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In the early morning hours on Friday, Simone Biles took to Instagram, posting a series of training videos and answering questions from fans. Here are the videos, before they disappear, preserved by Defector writer and friend of the newsletter Kalyn Kahler:
“For anyone saying I quit, I didn’t quit," she wrote on one video. "My mind and body aren’t in sync … as you can see here." Biles went on to explain how she was feeling, and that it started happening when it was too late for an alternate. She says a gym in Tokyo has given her access to the equipment she’s using in the videos. She’s practicing on soft mats, trying to get herself right.
SI’s Madeline Coleman writes that Biles doesn’t owe anyone an explanation, but the explanation she has offered is very interesting and informative. I honestly think I’ve learned more about gymnastics in the last three days, from the many experienced gymnasts who have spoken up regarding “the twisties” and what she is facing, and from others who are informed and have had thoughtful commentary, than I have from entire Olympics’ worth of watching routines and listening to the broadcasts. Longtime SI writer Tim Layden tweeted earlier in the day: “Gymnastics plays differently for me now in the wake of Biles’ exit. More respect for the challenges and danger, which the best make look so easy.” I agree with Tim 100%.
Biles’s decision to pull out of the team competition was instantly polarizing, met with both a ton of support and plenty of criticism. A lot of that criticism was bad-faith and performative, but I’m sure some was earnest. If your gut instinct was to fall in the latter camp, I hope you’ve at least since learned about why it would have been so dangerous for her to compete, how she was trying to avoid hurting the team’s score and what she’s been going through.
And here’s Stephanie Apstein’s story on Suni Lee, who won gold in the individual all-around in Biles’s absence.
We’ll start with the nice story. South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker set a world record in the 200-meter breaststroke, the first medal race on Thursday night (U.S. time), with the U.S.’s Lilly King and Annie Lazor coming in next for silver and bronze. That led to this cool moment, with all of them celebrating in the pool after the race:
Remember King won two gold medals in Rio and made headlines for her finger-wagging. She remains confident, unafraid to speak her mind and a great quote. After the race, on the topic of Americans downplaying medals that aren’t gold, she said: “Pardon my French, but the fact that we’re not able to celebrate silver and bronze is bulls---.”
We’ll excuse the French, Lilly!
Elsewhere, we got another spicy quote from Ryan Murphy, the U.S.’s silver medalist in the backstroke, who answered questions pretty matter-of-factly about Russian athletes still competing at the Olympics as “ROC” despite the country’s ban for widespread doping.
I’d encourage you to read Pat Forde’s story, with the full scene and the reaction of the international media within earshot of the exchange. “It is what it is,” Murphy said. “I try not to get caught up in that. It is a huge mental drain on me to go throughout the year knowing that I’m in a race that probably isn’t clean.” Though he later added: “To be clear, my intention is not to make any allegations here. Congratulations to Evgeny, congratulations to Luke. They’re both great swimmers who work very hard.”
And a third story from the pool: The U.S.’s Michael Andrew, who was outspoken before the Olympics about his decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine (which, unsurprisingly, sparked controversy) didn’t wear a mask when meeting with the media after the race. USA Today’s Christine Brennan wrote about the scene, noting that every other U.S. swimmer has worn a mask when meeting with journalists in the venue. The USOPC told Brennan: “Not wearing a mask is a violation of the COVID mitigation protocols put in place by both the USOPC and TOCOG [the Tokyo Olympic organizers]—protocols we have been adamant in following as a delegation. We are currently reviewing this matter with the National Governing Body and will take action as needed.” From her story, Andrew said it was hard to breathe in a mask after the race, despite the fact that every other swimmer has been able to. (Brennan later updated her story, because a few hours later the USOPC changed course and said he didn’t have to wear the mask during interviews.)
Andrew was speaking on Thursday night after finishing fifth in the 200-meter IM. Beyond his opinions about the vaccine and COVID-19 protocols, he has made headlines for his atypical training methods and strategies in the pool, as detailed well in the Washington Post here. In the 200 IM, he took it out as hard as could and led the field going into the freestyle on the final lap—then he ran out of gas and gave way to four other swimmers. He is slated to be back in the pool for the 50-meter free.
While You Were Sleeping
Some updates for those of you who went to sleep (or were distracted by the NBA draft or the MLB trade deadline).
I wrote yesterday about the BMX race, which is fun to watch as the riders get airborne racing up and down hills and around curves. We saw just how scary it can be, with the U.S.’s defending champion Connor Fields going down in a scary crash in the semifinals and being taken out on a stretcher. Greg Bishop was there, and has more details on the crash and his family’s response to watching it all unfold.
Fields was alert and answering questions at the hospital. I’m sure we’ll get more updates throughout the Olympics.
If you were wondering how the U.S. women’s water polo team would respond to its first Olympic loss since the 2008 gold-medal game, the answer was by absolutely trouncing the ROC. The team scored early and often, en route to a 18–5 win. Team captain Maggie Steffens, in her third Olympics, set the all-time career scoring record. I spoke to her about breaking that mark (and other topics like training outdoors during the pandemic) before she got to Tokyo.
Novak Djokovic’s bid for the Golden Slam is over. He looked to be cruising early against German Alexander Zverev, but Zverev just blitzed him from the middle of the second set on, taking the match 1–6, 6–3, 6–1.
A reminder of the stakes: Djokovic was trying to become the first men’s player to win all four grand slam events and the Olympics in a single calendar year. (On the women’s side, Steffi Graf did it in 1988.) It was his first loss on hard court all year. He can still win a medal, because he is in the semifinals of the mixed doubles tournament.
On the women’s side, the gold medal comes down to Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic against the Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova (who, you may remember, knocked Naomi Osaka out of the tournament).
Two Americans had a chance to medal in doubles, but Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren lost to a pair from New Zealand in the bronze medal match.
The U.S. women got off to a perfect start to the tournament, winning three games to go undefeated in group play. That included their first game Thursday in Tokyo, a 14–12 win over the defending Olympic champs, Australia. The U.S. fell behind 12–0 and just couldn’t seem to find space for any of the long runs they had the day before. But the defense held strong and they gritted out a win that gave them better seeding in the quarterfinals.
Unfortunately, they ran into a buzzsaw in Great Britain and fell behind 21–0 before they could get on the board. They battled back to 21–12, though that final score came with no time left on the clock and the game out of reach. It’s a disappointing outcome for a team that had real medal hopes to be bounced short of the semis. They will play two more games on the final day, competing for fifth through eighth place. That mirrors what the team did in 2016, when it battled back from a loss in the quarterfinals for a fifth-place finish.
The U.S. women’s eight’s dynasty is officially over. The squad had gone undefeated for more than a decade, but saw that streak snapped at the 2017 world championships. It still held three straight Olympic crowns—until a fourth-place finish on Thursday night.
Canada, New Zealand and China took away medals. The U.S. got off to a start that put the boat outside the top three, and wasn’t able to make up the ground. Watching that race definitely gave me an appreciation for the energy it requires, especially the reaction after the race when a bunch of rowers basically collapsed onto each other in a line in their boat.
Japan gave the U.S. women’s team a bit of a scare, at least in the first half, holding a 33–32 lead with about 7 minutes left in the second quarter. It would have been a second upset for the country that also beat the U.S.’s gold-winning 3x3 team in group play. But the U.S. pulled in front soon after and spent most of the second half up 10 to 15 points and won by a final of 86–69.
Snapshots from Tokyo
Check out our latest photo gallery from our photographers on the ground at the Olympics.
What to Watch
Friday night and Saturday morning, all times ET.
Swimming: The penultimate night of indoor swimming starts at 9:30 p.m. Friday. Medal races are the men’s 100-meter butterfly, women’s 200-meter back, women’s 800-meter free (Katie Ledecky) and the mixed 4 x 100-meter medley.
Shooting: The trap team medals start at 12:30 a.m. Saturday and the women’s 50-meter rifle starts at 3:00 a.m. Saturday.
Sailing: The women’s and men’s windsurfing medals start at 1:33 a.m. Saturday.
Trampoline: The men’s action arrives on the second and final night of trampoline, starting with qualifications at midnight and the final at 1:50 a.m. Saturday.
Tennis: Get ready for five medal matches, starting at 2:00 a.m. Saturday. It starts with Men’s singles bronze and women’s doubles bronze, followed by women’s singles bronze, mixed doubles bronze and finally women’s singles gold.
Weightlifting: After a two-day break, weightlifting returns with more medals awarded at 2:50 a.m. Saturday and 6:50 a.m. Saturday.
Archery: Men’s individual medal matches start at 3:30 a.m. Saturday. Before we get there, two Americans will face each other in the round of 16 at 10:01 p.m. Brady Ellison, the No. 2 seed in the bracket, will face No. 47 Jacob Wukie. It seems a little unfortunate they are meeting here, but that’s what happens when multiple archers from the same country are seeded. Wukie got here by upsetting No. 18 and No. 15. Now we’re guaranteed an American will advance to the quarterfinals.
Judo: The mixed team finals will be in the 4:00 a.m. Saturday session.
Triathlon: The new mixed relay triathlon starts at 4:30 a.m. Saturday.
Rugby: The women’s bronze medal game is at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by gold at 5:00 a.m.
Badminton: Men’s doubles gold will be won in the 5:00 a.m. Saturday session.
Fencing: Women’s sabre team medal events start at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. (Mariel Zagunis headlines the U.S. team.)
Track and field: Medal events are in the Saturday morning session that starts at 6:10 a.m. Those events are men’s discus, mixed 4 x 400-meter relay and women’s 100-meter final.
Golf: Round 3 of the men’s tournament starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Beach volleyball: Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil vs. Brazil at 8:00 p.m. Friday.
Track and field: Full session starting at 8:00 p.m. Friday, including sprinting, hurdling and pole vaulting.
Cycling: BMX freestyle begins at 9:10 p.m. Friday.
Rugby: The U.S. women will play China at 9:30 p.m. Friday and then have a second game in the middle of the night for either fifth place or seventh.
Volleyball: USA women vs. ROC at 10:05 p.m.
Boxing: Keyshawn Davis vs. France’s Sofiane Oumiha at 11:03 p.m.
Water polo: USA men vs. Hungary at 1:00 a.m. Saturday.
Diving: Women’s springboard starts at 2:00 a.m. Saturday.
Baseball: Team USA plays against South Korea at 6:00 a.m. Saturday.
Basketball: USA men vs. Czech Republic at 8:00 a.m. Saturday.
Caz’s Medal Picks
Every day Brian Cazeneuve will give us a few medal predictions for some upcoming events.
Archery, men’s individual
Gold: Kim Woo-jin (South Korea)
Silver: Mauro Nespoli (Italy)
Bronze: Brady Ellison (U.S.)
The reigning world champion and a three-time Olympic medalist, Ellison–or better yet, bulls-eyes–his first Olympic gold.
Badminton, men’s doubles
Gold: Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen (China)
Silver: Mohammad Ashan and Hendra Setiawan (Taiwan)
Bronze: Aaron Chia and Wooi Yik Soh (Malaysia)
Twenty of the 22 medalists and all seven gold medalists in the event have come from Asia.
Rugby sevens women
Gold: New Zealand
Bronze: Great Britain
The Kiwis won the World Rugby Series Sevens in 2019. With just two Olympic medals in its history, Fiji could sneak in for a third.
• Once again, Stephanie Apstein on Suni Lee, Olympic champion.
• And Pat Forde on the Russian doping scandal hanging over the pool.
• And Greg Bishop on the scary BMX crash.
• Greg also wrote about how the U.S. women’s water polo team copes with empty arenas.
• Michael Rosenberg on Olympic pressure, an arena without fans and Suni Lee.
• And Stephanie on a Cuban-born barefoot-trained fencer.
Happy Friday. Great day to get all caught up on everything here so you’re ready to binge watch with me all weekend.
Thanks for reading.