Tokyo Olympics updates
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Djokovic begins quest for ‘Golden Slam’
Novak Djokovic embarks on his pursuit of the most ambitious achievement in tennis: winning all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold within a calendar year.
The world number-one men’s tennis player takes to Centre Court at Ariake Tennis Park on Saturday evening on the first full day of competition at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
This year, the Serbian has already won all three Grand Slams, the biggest annual tournaments in tennis, including the Australian and French Open as well as Wimbledon less than two weeks ago. He is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most career slam titles in the men’s competition at 20 apiece, and only committed to playing in Tokyo last week.
Driving that decision was his desire to complete a rare feat, the so-called Golden Slam, by adding an Olympic title. The feat has only been managed once, by German tennis legend Steffi Graf in 1988.
“I could not have better preparation or better lead-up to an Olympic Games than I’ve had this year”, Djokovic said Thursday, adding that he would take a day-by-day approach to competing in Tokyo. “It’s still a very long way to potential achievement, historic achievement”.
Djokovic meets 139th-ranked Hugo Dellien of Bolivia in the first round. Though both Federer and Nadal withdrew from the Tokyo Games with injuries, Djokovic’s path to gold could face challenges from fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev of Germany and fifth-ranked Andrey Rublev of the Russian delegation, both of whom share the Serbian’s side of the draw.
The tennis competition kicked off early on Saturday. It was scheduled to begin with local favourite Naomi Osaka in the first match of the Games, but Tokyo 2020 organisers asked for her contest to be moved to Sunday to give her more time for preparation after she lit the Olympic flame during Friday night’s opening ceremony.
A Djokovic run to victory in Tokyo could cement his status as the greatest player ever in men’s tennis; a US Open win in September would lift him to the all-time career Slam record. An Olympic gold remains the one prize missing from both his and Federer’s trophy cabinets. Nadal was victorious at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Djokovic holds a bronze medal from 2008, but lost to Argentine Juan-Martin Del Potro at both the London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, the latter a stunning first-round upset.
Asked about his lacklustre record at the Games, Djokovic alluded to Del Potro’s recent battles with injury and joked: “I am relieved that Juan is not here.”
The Serbian added that while he had not been in touch with Graf about the Golden Slam, “I would like to ask her how she did it.”
China’s Yang Qian earned the first gold medal in the Games, winning the women’s 10-metre air rifle shooting. The 21-year-old held off Anastasiia Galashina, representing the Russian Olympic Committee (Russia’s name, flag and anthem have been banned from the Games, a punishment handed down over Moscow’s involvement in manipulating doping data of its athletes). The bronze went to Nina Christen of Switzerland.
Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine withdrew from competition in the men’s 73kg division to avoid facing an Israeli competitor in the second round. The International Judo Federation said it would temporarily suspend Nourine and his coach for violating the sport’s non-discrimination policy, and called their statements to the media “in total opposition to the philosophy” of the organisation. It was the second time Nourine has dropped out of a contest to avoid facing the Israeli opponent, Tohar Butbul — he did so at the 2019 world championships, which were also held in Tokyo.
3×3 Basketball made its Olympic debut, with the top-ranked ROC women’s team beating hosts Japan 21-18 at Aomi Urban Sports Park. The three-on-three competition is designed to be a faster-paced alternative to traditional basketball, which features five players on each side. Matches last no longer than 10 minutes, and end when a team reaches 21 points. The event’s introduction to the Games, alongside other newcomers such as skateboarding and surfing, is part of an effort to attract younger audiences.
The men’s cycling road race began Saturday morning featuring many of the world’s best riders, including Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar, who last week won the Tour de France, the sport’s most prestigious race. Disregarding official advice, masked spectators lined the 234km route. The race concludes at the Fuji International Speedway, about two hours south-west of Tokyo, and will have 11,000 spectators in the stands as the ban on spectators in stadiums does not extend outside capital city.
Britain’s Adam Peaty starts his own journey towards a second Olympic gold medal tonight with heats for the 100m breaststroke. Peaty is the overwhelming favourite, as the world record holder with a time of 56.88 seconds. No other swimmer has even come within a second of that time.
Japan’s Kohei Uchimura failed to advance past the qualifying round in men’s gymnastics, ending a remarkable career for the two-time Olympic all-around champion. Uchimura, known as “King Kohei” in Japan, fell from the horizontal bar in the apparatus qualifying round, and will not compete for a medal in the event.
The Chinese consulate in New York criticised news channel NBC, the US Olympic broadcasting rights holder, for displaying an “incomplete” map of China during its coverage of the opening ceremony. NBC has agreed to pay $7.75bn for the exclusive media rights to the Games through 2032, including the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, making the network one of the largest contributing revenue sources to the International Olympic Committee.
Coronavirus continues to stalk the Games. Dutch rower Finn Florijn tested positive for Covid-19 and is out of the Olympics, making him the fourth member of the Netherlands’ delegation to be infected. German cyclist Simon Geschke was ruled out of the men’s road race after he also tested positive. “I feel fine physically but emotionally it’s a really terrible day for me,” he said.
On the podium
Among the highlights of Friday’s opening ceremony was a spectacular morphing globe formed of almost 2,000 drones flying in synchronisation above Tokyo’s National Stadium. The formation could be seen throughout the city. Some local press and bystanders captured the spectacle in action. See their footage here and here.
Click here for the FT’s alternative medals table which ranks nations not just on their medal haul, but also against how they should be performing against economic and geopolitical factors
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