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U.S. Water Polo Makes History in Opening Match at Tokyo Olympics

Plus more headlines from the first night of the Summer Games.

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We’re off and running! Well, no track yet. But we’re shooting, weightlifting and playing handball.

The Olympics began two days ago, but the Opening Ceremony makes it official. Many in the U.S. watched it live in the morning, others watched it on tape delay in the evening. Our Michael Rosenberg watched it from inside the stadium and wrote this: “Absent context, this was a gorgeous evening, but context does matter. … The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee put on a beautiful but doomed show.”

His points are valid, and I’ve written about conflicted feelings too. But there were some things to like in the ceremony.

Like human pictograms!

And a very good pianist. And some great outfits. But enough with “Imagine,” already.

Let’s move on to the sports.

While You Were Sleeping

Water polo

The highlight of the night for Team USA was the women’s water polo team’s absolute domination of Japan. For those who don’t know, this is one of the U.S.’s best teams in Tokyo. In addition to winning gold in London and Rio, the team has streaks of world titles in non-Olympic years.

Japan kept things tight early, evening the score at 3–3. The U.S. then finished on a 22–1 run to win by a final of 25–4.

According to USA Water Polo’s Twitter account, the team set Olympic records for goals in a game (25), margin of victory (21) and halftime score (14). Captain Maggie Steffens scored five goals, and was one of four players to score at least four.

The box score tells the story. They have more than enough good players and share the ball around very unselfishly. Not every game will look like this, but they are primed to go on another deep run.


Team USA ran its softball record to 3–0 with a 2–0 win over Mexico. Cat Osterman once again took the mound, and once again didn’t allow any runs. (Team USA still hasn’t allowed anyone to cross home, with three shutout wins by a combined score of 5–0.) After Osterman went six innings, Monica Abbott—who threw a one-hitter in Game 2—came in to close the seventh. The leadoff batter reached base on an error, bringing the tying run to the plate. Then she struck out the side to end things.

The team has not been clobbering opponents with laughable scores like it did the last time softball was an Olympic sport in 2008. That year it won all seven of its games by a combined score of 53–1. But the pitching has been spotless and the offense has done enough for now.

First medal

The first gold of Tokyo was awarded in the women’s 10m air rifle. I can’t say with any certainty that I’ve ever watched this sport before, and I’m not sure I would have had it not owned this distinction. But it made for a compelling watch, with eight competitors in the finals getting knocked out one at a time until the final winner was crowned. Team USA’s Mary Carolynn Tucker came in sixth. China’s Yang Qian won the first gold.

Remember that athletes will be putting medals around their own necks throughout these Olympics because of COVID. I am not allowed to tweet videos, but I shared some screenshots.

3x3 basketball

The first 3x3 game in Team USA Olympic history tipped off a little before 5 a.m. ET Saturday morning, and the team comfortably handled France 17–10. My first impression (I caught some of the China-Serbia men’s game earlier in the night) was just how intimate the venue looked. The seats are practically on top of the court. If fans were there, I’d expect the players to hear just about every word said to them—though it was quickly pointed out to me on Twitter that the constant music does help negate that.

I know 3x3 has grown in popularity the last few years (that is, of course, how it got in the Olympics), but I haven’t watched as much of the non-Olympic action as other basketball obsessives have. I can see the appeal. It moves very quickly. An offensive player can scoop the ball up after a made bucket, fire it out beyond the arc to start the next possession and get the ball right back. The half-court game also allows for a different camera angle than most full-court games. It still feels a little odd to see it in the Olympics, but it’s fun and I’m giving it a chance.

Archery and fencing losses

It was not all good news for Team USA on Day 1. Brady Ellison and Mackenzie Brown, the No. 2 seed in the new mixed team archery event, were upset by the No. 15 seed from Indonesia. They lost the first two sets, then won the next two to force a shootout in which all four archers shot just one arrow. They lost it, going down in an upset. Ellison is a three-time Olympic medalist and a 2019 world champion, but is still looking for his first Olympic gold. He did not take advantage of his new chance.

In fencing, 2016 silver medalist Daryl Homer lost his first bout. Eli Dershwitz won his first, then lost his second. If you’ve never watched fencing before, be prepared for a lot of shouting.


Last week, my colleague Dan Gartland and I drafted teams in five sports the U.S. didn’t qualify for. Even though my team is reeling from Argentina’s stunning loss to Australia in men’s soccer, it was nice to have a rooting interest last night in handball and on the gorgeous blue turf of the field hockey complex.

You are welcome to adopt my team’s (or Dan’s) and follow along in this Google Doc. We’re tied 2–2 thanks to Norway’s come-from-behind win over Brazil in men’s handball and Australia’s come-from-behind win over Japan in men’s field hockey. They had me sweating, but it was fun to have something on the line.

Snapshots from Tokyo

I want to give a shout out to SI’s photographers. They are the best. We’ll be sharing galleries of their best photos throughout the Olympics. For now, follow @SIfullframe on Instagram for shots like these.


What to Watch

Morning Leftovers

We’re trying to stay a day ahead on these, so you can plan for the following day. Given the time zones, we’ll be sending this in the morning before all of the previous day’s sports are completed. So here are some leftovers mentioned in yesterday’s newsletter happening early Saturday morning:

The USWNT has a big game against New Zealand at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

The first swimming action of the Olympics started early Saturday and runs until almost 8 a.m.

Saturday night and Sunday morning, all times ET.


Swimming! One of the Olympics’ signature sports will have medal events every night in prime time for the next week. Starting at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, we’ll see the men’s and women’s 400m IM, the men’s 400m freestyle and the women’s 4x100 freestyle relay. Here are Pat Forde’s medal predictions.

Shooting: Women’s 10m air pistol at 10:15 p.m. Saturday and men’s 10m air rifle at 2:30 a.m. Sunday

Skateboarding makes its Olympic debut, with the men’s street final starting at 11:25 p.m. Saturday. This is the style with stairs, railings and benches to do tricks on.

Cycling: The women’s road race starts at midnight (going into Sunday)

Diving: Women’s synchronized springboard finals are at 2:00 a.m. Sunday

Weightlifting: Men’s medals at 2:50 a.m. and 6:50 a.m.

Archery: Women’s team at 3:15 a.m. Sunday

Judo: Finals after 4:00 a.m. Sunday

Fencing: Women’s foil and men’s épée medal rounds starting at 6:50 a.m. Sunday

Taekwondo: Bronze medal bouts start at 7:30 a.m. Sunday

Team USA

Gymnastics: Women's qualification begins at 9 p.m. Saturday. Once more, here's Stephanie Apstein's profile of Simone Biles.

Beach volleyball: Two-time medalist April Ross and her new Olympic partner Alix Klineman start play at 8:00 p.m. Saturday. The men’s pairing of Jake Gibb and Tri Bourne play at 9 a.m. Sunday. Bourne is a replacement after Taylor Crabb tested positive for COVID-19.

Water polo: Team USA’s women dominated Japan, and now the men will play the host country at 1:00 a.m. Sunday.

3x3 basketball: The USA women play Romania at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, then the Russian Olympic Committee at 8:25 a.m.

Softball: Team USA looks to continue its undefeated run against Australia at 7 a.m. Sunday

Basketball: The men’s team plays its Olympic opener against France at 8:00 a.m. Sunday. The three guys who played in the NBA Finals on Tuesday night in Milwaukee (Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton) are expected to be available for the game.

Judo starts at 10 p.m. Saturday and runs all night. Angelica Delgado will compete for as long as she stays in the tournament. Same with Anastasija Zolotic in taekwondo, who starts at 11:48 p.m. Saturday.

Volleyball: The USA women play Argentina at 10:05 p.m. Saturday.

Boxing: Keyshawn Davis fights at 11:18 p.m. Saturday; Virginia Fuchs fights at 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

Badminton: Timothy Lam (men’s singles) and Beiwen Zhang (women’s singles), both at 5:00 a.m. Sunday

Tennis: There’s a lot of tennis! And we don’t have exact start times for most of the matches because that depends on earlier matches on the same courts. So here’s the full tennis schedule from, and I’ll be more specific as we get closer to the gold medal match. Is that O.K.? Cool.

Rowing, sailing and surfing are all slated to take place Saturday night, but I’d keep an eye on schedules do to a typhoon in the forecast.

SI’s Best

• Again, here’s Michael Rosenberg writing from the Opening Ceremony.

• I also recommend Michael’s story on sprinter Noah Lyles.

• Pat Forde’s swimming medal picks are a must-read preview.

• Pat also profiled Katie Ledecky.

• No one has commented yet on whether it’s a faux pas to include my own work in a section called “SI’s Best” but here’s my profile on Smooth Horse. You remember the viral sensation of 2016? He’s back with the same music … but a new horse!

• From preteens to sexagenarians, Dan Falkenheim wrote about the oldest and youngest athletes in Tokyo.

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Another big day ahead!

Thanks for reading and following along. You can keep your questions and comments for me coming on Twitter, Facebook or by email