Olympics Live Updates: Softball’s Return Begins the Games Ahead of the Opening Ceremony


Credit…Kazuhiro Fujihara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — The Games have begun. With a ball.

Michelle Cox, the leadoff hitter for the Australian softball team, took a low pitch from Japan pitcher Yukiko Ueno in an empty stadium in Fukushima on Wednesday in the first competitive act of the Tokyo Olympics.

The pitch — after a bit of pregame pageantry that included the introduction of several officials and dignitaries — officially kicked off an edition of the Games that was years in the making and one year delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Two days before the opening ceremony, a half-dozen softball teams and a dozen in soccer were set to be the first athletes to take the field. The host country Japan and Australia got the honor of going first; their game at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium was to be followed by matchups involving the United States and Italy and between Mexico and Canada.

Credit…Jorge Silva/Reuters

Later on Wednesday, six matches — including the United States’ opener against Sweden in Tokyo Stadium, and games in Rifu and Yokohama — were to open the women’s soccer tournament.

It is not uncommon for Olympic competition to begin before the opening ceremony, a consequence of a tight schedule and expanded tournaments that can require longer than the Games’ official 17-day window to complete.

Cox made the most of her moment in the Olympic spotlight: She worked a full count against Ueno and then beat out an infield single back to the pitcher.

Ueno, Japan’s starter, had a rough inning. After giving up a single to Cox, she walked a batter and hit the next two with pitches. That allowed Cox to score the game’s — and the Games’ — first run.

Atsumi Mana of Japan during a practice this week. Japan and Australia’s game will be the first softball game in the Olympics after a 13-year hiatus.
Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

When the first pitch was thrown in a game between Australia and Japan on Wednesday morning, softball fans around the world celebrated the return of their sport to the Olympic stage after a 13-year absence.

“We ARE back … SOFTBALL is back in the Olympics!” Natasha Watley, a two-time U.S. Olympic softball player and a gold medalist in 2004, tweeted before the game. “I’ll be glued to the tv for the next week!”

Japan’s game against Australia was the first contest ahead of the opening ceremony and one of several softball games and soccer matches scheduled before the official start. It began at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, with a game between the U.S. and Italy scheduled to follow at 11 p.m. and one between Mexico and Canada set for 2 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday.

The games will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (The games will take place on Wednesday but will appear on U.S. television starting on Tuesday night because of the 13-hour time difference.)

Among those who watching were the former U.S. pitcher and Olympic gold and silver medalist Jennie Finch and her 8-year-old daughter Paisley. It was the first time her daughter, who also plays softball, would see her sport represented on the world’s biggest stage.

“I’m so excited for our sport and our game and the platform it has to be back in the Olympics,” Finch said before the game, adding that she was “excited for the athletes especially.”

Softball first became an Olympic sport in 1996, and it appeared in each summer Games through those in 2008 in Beijing, after which it was dropped.

“For it to be taken away, it was like, how can we go back 60 years?” Finch recalled thinking at the time. “We’ve worked so hard to get our sport to where it is.”

But beginning with the Tokyo Games, each Olympic host can propose adding sports with national appeal. Softball, along with baseball, both of which are popular in Japan, were approved for competition in Tokyo.

For softball, the moment is big: It has a growing global footprint, and in the U.S., it is a competitive collegiate sport without a major league home. Last August, softball was the inaugural sport in a new pro league called Athletes Unlimited, but even that season was only six weeks long.

Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The U.S. team, which captured three consecutive Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 and a silver medal at the 2008 Games after falling to Japan, will make its fifth Olympic appearance in Tokyo. Cat Osterman, who was on the last two U.S. teams, is on this year’s roster at age 38.

Still, there was some dissatisfaction across social media that the game was being played on a baseball field rather than a softball field, which would be smaller with an infield entirely comprised of dirt, rather than a mix of dirt and grass.

In both the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games, the host cities built softball fields as part of their Olympics infrastructure.

“I don’t care what the field looks like, we’re happy it’s back & we’ve been waiting a very long time,” Danielle O’Toole Trejo, who plays for Mexico’s national team and is also a player in Athletes Unlimited, wrote on Twitter. “Our play WILL NOT change. We’re GOOD enough to adapt.”

The sport’s Olympic return, however, is bittersweet. There is no guarantee that softball will be featured in another Games.

“Our sport needs this,” Finch said. “It’s crucial for our sport globally to be in the Olympic Games and have our presence and have the platform to showcase how great of a game it is.”

Alicja Tchorz, who represented Poland at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, was one of the six swimmers sent home.
Credit…Tobias Schwarz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — Six Polish swimmers were sent home from the Olympics this week after the country’s swimming federation arrived in Japan with too many competitors.

Poland originally selected 23 swimmers for the Tokyo Games but had to trim its list to 17 based on world swimming’s qualifying rules. Since the team had already arrived in Japan, that meant the disqualified swimmers — who had been feted on their departure and had taken the Olympic oath — had to fly back to Warsaw on Sunday, only days before the opening ceremony.

One of the swimmers, Alicja Tchorz, expressed outrage at the fiasco in a Facebook post and demanded the resignation of the federation’s leadership.

“Imagine dedicating 5 years of your life and striving for another start at the most important sporting event,” wrote Tchorz, who swam for Poland at the 2012 and 2016 Games. “Giving up your private life and work, sacrificing your family, etc.”

Her frustrations were amplified, she said, upon learning “6 days before the grand finale, it turns out that you were denied your dreams because of the incompetence of third parties.”

In an interview after returning to Warsaw, she said she and her teammates were planning to file a lawsuit and demanding the removal of the officials responsible for the mistake. “The absolute minimum is the resignation of the board,” Tchorz said. “Any dignity requires it.”

The other swimmers informed they could not compete were identified in news reports and social media posts as Bartosz Piszczorowicz, Aleksandra Polanska, Mateusz Chowaniec, Dominika Kossakowska and Jan Holub.

A video shared on social media by a Polish journalist showed the swimmers who had been ordered to return home sharing hugs and saying goodbye to other members of the Polish delegation before their departure last weekend.

In a lengthy statement explaining the error, the president of Poland’s swimming federation, Pawel Slominski, expressed regret for the mistake but also attempted to assign some of the blame to swimming’s qualifying rules and to Poland’s Olympic committee.

“I express great regret, sadness and bitterness about the situation,” Slominski said in the statement. “Such a situation should not take place, and the reaction of the swimmers, their emotions, the attack on the Polish Swimming Federation is understandable to me and justified.”

On Instagram, Chowaniec railed against “the incompetent people” leading the swimming federation.

“I am deeply shocked by what happened and this is an absurd situation for me that should never have happened,” he wrote. “In fact, I hope to wake up from this NIGHTMARE eventually!”

Hector Velazquez, along with another teammate, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. They are asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the Mexican baseball federation said in a statement.
Credit…Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Mexican national baseball team is in quarantine after two players tested positive for coronavirus ahead of traveling to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, Mexican baseball federation officials announced.

Hector Velazquez and Sammy Solis, both of whom are 32-year-old pitchers, were tested on Sunday in Mexico City as the team gathered to begin practice and were asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the federation said in a statement. As a result, national federation officials said practice on Monday was canceled and the rest of the team was quarantining in its hotel pending results from further testing.

Over the weekend, players and coaches reported to Mexico City and had begun training ahead of their departure to Japan. Mexico’s first game in the Olympics is scheduled for July 30, against the Dominican Republic, at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Solis and Velazquez — both former Major League Baseball players — play for the same team in Mexico’s top professional league.

“Honored and excited to announce that I will be representing #TeamMexico at the Olympics in #Tokyo2020!!!!,” Solis said earlier this month, when the Mexican team was announced. “Being named an Olympian is a lifelong dream! Time to chase that.”

The news was a blow for fifth-ranked Mexico, which had qualified for the first time for the Olympics in baseball, a sport making its return to the Summer Games after a 13-year hiatus.

With games beginning on Wednesday and the opening ceremony on Friday, nearly 60 people connected to the Tokyo Games, from athletes within the Olympic Village to Japanese residents working at the events, have tested positive. Organizers are struggling to manage public anxiety as many thousands more athletes, coaches and other officials arrive in Japan for the Games.

The Mexican baseball team was the latest Olympic team to be disrupted by the virus. The United States’ men’s basketball, women’s 3×3 basketball and the women’s gymnastics teams have had to reshuffle their rosters after athletes either tested positive or entered virus health and safety protocols.

From protests and Covid-related bans on fans, join Times journalists for an exclusive virtual event as we discuss what this moment means for Tokyo 2020. Plus learn about the sports new to the Olympics through interviews with U.S. surfer Carissa Moore and Czech climber Adam Ondra. Click the button above to R.S.V.P.

After the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Games will stretch across 16 days, culminating in the closing ceremony on Aug. 8.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

NBC will show more than 7,000 hours of coverage of the Tokyo Olympics across its platforms, including NBC stations, cable channels, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.

The opening ceremony for the Olympics is scheduled for Friday night in Tokyo. But the 13-hour time difference with Tokyo means it will be Friday morning in the United States.

NBC will have a live morning broadcast of the ceremony, starting at 6:55 a.m. Eastern time. Savannah Guthrie, the anchor for “Today,” and NBC Sports’s Mike Tirico will host the ceremony.

Afterward, NBC will also broadcast a special edition of “Today” that includes athlete interviews, followed by an Olympic daytime show.

Similar to years past, the network will air a packaged prime time version of the ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday. Coverage will also be replayed again overnight for viewers who missed earlier broadcasts.

Though the opening ceremony is Friday, the first competitions begin on Wednesday in Japan.

Softball, which is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2008, kicks off the events with a match between Japan and Australia at 8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. (The game begins in Japan on Wednesday at 9 a.m. Japan Standard Time.) The U.S. softball team will also play ahead of the opening ceremony, facing Italy at 11 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. Both games will air on NBC Sports.

Another match taking place before the opening ceremony is the U.S. women’s soccer game against Sweden, which will be broadcast live on NBC Sports at 4:30 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday.

In addition to NBC Sports, Olympic events will be shown on the Golf Channel, NBC Olympics, NBC Sports Network, Telemundo and USA Network. Events will also be streamed on NBCOlympics.com, NBCSports.com and Peacock, the network’s streaming platform.

After the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Games will stretch across 16 days, culminating in the closing ceremony on Aug. 8.

Israel’s national baseball team is headed to the Olympics in Tokyo. On an American tour, the team recently played in Pomona, N.Y.
Credit…Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

Shortly before the start of a recent exhibition game, the members of Israel’s national baseball team assembled along the third-base line at Maimonides Park in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn and replaced their baseball caps with skullcaps in preparation for the singing of the Israeli national anthem.

But only a few players knew enough Hebrew to sing along.

The team, currently on tour in New York, has only four players who are native to the country. The rest of the 24-player roster mostly consists of American players whose Jewish roots allow them under Olympic rules to play for the team. It’s also a ragtag assemblage of retired major leaguers, current minor leaguers and even some weekend warriors with day jobs.

Four years ago, the team was ranked 48th in the world, but it shocked the baseball world by qualifying for the World Baseball Classic, making it into the tournament’s second round. In 2019, it continued its surprising run by qualifying for the Olympics.

Team Israel will compete in Tokyo against five other qualifying countries: the U.S., Japan, the Dominican Republic, South Korea and Mexico.

At Maimonides Park on July 11, some fans waved Israeli flags. Others wore hats and shirts bearing the Star of David. One fan wore a T-shirt showing a rabbi slugging a baseball along with the words “Jew Crew,” a reference to the national team, which was wearing crisp blue uniforms also featuring the Star of David.

The squad probably has more fans in New York than in Israel, said Peter Kurz, the team’s general manager.

Brandon Lakind and his friend Cameron Johnson, high school students from Randolph, N.J., said they had been following the team.

“It’s crazy to see that they made the top six teams in the world,” Brandon said. “That alone is pretty cool.”

Credit…Irene Rinaldi

It’s been a rocky road to the 2021 Tokyo Games, which, after being delayed a year by the pandemic, will now take place (beginning Friday) without any spectators. Uncertainty and controversy, and a rising number of Covid-19 cases in the city, have increasingly overshadowed the preparations for the Summer Olympics, and early events like the ceremonial torch relay have felt subdued.

But despite the circumstances, the Games will (almost certainly) go on. Whether you’re a dedicated Olympics fan or a casual viewer, these podcasts will get you in the mood.

This compelling new investigative podcast series tells the little-known true story of one of the biggest mistakes in Olympic history. Women’s gymnastics got off to a rough start at the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, marred by controversies over substance use and falsified ages — and then, during a competition vault event, things really got weird. One by one, with the whole world watching, elite gymnasts kept falling off the vault, in ways that were embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst. By the time somebody figured out what was going on (no spoilers here), the damage was done. In this five-episode series, through interviews with athletes who were there, Ari Saperstein delves into the bizarre back story of what happened.

Starter episode: “Episode 1”

When a city wins its bid to host the Olympics, the implications go way beyond the single summer (or winter) when the ceremonies took place. Using the city of Sydney as its test case, this six-episode show explores what happens once the last medal has been awarded and the crowds have dispersed. Twenty years after the Sydney Olympics, the journalist Mark Beretta interviews the organizers and officials who were responsible for fulfilling the pledge to make it “the greenest Games ever” and how that decision inspired urban transformation and environmental progress throughout Australia.

Starter episode: “How the Green Games Influenced a National and International Environmental Movement”

The first podcast from Team U.S.A. debuted less than a year ago, in November of 2020, and it’s sure to whet your appetite for the long-awaited Games. Hosted by Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist in figure skating, the show features weekly conversations with guests who are mainly fellow Olympians, including several Tokyo-bound athletes like the gymnast Yul Moldauer, the Paralympic basketball player Matt Scott and the softball player Haylie McCleney. Because the show began during the pandemic, many of the interviews touch on subjects like mental health and staying motivated in a time of uncertainty, which are just as relevant to nonathletes. The show just wrapped up its first season at the start of July, but there are plans for it to return in the future.

Starter episode: “Tokyo Bound”

Olivia Breen, a Paralympic bronze medalist, in 2018.
Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Olivia Breen, a two-time Paralympic world champion for Britain, said she was “speechless” and “gobsmacked” when an official at the English Championships told her on Sunday that her competition bottoms were “too short” and “inappropriate” after she competed in a long jump event.

In a tweet afterward, Breen wrote that she had been wearing these types of shorts, designed for competition, for years and hoped to wear similar ones when she competes in the Paralympics in Tokyo next month.

After the episode, Breen questioned whether male athletes would be subjected to the same scrutiny, joining an array of female athletes speaking out against uniform double standards that can result in fines against women.

Breen said that it was extremely hot on Sunday and that many male long jump athletes took off their shirts but were not approached by any officials. But after her event, when Breen was chatting with a teammate, she said an official asked to speak with her.

“She was just like, ‘I think your briefs are too revealing, and I think you should consider buying a new pair of shorts,’” Breen said. “My first response was, ‘Are you joking?’”

Breen, 24, has cerebral palsy, hearing loss and some learning difficulties. She has won gold twice at the I.P.C. World Championships — in the T38 long jump in 2017 and the T35-38 100-meter sprint relay in 2015 — and bronze in the 4×100-meter relay in the 2012 Paralympic Games.

Breen said lightweight briefs — in this case, Adidas official competition 2021 briefs, which she later posted a photo of online — gave her an advantage. The bottoms complied with regulations, she said, adding that she filed a formal complaint to England Athletics, the organization running the competition.

Since posting about the episode, Breen said she had heard from other female athletes who have had similar experiences and said she thought women had a right to feel comfortable while competing.

“It just made me so angry,” Breen said. “We shouldn’t be told what we can wear and what we can’t wear.”

England Athletics said in a statement that it would investigate the matter.

“The well-being of all participants in athletics is of the utmost importance, and everyone should feel comfortable to compete and participate in the sport,” the statement said.

Julius Ssekitoleko of Uganda has been missing for several days.
Credit…Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

TOKYO — A man identifying himself as the Ugandan weight lifter who went missing last week after he left his hotel room at a training camp in Osaka prefecture in Japan has been found by the police in a town about 100 miles away. A statement from the Ugandan government said that the man is the missing athlete.

The man, identified as Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, the weight lifter who did not make his country’s Olympic squad and was originally scheduled to fly home to Uganda on Tuesday, was found at the home of an acquaintance in Yokkaichi City, in Mie prefecture, carrying identification.

Mr. Ssekitoleko was discovered missing from his hotel room Friday after he failed to appear for a daily coronavirus test in Izumisano. He left a note saying he wished to work in Japan. Police have been searching for him ever since.

Naoki Fukuyama, an official at the Osaka prefectural police department, said the police were consulting with the Ugandan embassy on where to deliver him. The other eight teammates who were also training in Izumisano moved to the Olympic Village on Monday.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the Ugandan Embassy in Tokyo said it was working with Japanese authorities to enable Mr. Ssekitoleko’s “safe and secure” return to Uganda as early as Wednesday.

“Any issues to do with alleged absconding from the duty he had been flown to perform in Japan and related disappearance from the training camp, will be handled appropriately on his return to Uganda,” the statement said.

In Kampala, Okello Oryem, a junior minister in Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, called Mr. Ssekitoleko a “traitor.”

“This behavior and act is treacherous,” Mr. Oryem told reporters after meeting with the Japanese ambassador in Kampala.

According to Mr. Fukuyama, the police had tracked Mr. Ssekitoleko on a surveillance camera taking a bullet train from Osaka to Nagoya, where he met another man and traveled to Gifu in central Japan.

Police officers visited that man’s house, where he told them that Mr. Ssekitoleko had moved to another home in Yokkaichi, where police found him on Tuesday afternoon.

“He may be a hero in his country, but he felt it was difficult to return to the country as he learned he can’t compete in the Games,” Mr. Fukuyama said. “He must have hoped to win and bring the gold medal back to his country. I feel sorry for him. I felt relieved he was found and want to hand him over as soon as possible as many citizens are worrying.”

Last month, a coach and an athlete with the Ugandan Olympic delegation tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Japan. It was not clear if Mr. Ssekitoleko was one of them.

“He is not a criminal,” Mr. Fukuyama said. “Even though he has violated the Olympic rules, he has no problem doing anything as his visa is valid.”

Musinguzi Blanshe contributed reporting from Kampala, Uganda.





Source link

Popular Topics

Related Articles

Translate »