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Serena Williams will skip Tokyo Olympics; childcare limits may have factored into decision

Serena Williams, in a Nike T-shirt and visor, sits behind two microphones with a bottle of water nearby.
Serena Williams speaks during a Wimbledon news conference in London on Sunday.
( Florian Eisele / Pool Photo)

Serena Williams will not compete in the Tokyo Olympics, the tennis star confirmed during her pre-Wimbledon video news conference Sunday morning.

She declined to say why she wasn’t participating, but Williams previously expressed concern about Olympic restrictions blocking athletes from bringing children and childcare assistance along to Tokyo due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in Japan.

When asked whether she planned to compete in Tokyo, Williams responded, “I’m actually not on the Olympic list. ... Not that I’m aware of. If so, then I shouldn’t be on it.”

Fans have watched Serena Williams grow up before their eyes. Now she is watching her daughter grow up while maintaining the drive to win. The balance isn’t so easy.

Williams, 39, has won four Olympic gold medals in singles and doubles play. She did not, however, medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

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“There’s a lot of reasons that I made my Olympic decision,” Williams said ahead of her opening Wimbledon match set for Tuesday. “I don’t really want to — I don’t feel like going into them today. Maybe another day. Sorry.”

Williams was asked before the Italian Open in May whether she would consider competing in Tokyo if the policy blocking her from bringing her 3-year-old daughter, Olympia, did not change.

“I haven’t really thought much about that. That’s a really good question,” Williams told reporters in Rome. “I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself. We’re best friends.”

Serena Williams in a USA jacket sits among others with her young daughter, dressed in a pink princess dress, on her lap.
Serena Williams sits with daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. as they watch a Fed Cup qualifying tennis match on Feb. 8, 2020, in Everett, Wash.
(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Children of athletes have frequently attended Olympic competition in the past. The children and a parent, family member or caregiver typically have no trouble getting visas, if needed, and have stayed in the Olympic village housing athletes or nearby. Japan, however, has banned visitors from 152 countries unless “exceptional circumstances are found” in an effort to avoid spread of the coronavirus. The virus has spread throughout the country, which has relatively low vaccine rates.

IOC spokesman Christian Klaue told USA Today Sports in May that athletes who wanted to bring their children to Tokyo would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, without providing details on how that would be possible under Japan’s entry restrictions.

During the Italian Open interview, Williams — who has qualified for a spot on the U.S. team — also said the Grand Slam schedule would be a factor she would consider while weighing Olympic participation.

Tokyo Olympics tennis play begins July 24, 14 days after the Wimbledon women’s final, and ends Aug. 1, 29 days before the U.S. Open begins.

Williams is seeking her 24th Grand Slam, which would tie the open-era record set by Margaret Court. Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are Williams’ strongest venues and present the best opportunities to tie and potentially pass Court.

The tennis star, who grew up playing in Compton, has come close to the elusive 24th Grand Slam victory many times, but injuries, signs of age and a crop of rising young stars have proved difficult to defeat.

“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about,” Williams told reporters in Rome in May. “Then there is the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot.”


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