12 p.m., Olympic Channel (live)
  • Women’s singles final; men’s singles bronze medal match; women’s singles bronze medal; women’s doubles bronze medal match, mixed doubles bronze medal match, 8 p.m., Olympic Channel (live)

Women’s soccer

  • Quarterfinal TBD, 1 a.m. (live), NBCSN
  • Quarterfinal TBD, 3 a.m. (live), NBCSN
  • Quarterfinal TBD, 5 a.m. (live), NBCSN

Golf

  • Men’s third round — 3:30 a.m., Golf Channel

Beach volleyball

  • Men’s qualifying round, 6 a.m., NBCSN
  • Men’s volleyball — France vs. ROC, 7 a.m., NBCSN

Multiple sports — 9 a.m.-2 p.m., NBC

  • Rowing — Women’s and men’s finals
  • Women’s water polo — U.S. vs. Russian Olympic Committee
  • Cycling — BMX racing finals
  • Diving — Women’s springboard qualifying
  • Beach volleyball — Women’s qualifying round
  • Swimming — Qualifying heats

Multiple sports — 11 a.m.-11 p.m., NBCSN

  • Badminton — Mixed doubles final
  • Equestrian — Eventing, Dressage
  • Women’s basketball — U.S. vs. Japan
  • Women’s soccer — Quarterfinal
  • Beach volleyball — Women’s qualifying round
  • Women’s water polo — U.S. vs. Russian Olympic Committee
  • Women’s rugby — Semifinals

Multiple sports — 5-8:30 p.m., NBC

  • Track and field — Women’s 400 hurdles round one (live)
  • Beach volleyball — Women’s qualifying round (live)
  • Track and Field — Mixed 400 relay semifinals
  • Swimming — Finals: Men’s 100 butterfly; women’s 200 backstroke; women’s 800 freestyle; Mixed 100 medley relay (live)
  • Track and Field — Qualifying rounds: Men’s 800 round one; Women’s 100 hurdles round one; Men’s 100 prelims

Multiple sports — 5-11 p.m., CNBC

  • Beach volleyball — Women’s qualifying round (live)
  • Cycling — Women’s BMX freestyle qualifying (live)
  • Women’s volleyball — U.S. vs. Russian Olympic Committee (live)
  • Rugby — Women’s semifinals
  • Fencing — Women’s team sabre, semifinals (live)
  • Gymnastics — Men’s trampoline final (live)

Archery

  • Men’s individual round of 16, 8:30 p.m., NBC

Multiple sports — 9:05-11 p.m., NBC

  • Triathlon — Mixed relay
  • Cycling — BMX freestyle qualifying

Men’s water polo

  • U.S. vs. Hungary, 10 p.m. (live), USA

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email us at sports@latimes.com. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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