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If you ask 10 people why they love the Olympics, I have a feeling eight or nine would say because of stuff like we saw on Wednesday night. Caeleb Dressel—whom our Pat Forde billed before the Olympics as The Swimming Machine and the heir to Michael Phelps—won his first individual gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle. That led to this reaction:
And this video of his family:
NBC had a camera with the Dressel fam, so they connected everyone on live TV. I don’t know if the full interview is posted online yet, but this look says it all.
And you can certainly feel this quote:
We’ve become accustomed over the years to NBC’s turning the Olympics into a parade of feature stories—tearjerkers and heart-warming tales and stories of overcoming adversity—that help fans get invested in athletes most sports fans hear about for only a relatively short period of time. That pace accelerates with photos of Dressel in floaties, the video on Tuesday night of Regan Smith’s childhood coach’s discovery in real time that she was a great swimmer or the piece on Suni Lee and her dad.
We also knew these Olympics would be strange, without fans or family poolside. But the idea of having TV cameras back home and connected to a main event through live chat has become normalized at every event from the NFL draft to the Emmys, so it’s no surprise NBC has found ways to pump emotion into each night.
To be honest, I was worried on Day 1. It felt a bit invasive to take what would be a private moment and insert a national audience into it. It’s one thing to watch an athlete embrace their family in the arena. It’s another to hear the dialogue. But the Dressels were willing participants (it seems), and I think that’ll be one of the main things people remember when they think of the swimming in Tokyo. It won’t be the last moment like that in these Olympics—which makes sense, because I think that’s what people want.
While we’re on the subject of NBC, I want to offer some praise for another noteworthy addition to the telecast since Rio: the meters-per-second graphic behind the swimmers. In this era, when we see Statcast data during MLB broadcasts and all kinds of sprint speeds and yards covered during NFL games, it makes sense to offer more information where they can. It doesn’t feel too obtrusive because it’s behind the swimmers, and I think it adds to the coverage.
I expressed this opinion Tuesday on Twitter and someone replied to me with a TikTok video in which someone explained a bunch of reasons they don’t like it. But I stand by my original point (I actually haven’t seen too many people talking about it, so I’m not sure if this has become a polarizing topic), and I thought Bobby Finke’s 800-meter freestyle was a perfect example of why.
This was another great race, by the way, in a night full of them. Last but not least was the women’s 4 x 200-meter relay, which featured three different countries breaking the world record, and Katie Ledecky’s throwing down a monster anchor leg to overtake the favored Australians and claim a silver medal behind China. It was really a great night in the pool.
One final swimming note: Before the Olympics, I passed along Pat Forde’s story about his daughter’s making the Olympic team. That 4 x 200 was her event. She swam in a heat earlier Wednesday morning, leading to the photo below. She did not swim in the final, but she won a silver medal for being part of the relay team. Congrats, Fordes! (I’m sure Pat will have more to say about that at some point!)
While You Were Sleeping
As expected, there have been COVID-19 updates every day. An AP headline in the 4 a.m. ET hour: Tokyo Officials Alarmed as COVID-19 Cases Hit Record Highs During Olympics. And 24 people linked to the Olympics, including three athletes, reportedly tested positive.
Also overnight, American pole vaulter Sam Kendrick tested positive, pulling him out of the Olympics. Kendrick won bronze in Rio, and had a viral moment when he stopped mid-run during a qualifying round because he heard the national anthem playing.
After Kendrick tested positive, the entire 63-person Australian track and field team went into isolation. They were later cleared to resume normal activity.
The women’s rugby tournament is now underway, and Team USA started off with a pair of wins on the first day. The U.S. fell behind China 7–0, but then a couple of long runs for tries by Kristi Kirshe—including one with a massive stiff-arm that would make Derrick Henry proud—helped them build a 28–7 lead and cruise to a win. In the second game, the team jumped up 17–0 on Japan and coasted to a 17–7 win.
I have waxed on already this week about how much I love rugby sevens, so I won’t spend too much time giving you the hard sell now. But it’s one of my favorite sports to watch, and the U.S. women have a legitimate shot at a medal. They have one more game in pool play and have already clinched a spot in the quarterfinals in the early morning hours Friday. It’s worth tuning in. The tournament, like the games themselves, is quick.
I have tried my best to avoid typos on the schedule, but my 3 a.m. brain did mess up the golf yesterday. For future reference, the men’s tournament will start at 6:30 p.m. ET the next three days for rounds two through four.
Austrian Sepp Straka, No. 161 in the world rankings, is the surprise leader through Day 1 at -8. But the golf story I really want to pass along is this wild bit of stakes for South Korean golfers Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim. It turns out an Olympic medal is their only ticket out of two-year mandatory military service. Kim is -3 and Im is -1 after the first round.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more enthralled by a fencing match than I was by the women’s team foil semifinals in the 1 a.m. ET hour on Thursday. The event had piqued my interest in advance because I enjoyed watching Team USA’s Lee Kiefer win individual gold earlier in the week.
The team format is fun. Each side has three fencers (plus subs sometimes, but let’s not worry about that now) and you play round-robin against the other side for a total of nine bouts, trying to reach 45 cumulative touches. There is strategy on who goes when, but there’s no way to hide any weak links on the team. The U.S. played ROC in the semis, pitting the two teams that have won the most recent world championships against each other. Team USA fell behind early, led for most of the match and gave it back late. In the final bout, Kiefer faced off against Inna Deriglazova, whom she beat in the individual gold-medal bout. The Russian held her lead and sent her team on to the finals.
The U.S. then lost to Italy in the match for bronze.
Speaking of hard-luck losses, the U.S. men’s water polo team jumped out to a 4–0 lead against Italy, led most of the way and then lost 12–11. Italy won the 2019 world championship, so that would have been a very nice win. The U.S. drops to 2–1 on the tournament, so the team will still advance out of group play.
Snapshots from Tokyo
Another day, another photo gallery from our awesome photographers in Tokyo.
What to Watch
Thursday night and Friday morning, all times ET.
Rowing: Finals races start at 8:33 p.m. Thursday. The events are women’s single skulls, men’s single skulls, women’s eight, men’s eight. The U.S. is going for its fourth straight Olympic gold, though its 11-year winning streak has ended since Rio. That race is at 9:05 p.m. Thursday.
Swimming: Another full slate starting at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Finals include: Women’s 200-meter breaststroke, men’s 200-meter backstroke, women’s 100-meter free, men’s 200-meter IM.
Badminton: Mixed doubles bronze at 9:30 p.m. Thursday and mixed doubles gold at 2:30 a.m. Friday
Cycling: The men’s BMX final is at 10:40 p.m. Thursday, followed by the women’s final right after. I know I say this about way too many sports, but this is another fun watch. It’s the one where they race down hills and get airborne.
Shooting: Women’s 25m pistol at 1:00 a.m. Friday
Trampoline: It’s here! The trampoline is one of the shortest events in the Olympics. Women’s qualification starts at midnight with finals at 1:50 a.m. Friday. They jump on a trampoline and do 10 tricks in a row. What else are you doing at that hour?
Canoe: The men’s kayak slalom final is at 3:00 a.m. Friday. It’s the final chance to see the slalom! After this, all canoeing/kayaking is on flat water.
Archery: Women’s individual medals starting at 3:30 a.m. Friday. USA’s Mackenzie Brown is alive in the bracket, with her first match at 8:43 p.m.
Fencing: Men’s épée team medal bouts start at 5:30 a.m. Friday.
Judo: Medals matches will start around 5:30 a.m. (USA’s Nina Cutro-Kelly, who made her first Olympics at age 36, is in the bracket)
Table tennis: Men’s singles medal matches start at 7:00 a.m.
Track and Field: The whole track and field program starts on Thursday, but the only medal race on the first day is the men’s 10,000-meters at 7:30 a.m. Friday. (That’s a 10K, which is 6.2 miles.)
Golf: The second round starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Remember there is no cut after Day 2 like in most golf tourneys.
Track and field: There will be a whole evening of events starting at 8:00 p.m. Thursday and lasting until midnight. The action starts with a good one: the women’s 100-meter heats.
Beach volleyball: April Ross and Alix Klineman are back in action against the Netherlands at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Rugby: The U.S. women play Australia at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. They’ll have a quarterfinal at time TBD between 4:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Friday.
Volleyball: The U.S. men play against Brazil at 10:05 p.m.
Boxing: Rashida Ellis fights Great Britain’s Caroline Dubois at 10:30 p.m. Thursday
Sailing: Multiple races take place overnight, starting with the women’s one person dinghy at 11:05 p.m. Thursday.
Basketball: The U.S. women play against Japan at 12:40 a.m. Friday.
Diving: The women’s 3m springboard prelims start at 2:00 a.m. Friday
Water polo: The U.S. women look to rebound from their first Olympic loss since 2008 with a game against the ROC at 2:30 a.m. Friday
Baseball: Team USA’s first baseball game comes against Israel at 6:00 a.m. Friday
Boxing: Oshae Jones fights the Dominican Republic’s Maria Altagracia Moronta Hernandez at 5:03 a.m. Friday and Delante Johnson fights Cuba’s Roniel Iglesias at 5:36 a.m. Friday.
Swimming: In addition to the finals Thursday night, there will be another slate of prelims starting at 6:00 a.m. Friday morning
Soccer: The USWNT plays its quarterfinal game against the Netherlands at 7:00 a.m. Friday in a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final
Beach volleyball: Jake Gibb and Tri Bourne play Qatar at 9 a.m. Friday.
Caz’s Medal Picks
Every day Brian Cazeneuve will give us a few medal predictions for some upcoming events.
Track and field, men’s 10,000 meters
Gold: Joshua Cheptegei (Uganda)
Silver: Yomif Kejelcha (Ethiopia)
Bronze: Jacob Kiplimo (Uganda)
Kenyans Rhonex Kipruto or Rodgers Kwemoi could also be in the mix, though their toughest foe could be the Tokyo heat. Cheptegei holds world records in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters.
Table Tennis, men’s singles
Gold: Ma Long (China)
Silver: Fan Zhendong (China)
Bronze: Lin Yun Ju (Taiwan)
Starting in March 2015, Ma held the world No. 1 ranking for 34 straight months, the longest reign in history.
Rowing, men’s single sculls
Gold: Sverri Nielsen (Denmark)
Silver: Stefanos Ntouskos (Greece)
Bronze: Kjetil Borch, Norway
Nielsen began his career on wooden boats in the Faroe Islands. German favorite Oliver Zeidler was eliminated in the semifinals.
Rowing, women’s eights
Gold: New Zealand
The U.S. women are three-time defending champions and have won medals at four straight Olympics.
• I shared this yesterday, but you’re gonna want to bookmark Chris Chavez’s full track and field preview.
• Here’s Michael Rosenberg from the pool on Caeleb Dressel and Bobby Finke.
• Greg Bishop on native Hawaiian Carissa Moore and the aloha spirit in her surfing gold.
• And Greg went to the women’s 3x3 gold-medal game, which Team USA won.
• Stephanie Apstein on boxer Virginia Fuchs, and how her daily fight against OCD prepares her for the ring.
• Will Simone Biles return to competition in Tokyo? Stephanie has plenty of context on the situation.
We’re almost through to the middle weekend. Swimming is giving way to track and field, the Olympics roll on.
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