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The Sports Report Olympics Edition: Five sure-fire ways to improve the Games

Taiwan's Chuang Chih-Yuan, right, and Chen Chien-an compete in table tennis at the Olympics.
Taiwan’s Chuang Chih-Yuan, right, and Chen Chien-an compete in table tennis at the Olympics on Sunday.
(Kin Cheung / Associated Press)

Good morning newsletter readers (well, recipients at least), it’s Dan Woike checking in from a convention center outside of Tokyo where people are wrestling (no, not like this).

I’ve spent a lot of time on buses here in Japan and it’s given me tons of time to think, and I want to share my best ideas of Olympic improvements. But first, let’s get you caught up with the important stuff.

Olympic medal count

U.S. Olympic athlete tracker

Latest Olympics news and results

Sunday and Monday TV schedules

OK, back to the ideas, the things that have caught my eye while I’ve done my best to study this beautiful city via bus window.

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1. More Co-Ed Sports

This year the Olympics debuted an expanded slate of co-ed sports including swimming and track relays, ideas that I absolutely love. Mixed tennis doubles, off the docket for more than 80 years, is back. There’s even a co-ed event in judo.

For additions, how about co-ed 3-on-3 basketball would incredible, NBA and WNBA players teaming up in one of my favorite new events at these Games. Co-ed beach volleyball could be really fun. Same for golf (more on this later).

2. Keep getting weird

People complain about the additions of new sports that are out of our general sense of what constitute “Olympic competition,” but my time at 3-on-3 convinced me that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Skateboarding, surfing, speed climbing — love it. Let’s have an international 1-on-1 basketball tournament. Why not have MMA? How about cornhole? Give people like me a chance to win gold. And if table tennis can be here, why can’t darts? Or billiards? Or bowling? I realize that if you can drink beer during it we probably shouldn’t be rewarding medals for the world’s best, unless it’s curling. Then again, we give a gold to someone for walking fast so maybe none of this is too crazy.

Being here, I haven’t once thought to myself “there should be fewer events.” These aren’t bowl games — load ‘em up.

3. Fix the “big” American team sports

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U.S. guard Devin Booker tries to drive past the Czech Republic's Ondrej Sehnal during a U.S. win on Saturday.
(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

I actually kind of like the sort of misfit nature of the U.S. men’s baseball team — players not on 40-man rosters and recent vets trying to figure things out in kind of a wild tournament. Men’s basketball is 100% not like that, especially with so many great American players skipping the Games.

It’s a lose-lose for the Olympics, too. If the U.S. sends its very best, they probably steamroll everyone and the tournament isn’t very compelling. And the NBA is so international already, there’s no real shock value in seeing Jrue Holiday try to stop Luka Doncic.

Instead, like soccer, Olympics men’s basketball should have some sort of an age limit — maybe 25 and under — introducing young international players to American audiences while allowing U.S. teams to hypothetically shop for players from a more willing group.

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So many people want to be in the Olympics (congrats to Kevin Durant for being one of them), but it does sort of feel like more of an imposition for the NBA’s stars. (The U.S. women’s team doesn’t have this problem – they mostly function like an European national team with a familiar cast of characters consistently deciding to compete).

4. Rain on this parade

Of everything I’ve seen while in Japan, including the ever closing-in-on-me walls of my hotel room, the most bored I’ve been was during the parade of nations. For the first 30 minutes, I literally was in awe of the athletes who had worked to achieve their dreams to get to the Olympics, whether they came from big countries or small, from rich nations or poor.

And then I realized there were like 200 more to announce. My solution? What’s a parade without floats. Each team comes in on one.

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OK, this one might not be a winner, but maybe, say, if there was an ongoing concert or something while the athletes walk the track, good with me.

5. Get more creative with golf

A fun golf final on Sunday was lessened by the fact that there are fun golf finals all the time on Sunday — kind of what happens every weekend on the PGA Tour. The only difference this time was there was chaos with a seven-man playoff for the bronze. A fun twist, but not a reliable long-term solution. There’s already a tremendous template of nation vs. nation golf, so figuring out a way to incorporate more of the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup into the Olympics would make for a better tournament. You could even do mixed team match play. Or co-ed Ryder Cup-style team competitions.

Someone get these ideas to the IOC. I won’t even ask for a payout.

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Swimming

U.S. swimmer Caeleb Dressel celebrates after winning gold in the men's 50-meter freestyle Sunday.
(Gary Ambrose / For the Times)

Nathan Fenno on swimming: A few minutes before Caeleb Dressel ambled out of the ready room, an up-tempo song pounded through the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

“This is my time now,” the urgent words from 7kingZ said. “It’s all on the line now. Destiny is mine now.”

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The lyrics were prophetic.

After a week in which Dressel fought off nerves, set a world record and shed tears as he reinforced his place as the world’s preeminent male swimmer, what the 24-year-old did Sunday might have been the most impressive feat of all.

Dressel crushed the field in the 50-meter freestyle to win his third individual gold medal, then returned to the pool a little over an hour later to help the U.S. men’s 400 medley relay upset Britain and break the world record on the final day of the swimming competition at the Summer Games.

The victories gave Dressel five gold medals — Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz are the only men’s swimmers to have collected more golds during a single Olympics — as he became the first man to capture the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly in the same Games.

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Gymnastics

U.S. gymnast Mykayla Skinner performs on the vault Sunday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Helene Elliott on the women’s vault event final: MyKayla Skinner of Gilbert, Ariz., who replaced Simone Biles in the women’s vault event final when Biles withdrew for mental health reasons, won a silver medal Sunday that was years in coming.

Skinner, 25, was an alternate to the 2016 U.S. team at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and retired from elite gymnastics to compete at the University of Utah. However, she decided to make a comeback to the tougher Olympic track, an effort that was sidetracked when she contracted COVID-19 and pneumonia last winter.

She had the fourth-highest vault score in the qualifying phase but didn’t automatically advance to the final because fellow Americans Biles and Jade Carey ranked ahead of her and there’s a two-competitor-per-country rule in event finals. However, when Biles withdrew to take care of her mental and physical health, Skinner got her chance to compete — and she made the most of it.

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Helene Elliott on the women’s uneven bars final: Olympic all-around champion Suni Lee of St. Paul, Minn., added a bronze medal to her collection from the Tokyo Games when she finished third in the uneven bars event final. In addition to her all-around gold medal, Lee also won a silver medal in the team competition.

Lee, 18, will have another chance at a medal Tuesday, in the balance beam event final on the final day of the Tokyo gymnastics competition.

Lee led off the uneven bars competition Sunday and scored a 14.500, which was below the 15.200 she had scored in the qualifying phase a week ago. This time, she missed some connections between moves, resulting in a lower score. She likely didn’t have much practice time after winning the all-around title Thursday, because she was in great demand for post-victory interviews.

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Track and field

Isaiah Jewett, of the United States, and Nijel Amos, right, of Botswana.
U.S. runner Isaiah Jewett, left, and Nijel Amos of Botswana fall in the men’s 800-meter semifinal Sunday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Gary Klein on track and field: Isaiah Jewett’s bid for a spot in the men’s 800-meter final took an uncertain turn Sunday night at Olympic Stadium when the runner fell to the track after apparently being hit on the leg from behind.

Jewett, from USC, was running in third place in the final heat of the 800-meter semifinals as the runner approached the final turn. Nijel Amos of Botswana was running behind Jewett when both runners fell to the ground.

“I was getting ready to go and I just felt like when I was starting to lift, something hit the back of my heel and that caused me to fall,” Jewett said. “It was devastating, I’m not going to lie…. It was just devastating falling.”

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U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders won silver at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Ben Bolch on women’s shot put silver medalist Raven Saunders: The mask came off, the gnashed teeth of the Hulk gone, a face of these Tokyo Olympics revealed.

Raven Saunders wore a nose ring and a sweat-drenched smile above the facial covering she had pulled into a scrunch below her chin. She had just draped herself in an American flag and shimmied around the track inside Olympic Stadium, commencing a celebration of redemption, of perseverance, of duality.

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The television cameras that followed Saunders around like paparazzi, capturing her purple and green hair and visually striking masks — the Joker for the preliminary round, the Hulk for the finals — could add another hue to the kaleidoscope.

A silver medal draped around Saunders’ neck would be the final image Sunday after the 25-year-old from Charleston, S.C., twisted herself into a blur and unleashed a throw of 64 feet 11¼ inches in the shot put. She was beaten only by Lijiao Gong, whose personal-best throw of 67-6¼ prompted gasps inside a nearly empty stadium and made her the first woman from China to win a gold medal in the event.

Golf

U.S. golfer Xander Schauffele celebrates after winning the gold medal.
(Yoshi Iwamoto / AFP / Getty Images)

Dylan Hernández on golf: Driver in hand, Xander Schauffele stuck his upper body through the curtain of leaves and branches, as if he was hunting for an unwelcome rodent behind his couch.

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Schauffele had to do more than recover his errant tee shot on the 14th hole at Kasumigaseki Country Club. He had to find his stomach.

He eventually did, regaining the lead he lost on that hole with a birdie on 17.

After he tapped in a short putt on the final hole, he added another descriptor: Olympic gold medalist.

With a four-under 67, Schauffele finished the tournament 18-under, one shot ahead of Rory Sabbatini, who surged into title contention with a 10-under 61 on the final round.

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Tokyo weather

David Wharton on the sweltering Tokyo weather: It wasn’t just the unrelenting sun. Or the sluggish air, wet and still and settling close to the ground.

By midday the canoe slalom course at the Summer Olympics, a man-made rapids beside Tokyo Bay, had been transformed into something that left racers sweating and exhausted after barely a minute, as if its churning waters had been brought to a boil.

“It’s like a bath,” Matej Benus of Slovakia said. “It’s like paddling in bathwater.”

These Games figured to be among the hottest in Olympic history and, other than a few days when a tropical cyclone blew through, they have not disappointed. Beach volleyball has felt like a sauna and tennis courts have turned into frying pans, with one player carted away in a wheelchair and another reportedly asking the umpire: “If I die, are you going to be responsible?”

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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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