Good Wednesday morning, or as it’s known around here: Day -3. The sports have already begun, with two U.S. teams already in action.
First up, Cat Osterman lived up to the hype on the mound, allowing one hit and striking out nine as the U.S. softball team beat Italy 2–0.
Then, in the really early hours here in the States, the USWNT opened group play and renewed its rivalry with Sweden with a stunning 3-0 defeat, which snapped the U.S.'s 44-match unbeaten run that dated back to January 2019.
We will have much more on all the sports very soon. But first …
Meet SI’s Staff
One thing I’m excited to do with this newsletter is pass along links to work from my colleagues. Given that you’ll see their names and become familiar them, if you aren’t already, I thought it would be fun to meet some of our staff on the ground in Tokyo.
I asked them all the same four questions.
1) How many Olympics have you covered in person?
2) What is your favorite Olympics memory?
3) What sport or event are you most looking forward to covering in Tokyo?
4) Which Olympic event do you think you’d be worst at?
Stephanie Apstein, writer
1) This will be my first!
2) I was a coxswain on the women’s crew team at Trinity College, and I was completely obsessed with the women’s eight in Beijing. I woke up at 5 a.m. to watch the final alone at my parents’ house.
3) I was excited to see baseball in front of Japanese fans, but in empty arenas, I think it has to be gymnastics. I’ve never seen Simone Biles compete in person, and I can’t wait.
4) Wow, there are so many options. Probably synchronized diving. I’m afraid of heights. Synchronized over solo, because it’s bad enough to ruin your own performance, but this way I’d have a partner to be mad at me, too.
Greg Bishop, writer
1) Four: Turin 2006, Beijing ’08, Vancouver ’10, London ’12
2) Too many to choose from is both the worst answer and the most appropriate one. I’ll never forget the Opening Ceremony in Beijing in 2008—the spectacle, the sheer number of dancers and explosions and everything else. I’m not sure I’ll see anything like that again. BMX in China was wild—what a backdrop. Heading to the Great Wall with Rulon Gardner and hoping some calamity didn’t befall us. Access to the Krzyzewski family in London on the eve of the men’s basketball gold medal game—and how Mike continued to coach long after that. The gold medal hockey game in Vancouver was the first hockey game I had ever covered—what a crowd. Henry Cejudo’s gold. Michael Phelps in that water cube. Cyclist thighs. I could go on and on.
3) I like the stuff at the margins more than what you’ll see on TV. I’m interested in the new sports, like skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing. There’s nothing at the Olympics in track that’s quite like the sprints.
4) All of them! But since there’s not yet an Olympic event that involves eating, I’m the worst at surfing for sure. I tried it once and couldn’t even stand up, as Chris Borland can attest.
Pat Forde, writer
1) This will be my ninth Olympics. Seven summer (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta ’96, Sydney 2000, Beijing ’08, London ’12, Rio ’16, now Tokyo ’21) and two winter (Lillehammer ’94, Nagano ’98).
2) My favorite Olympic memory is covering all eight of Michael Phelps’s gold medals in Beijing, although I am pretty confident the below event is about to surpass that in my personal hierarchy.
4) Equestrian. Too big and heavy, and very little experience riding a horse.
Erick W. Rasco, photographer
1) This will be my seventh Olympics on the ground (Beijing 2008, Vancouver ’10, London ’12, Sochi ’14, Rio ’16, PyeongChang ’18).
2) Best memory: Heinz Kluetmeier making the Phelps underwater “touch” picture in Beijing, where he won eight gold medals. We toasted Heinz at the bar and stayed at it till sunrise this next morning.
3) Looking forward to photographing some of the new sports at the Games: surfing, skateboarding and climbing.
4) I would be horrible at rhythmic gymnastics. I can’t touch my toes or do the splits, let alone while juggling a ball or hoop, or twirling a ribbon.
Michael Rosenberg, writer
1) This will be my seventh: Athens 2004, Turin ’06, Beijing ’08, Sochi ’14, Rio ’16, PyeongChang ’18, Tokyo ’20-ish.
2) As far as events, I can give you two. One was Simone Biles in Rio. She was so much better than everybody else, it was just preposterous. The other was watching Usain Bolt win the 100-meter final in Beijing. I wasn’t even covering it. I bought a beer and sat in the stands. The margin of victory in that event is so thin, and yet after Bolt eased up and still crushed everybody in his semifinal, it seemed obvious he would win gold. Spoiler: He did.
3) My favorite Olympic sport (that is: a sport I would never otherwise watch) is handball. It’s the best. I don’t even know whether I will find a chance to cover it for SI. I might need to snag a little freelance gig with the Handball Times.
4) This is like asking me which NFL defensive end I would have the most trouble blocking. The answer is probably all of them. But I mean, I could run 400 meters without falling down. I would fail completely at the pole vault, but that’s not the answer, either. Boxing would end very poorly for me, but I feel like I could bribe my way to survival. So let’s take a hard look at marathon swimming: 10 kilometers in open water. I am in decent shape but have never been much of a swimmer. There is a real chance I would die. We have a winner!
Of course, these are not the only five who will be covering the Olympics. Our usual basketball, soccer, baseball, boxing and tennis writers will be writing about their respective sports from the States, and others at SI will chip in as well (including track and field reporter/social media influencer Chris Chavez).
I mentioned on Monday that this newsletter is a descendent of a podcast from 2016, so we’re bringing back one of our most popular running segments.
The issue: It’s fun to have squads to root for in the team sports that last the length of the Games. I assume most of my audience is American and will support Team USA wherever possible, so I’ll once again adopt teams for the sports in which the U.S. didn’t qualify.
Last time around there were four; this time we’ve added women’s field hockey to the mix. We are sticking with the name Quadrathlon, though. I suppose I could have gone with postmodern pentathlon, but let’s just stick with one of the few numerical prefixes you don’t find in the Olympic lexicon.
Stepping in as my opponent this year is SI’s Hot Clicks and wrestling expert Dan Gartland, whom I offered the chance to introduce himself:
Hello, Very Olympic Today readers. My name is Dan Gartland. I hope you recognize my name from reading my stuff on SI.com but if not, I promise I won’t stay mad for too long. I write the daily Hot Clicks column (bookmark this page to get the latest edition every weekday morning) and edit our pro wrestling coverage.
Dan is being modest. He is also a former Sports Jeopardy! champion!
We will track this throughout the Games, just to have a little more of a rooting interest and some teams to keep an eye on in these sports.
You don’t need us to pick teams to root for. There are perfectly good reasons to have an affinity for a team or country. Maybe you live there, or your ancestors are from there, or you took a great trip there, or they have fun uniforms or they had your favorite player when you were nine. All valid!
But you are also welcome to pick a side and root for #MitchQuad or #GartQuad.
Here are the rules. We both drafted one team in each of the five sports below. Favorites to win gold or silver (at this site) were deemed off-limits, forcing us to take at least a few underdogs.
Here are the sports, and the ineligible teams:
• Men’s soccer (France, Germany)
• Men’s handball (France, Denmark)
• Women’s handball (Netherlands, Norway)
• Men’s field hockey (Belgium, Netherlands)
• Women’s field hockey (Netherlands, Great Britain)
Here is the point system:
• 1 point for each win, 1/2 point for each draw
• 1 bonus point for a head-to-head win (our teams against each other)
• 3 bonus points for a gold, 2 for a silver, 1 for a bronze
This has been tweaked. Last time around my teams went 12-11-2 and Alex’s teams went 6-12-4 (with none of our teams winning any medals), but we tied because of a ridiculous scoring system that gave him five bonus points for his Netherlands women’s handball team’s win over my Brazilians in the quarterfinals. I’m definitely not bitter or anything. Please don’t say that I’m bitter; it just felt like a slight tweak was apt.
Below is our draft. #GartQuad got first pick after winning the coin toss, then I got double-two, then we alternated.
You definitely do not need our commentary on every pick, but I’m giving it to you anyway.
Pick 1 (DG): Sweden men’s handball
Sweden was the runner-up at the 2021 world championships, where goalkeeper Andreas Palicka made this amazing save.
Pick 2 (MG): Australia men’s field hockey
Oh no! Sweden’s men’s handball was No. 1 on my board, too. I’m already livid. I’ll take the Kookaburras. The country has a rich tradition in the sport, medaling in six straight Olympics before finishing sixth in Rio. And Group B seems easier.
Pick 3 (MG): Spain women’s handball
They were runners up at the 2019 world championships, and should be hungry after going 1-1-1 at the 2020 Euros.
Pick 4 (DG): India men’s field hockey
The regional powerhouse is currently ranked No. 4 in the world and has won 11 Olympic medals (eight gold), but none since 1980. A fun possible redemption story.
Pick 5 (MG): Australia women’s field hockey
Double Aussies! Adding the Hockeyroos (thank you for that heads up, Wikipedia). Again, they have a rich tradition, but no Olympic medals since back-to-back golds in 1996 and 2000.
Pick 6 (DG): Mexico men’s soccer
If the U.S. isn’t competing, I may as well pick the next closest country. Mexico’s team includes goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who had an impressive showing at the last World Cup and was selected for this squad as one of the over-age players.
Pick 7 (MG): Argentina men’s soccer
I think Brazil is the betting favorite, but I respect that you went further down the board, so I won’t take them either. Argentina is still good, and for reasons that probably date to a video game in the ’90s, I’ve pulled for them in years past.
Pick 8 (DG): Argentina women’s field hockey
The Argentine women (and their cool pink away uniforms) are ranked No. 2 in the world and will be out for revenge after seeing their streak of four consecutive medals end in 2016.
Pick 9 (MG): Norway men’s handball
I nearly took Portugal, in their first Olympic experience, but I cannot escape the lure of Scandinavia. So I’ll set up what could be a major rivalry, though Norway and Sweden are in opposite groups.
Pick 10 (DG): Russian Olympic Committee women’s handball
With my last pick, I’ll play the role of bad guy. Nobody wants to root for the Russians, but they did finish fourth in the most recent world championships.
Men's field hockey
Women's field hockey
And those are now our teams. You can publicly declare your allegiance if you wish.
Why should you root for me? Because you know me. You’re stuck with me for three weeks of this. You want me to be in a good mood. You … have come to like me? I hope?
Why should you root for Dan? Anarchy. Contrarianism. Because he got the Swedish men’s handball goalie.
Or, in his words:
Am I an expert on the Olympics? Absolutely not! And perhaps that’s why you should be pulling for me to defeat Mitch. Aren’t the Olympics all about those plucky underdogs? Why root for the guy who spends every ounce of his energy analyzing betting lines for most obscure Olympic events when you can root for a guy who made his picks based on 30 minutes of cursory Wikipedia research? That’s the Olympic spirit.
Well there you have it.
• Molly Geary listed the USWNT’s top threats to win gold.
• Pat Forde wrote Tuesday's Daily Cover on American Caeleb Dressel: The Swimming Machine.
• Emma Baccellieri wrote about Team USA legend Cat Osterman ahead of Team USA’s softball run.
• And the aforementioned Dan Gartland, in the aforementioned Hot Clicks column, dispelled the viral myth of “anti-sex beds” in the Olympic Village.
I’ve started getting some emails! I promised I’d answer them and I meant it. But this is getting quite long. Please keep sending me tweets, Facebook messages or emails, and I’ll get to some on Friday.
Thanks for reading.