Very Olympic Today is SI’s daily Olympics newsletter. You can receive each issue for free in your inbox by subscribing here. To continue reading the newsletter at SI.com every day, along with the rest of our Olympics coverage, readers can subscribe to SI.com here.
There were many conversations to be had after Simone Biles pulled herself from the team final on Tuesday. Not surprisingly, it was the dominant topic in the sports world the last 24 hours, with athletes in multiple sports weighing in and many people who wouldn’t normally opine on gymnastics sharing their opinions. That conversation about athletes and their mental health will continue long after these Olympics are over.
The news also led to some pressing questions for the short term, with the Olympic gymnastics competition still ongoing in Tokyo. One of those questions—whether Biles would compete in the individual all-around—was answered in the middle of the night (U.S. time) on Wednesday. USA Gymnastics released a statement after 2 a.m. ET saying that she wouldn’t, while also pledging support and praising Biles’s courage, an important message for many people to hear.
When I previewed every Olympic sport before the Games began, I wrote that one of the biggest story lines of the Olympics was Biles’s pursuit of history in the all-around. Winning another title would have made her the first gymnast since Věra Čáslavská in 1968 to repeat as Olympic champion. Now we know she won’t.
The Tokyo Olympics will probably always be remembered for Biles’s decision not to compete, but someone is still going to be a champion at these Games—and the field is now much more wide open.
The U.S. will be represented by Suni Lee, who finished second on the team in qualifying, and Jade Carey, who finished third and will replace Biles.
We’ve been dishing Brian Cazeneuve’s medal picks in the last few newsletters, and he now has Lee winning silver. If the U.S. can win this medal for a fifth straight Olympics, it would likely be the 18-year-old Lee. Carey, 21, was superb during qualifications, and one of the most dramatic moments of that night was seeing if she could take Lee’s spot in the event. Now they both get in, and it’s the opportunity of a lifetime for each of them.
Millions of people across the globe were looking forward to watching Biles, but we’re still going to watch elite athletes at the top of their sport with the chance of a lifetime. In one case, a chance Carey didn’t even know she’d have 48 hours ago.
It will still be a compelling event, even without the Olympics’ most compelling figure.
Tuesday was a night of mixed results for the U.S. in the pool. The good: A pair of 19-year-old college teammates, Alex Walsh and Katie Douglas, won silver and bronze in the 200-meter IM. The bad: The men failed to medal in the 4x200 relay, an event they owned when they had a certain Michael Phelps swimming one of the four legs. It was the first time in Olympic history a U.S. team failed to make the podium in a relay. NBC’s Nick Zaccardi put them at 94 straight until this one. Pat Forde has a column on the complicated decision to leave Caeleb Dressel off the relay team.
And of course, Katie Ledecky makes headlines in everything she does. In this case, it was her missing the podium with a fifth-place finish in the 200-meter free, an event she won in Rio 2016. It was not surprising to see Australian Ariarne Titmus win gold here, especially after she beat Ledecky earlier in the week. But it was surprising to see several others in front of Ledecky. It was still a historic night for the biggest star of USA Swimming. Ledecky won gold in the first ever Olympic women’s 1,500-meters. For those who haven’t followed the story, the men have swum the 1,500 in the Olympics since forever, and the women have in world championships and other meets below the Olympic level, but it was finally implemented into the Olympic program for Tokyo. Ledecky owns the 13 best times in the world at this distance and would likely have two more golds if this was an Olympic event during her whole career.
It’s impossible for me to say if she would have been able to win a medal in the 200 if it hadn’t been on the same night as the 1,500, which created a grueling schedule in both the heats and the finals, but it’s worth noting that the men’s schedule is built differently. Here’s a good breakdown from FTW’s Michelle Martinelli from before the Olympics.
One final note: Ledecky’s performance in Rio only looks more incredible in hindsight.
By now you have probably already seen that the U.S. softball team lost its gold medal game against Japan, which was in progress when Tuesday morning’s newsletter went out. Michael Rosenberg wrote from the game that softball proved it belongs in the Olympics, and I agree 100%. It was a fun tourney, and the U.S.’s slew of close games shows the world has caught up since Team USA’s dominance was one reason the sport was dropped.
Softball appealed to the IOC to be restored for the 2024 Olympics, and I hope it works out. I also would love to see it played in a different stadium from baseball so it can run for longer. The sport started on day -2 and finished on Day 4. They should be able to add more games like some other sports have.
While You Were Sleeping
USA men’s basketball recovered from an opening loss to France, albeit against a lesser opponent, with a 120–66 demolition of Iran. The team made changes right away, with Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday inserted into the starting lineup in place of Draymond Green and. Booker and Holiday are two of the three players who joined the team late after playing in the NBA Finals, so it makes sense they are now able to get more involved.
Damian Lillard was the star in this one, hitting six threes in the first half as the U.S. raced out to a 60–30 lead at the break. We’ll have to see the result against better competition before anyone truly breathes a sigh of relief, but it has to feel good for the team to get back on track with a game like this.
Speaking of teams recovering from losses, the U.S. women’s 3x3 team fought off France to clinch a spot on the podium and earn a berth in the gold-medal game. It was close throughout, and France tied the game in the final minute, but the U.S. took care of business and finished them off 18-16. The team will play against Russia in the final at 8:55 a.m. ET Wednesday.
I wrote plenty on the U.S. women’s water polo team after its historic win on Day 1. The team had cruised through the last two Olympics unbeaten and hadn’t lost since the 2008 gold medal game, but that streak ended overnight against Hungary.
This was a hard-fought game throughout, from a 5-5 halftime tie to the 10-9 final score. Goalie Ashleigh Johnson had nine saves and looked to be the MVP of the game for a while, but let in one too many in the end. State of the game: The U.S. was just 4-for-11 on power plays, while Hungary was 3-for-5.
The loss doesn’t really affect the team’s pursuit of a medal, as both teams will advance out of group play and into the quarterfinals. But it affects seeding and proves to the rest of the world that the U.S. can be beaten.
Passing along a few more unusual stories. Dutch cycling medalist Anna van der Breggen was pulled from her bike by a security guard during a recon of the course. Oops.
Great Britain had won five straight rowing gold medals in coxless fours, a streak dating back to Sydney in 2000. But their race this time around ended with the team apologizing to Italy after a steering issue nearly caused a crash and cost them a medal.
Snapshots from Tokyo
Have you been keeping up without photographers on the ground? Here’s our latest gallery with more great shots.
What to Watch
Wednesday night and Thursday morning, all times ET.
Swimming: Another full slate starts at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Gold medal races include the men’s 800-meter free, men’s 200-meter breaststroke, women’s 200-meter fly, men’s 100-meter free and women’s 4x200-meter free.
Gymnastics: The women’s all-around final is at 6:50 a.m. ET Thursday. With Simone Biles out, Suni Lee and Jade Carey will compete for the U.S.
Rowing: Men’s and women’s pair finals at 8:18 p.m. Wednesday, followed by lightweight men’s and women’s double skulls at 8:50 p.m.
Shooting: Women’s trap final at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, followed by men’s trap final an hour later.
Canoe/kayak: The women’s canoe final is at 2:55 a.m. Thursday
Fencing: The women’s foil team medal matches start at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. The U.S. team includes Lee Kiefer, who won individual gold earlier in the Olympics.
Judo: Matches overnight, with the finals around 5:30 a.m. Thursday. The U.S.’s Nefeli Papadakis is in the bracket.
Table tennis: Women’s singles medal matches (time weirdly not listed yet on the official schedule)
Beach volleyball: Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil play at 8:00 p.m. against Kenya. They are 1–0 so far.
Rugby: The U.S. women start their pursuit of a medal against China at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday, then play Japan at 5:00 a.m. Thursday. Here’s my Q&A with Alev Kelter to get you up to speed.
Cycling: Men’s and women’s BMX starts at 9:00 p.m.
Beach volleyball: Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser play at 10:00 p.m. against Argentina. It’s a big match, given their 1–1 start.
Sailing: All kinds of sailing overnight, starting with the women’s two-person dinghy at 11:05 p.m. Wednesday
Water polo: USA men vs. Italy at 1:00 a.m. Thursday
Archery: Specific matchups and times still to be finalized
Golf: Our first golf action of the Olympics, with the men’s tournament starting 4:30 a.m. Thursday. I saw golfers were raving about the course once they saw it.
Boxing: Troy Isley against ROC’s Gleb Baskshi at 4:48 a.m. Thursday
Boxing: Richard Torrez against Algeria’s Chouaib Bouloudinats at 5:03 a.m. Thursday
Swimming returns in the morning with a session at 6:00 a.m. Thursday. Katie Ledecky will swim an 800-meter freestyle heat.
Boxing: Virginia Fuchs against Bulgaria’s Stoyka Zhelyazkova Krasteva at 6:39 a.m. Thursday
Volleyball: USA women vs. Turkey at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday
Caz’s Medal Picks
Every day Brian Cazeneuve will give us a few medal predictions for some upcoming events.
Gymnastics, women’s all-around
Gold: Angelina Melnikova (ROC)
Silver: Sunisa Lee (U.S.)
Bronze: Rebeca Andrade (Brazil)
Andrade has torn an ACL three times. She posted the second-best all-around score in the qualifying round. Jade Carey will replace Simone Biles as the second U.S. gymnast.
Rowing, men’s pair
Gold: Martin Sinkovic and Valent Sinkovic (Croatia)
Silver: Marius Cozmiuc and Ciprian Tudosa (Romania)
Bronze: Frederic Vystavel and Joachim Sutton (Denmark)
Valent, 32, and Martin, 31, are brothers. They won gold together in Rio.
Rowing, women’s pair
Gold: Grace Pendergrast and Kerri Gowler, (New Zealand)
Silver: Jessica Morrison and Annabelle McIntyre (Australia)
Bronze: Maria Kyridou and Christina Ioanna Bourmpou (Greece)
Prendergast, 29, and Gowler, 27, won four world titles and six world medals, but none at the Olympics.
Table tennis, women’s singles
Gold: Chen Meng (China)
Silver: Mima Ito (Japan)
Bronze: Sun Yingsha (China)
Chinese women’s singles players have won gold in every one of the eight Olympics in which table tennis has been contested.
• Stephanie Apstein on Simone Biles and the story of the day.
• Pat Forde on an emotional night for Katie Ledecky.
• As mentioned above, Pat on the decision to leave Caeleb Dressel off the 4x200 relay.
• Michael Rosenberg on Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and a new era in athletes prioritizing mental health.
• And Michael in defense of Olympic softball.
• Chris Chavez previewed every event in track and field.
• Greg Bishop on boxer Richard Torrez Jr., hoping to build on his father’s legacy.
• Mark Bechtel on the rich history of fencing: When Olympic fencers were swashbuckling badasses.
The Olympics always seem to move fast, don’t they? We are now 100% done watching taekwondo, softball, surfing and 3x3 basketball. More sports will be finishing things up every day, though a handful more will be starting up soon. We’ll have it all covered right here.
Thanks for reading.