Olympics 2021 Dwell Updates: Workforce USA Softball vs. Italy

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Japanese and Australian players lined up before the first event of the Tokyo Olympics.

Here’s what you need to know:

Credit…Kazuhiro Fujihara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — The first competition of the Games began with a ball and ended with a home run.

Michelle Cox, the leadoff hitter for the Australian softball team, took a low pitch from Japan pitcher Yukiko Ueno in an empty stadium in Fukushima on Wednesday in the first competitive act of the Tokyo Olympics.

The pitch — after a bit of pregame pageantry that included the introduction of several officials and dignitaries — officially kicked off an edition of the Games that was years in the making and one year delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

It was also the last offensive highlight for Australia. Japan responded with a run of its own in the bottom of the first, two in the third and three in the fourth. And when Yu Yamamoto hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, Japan’s lead was 8-1 and the mercy rule was invoked, ending the game.

The game, two days before the opening ceremony, was the first of three in softball and a half-dozen in soccer that saw the first athletes take the field in the Games. Japan and Australia got the honor of going first; their game at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium was to be followed by matchups involving the United States and Italy and between Mexico and Canada.

Later on Wednesday, six matches — including the United States’ opener against Sweden in Tokyo Stadium — were to open the women’s soccer tournament.

It is not uncommon for Olympic competition to begin before the opening ceremony, a consequence of a tight schedule and expanded tournaments that can require longer than the Games’ official 17-day window to complete.

Credit…Jorge Silva/Reuters

Cox, the first batter, made the most of her moment in the Olympic spotlight: She worked a full count against Ueno and then beat out an infield single back to the pitcher.

Ueno, Japan’s starter, had a rough inning. After giving up a single to Cox, she walked a batter and hit the next two with pitches. That allowed Cox to score the game’s — and the Games’ — first run.

But the hosts’ early nerves soon disappeared, and they steadily pulled away until, with one swing, Yamamoto sealed their victory.

Jamie Kermond was set to participate in the show jumping event in what would be his first Olympics appearance.Credit…Erik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

An equestrian athlete from Australia was provisionally suspended on Wednesday after testing positive for a metabolite of cocaine.

The rider, Jamie Kermond, was suspended by the Australian equestrian federation. He tested positive in late June, the federation said. The suspension is provisional while a second sample is tested. Should it also be positive, he would miss the Games.

Kermond, 36, was to participate in the show jumping event, both as an individual and part of the Australian team. This would have been his first Olympics appearance.

Kermond is not a top-ranked rider, and the Australian team is considered a long shot in an event likely to be dominated by Switzerland, Britain and a United States team that features Jessica Springsteen.

Alicja Tchorz, who represented Poland at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, was one of the six swimmers sent home.Credit…Tobias Schwarz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — Six Polish swimmers were sent home from the Olympics this week after the country’s swimming federation arrived in Japan with too many competitors.

Poland originally selected 23 swimmers for the Tokyo Games but had to trim its list to 17 based on world swimming’s qualifying rules. Since the team had already arrived in Japan, that meant the disqualified swimmers — who had been feted on their departure and had taken the Olympic oath — had to fly back to Warsaw on Sunday, only days before the opening ceremony.

One of the swimmers, Alicja Tchorz, expressed outrage at the fiasco in a Facebook post and demanded the resignation of the federation’s leadership.

“Imagine dedicating 5 years of your life and striving for another start at the most important sporting event,” wrote Tchorz, who swam for Poland at the 2012 and 2016 Games. “Giving up your private life and work, sacrificing your family, etc.”

Her frustrations were amplified, she said, upon learning “6 days before the grand finale, it turns out that you were denied your dreams because of the incompetence of third parties.”

In an interview after returning to Warsaw, she said she and her teammates were planning to file a lawsuit and demanding the removal of the officials responsible for the mistake. “The absolute minimum is the resignation of the board,” Tchorz said. “Any dignity requires it.”

The other swimmers informed they could not compete were identified in news reports and social media posts as Bartosz Piszczorowicz, Aleksandra Polanska, Mateusz Chowaniec, Dominika Kossakowska and Jan Holub.

A video shared on social media by a Polish journalist showed the swimmers who had been ordered to return home sharing hugs and saying goodbye to other members of the Polish delegation before their departure last weekend.

In a lengthy statement explaining the error, the president of Poland’s swimming federation, Pawel Slominski, expressed regret for the mistake but also attempted to assign some of the blame to swimming’s qualifying rules and to Poland’s Olympic committee.

“I express great regret, sadness and bitterness about the situation,” Slominski said in the statement. “Such a situation should not take place, and the reaction of the swimmers, their emotions, the attack on the Polish Swimming Federation is understandable to me and justified.”

On Instagram, Chowaniec railed against “the incompetent people” leading the swimming federation.

“I am deeply shocked by what happened and this is an absurd situation for me that should never have happened,” he wrote. “In fact, I hope to wake up from this NIGHTMARE eventually!”

Hector Velazquez, along with another teammate, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. They are asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the Mexican baseball federation said in a statement.Credit…Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Mexican national baseball team is in quarantine after two players tested positive for coronavirus ahead of traveling to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, Mexican baseball federation officials announced.

Hector Velazquez and Sammy Solis, both of whom are 32-year-old pitchers, were tested on Sunday in Mexico City as the team gathered to begin practice and were asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the federation said in a statement. As a result, national federation officials said practice on Monday was canceled and the rest of the team was quarantining in its hotel pending results from further testing.

Over the weekend, players and coaches reported to Mexico City and had begun training ahead of their departure to Japan. Mexico’s first game in the Olympics is scheduled for July 30, against the Dominican Republic, at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Solis and Velazquez — both former Major League Baseball players — play for the same team in Mexico’s top professional league.

“Honored and excited to announce that I will be representing #TeamMexico at the Olympics in #Tokyo2020!!!!,” Solis said earlier this month, when the Mexican team was announced. “Being named an Olympian is a lifelong dream! Time to chase that.”

The news was a blow for fifth-ranked Mexico, which had qualified for the first time for the Olympics in baseball, a sport making its return to the Summer Games after a 13-year hiatus.

With games beginning on Wednesday and the opening ceremony on Friday, nearly 60 people connected to the Tokyo Games, from athletes within the Olympic Village to Japanese residents working at the events, have tested positive. Organizers are struggling to manage public anxiety as many thousands more athletes, coaches and other officials arrive in Japan for the Games.

The Mexican baseball team was the latest Olympic team to be disrupted by the virus. The United States’ men’s basketball, women’s 3×3 basketball and the women’s gymnastics teams have had to reshuffle their rosters after athletes either tested positive or entered virus health and safety protocols.

From protests and Covid-related bans on fans, join Times journalists for an exclusive virtual event as we discuss what this moment means for Tokyo 2020. Plus learn about the sports new to the Olympics through interviews with U.S. surfer Carissa Moore and Czech climber Adam Ondra. Click the button above to R.S.V.P.

Italy and the United States before their game on Wednesday.Credit…Jorge Silva/Reuters

The top-ranked U.S. softball team took the field Wednesday as the sport had sole ownership of the Olympic spotlight in its return to the Games after a 13-year absence.

“We ARE back … SOFTBALL is back in the Olympics!” Natasha Watley, a two-time U.S. Olympic softball player and a gold medalist in 2004, tweeted before the game. “I’ll be glued to the tv for the next week!”

The U.S. team is making its fifth appearance in an Olympic softball tournament. The country captured three consecutive Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 and a silver medal at the 2008 Games after falling to Japan.

Cat Osterman, 38, who was on the last two U.S. teams, was the starting pitcher against Italy.

Japan and Australia played the first game of the Olympics, with the host nation winning, 8-1.

Among those who watching were the former U.S. pitcher and Olympic gold and silver medalist Jennie Finch and her 8-year-old daughter Paisley. It was the first time her daughter, who also plays softball, would see her sport represented on the world’s biggest stage.

“I’m so excited for our sport and our game and the platform it has to be back in the Olympics,” Finch said before the game, adding that she was “excited for the athletes especially.”

The Japanese victory was the first contest ahead of the opening ceremony and one of several softball games and soccer matches scheduled before the official start. Mexico and Canada were set to play after the United States and Italy, at 2 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday.

The games will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (The games will take place on Wednesday but will appear on U.S. television starting on Tuesday night because of the 13-hour time difference.)

Softball first became an Olympic sport in 1996, and it appeared in each summer Games through those in 2008 in Beijing, after which it was dropped.

“For it to be taken away, it was like, how can we go back 60 years?” Finch recalled thinking at the time. “We’ve worked so hard to get our sport to where it is.”

But beginning with the Tokyo Games, each Olympic host can propose adding sports with national appeal. Softball, along with baseball, both of which are popular in Japan, were approved for competition in Tokyo.

For softball, the moment is big: It has a growing global footprint, and in the U.S., it is a competitive collegiate sport without a major league home. Last August, softball was the inaugural sport in a new pro league called Athletes Unlimited, but even that season was only six weeks long.

The sport’s Olympic return, however, is bittersweet. There is no guarantee that softball will be featured in another Games.

“Our sport needs this,” Finch said. “It’s crucial for our sport globally to be in the Olympic Games and have our presence and have the platform to showcase how great of a game it is.”

After the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Games will stretch across 16 days, culminating in the closing ceremony on Aug. 8.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

NBC will show more than 7,000 hours of coverage of the Tokyo Olympics across its platforms, including NBC stations, cable channels, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.

The opening ceremony for the Olympics is scheduled for Friday night in Tokyo. But the 13-hour time difference with Tokyo means it will be Friday morning in the United States.

NBC will have a live morning broadcast of the ceremony, starting at 6:55 a.m. Eastern time. Savannah Guthrie, the anchor for “Today,” and NBC Sports’s Mike Tirico will host the ceremony.

Afterward, NBC will also broadcast a special edition of “Today” that includes athlete interviews, followed by an Olympic daytime show.

Similar to years past, the network will air a packaged prime time version of the ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday. Coverage will also be replayed again overnight for viewers who missed earlier broadcasts.

Though the opening ceremony is Friday, the first competitions begin on Wednesday in Japan.

Softball, which is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2008, kicks off the events with a match between Japan and Australia at 8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. (The game begins in Japan on Wednesday at 9 a.m. Japan Standard Time.) The U.S. softball team will also play ahead of the opening ceremony, facing Italy at 11 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. Both games will air on NBC Sports.

Another match taking place before the opening ceremony is the U.S. women’s soccer game against Sweden, which will be broadcast live on NBC Sports at 4:30 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday.

In addition to NBC Sports, Olympic events will be shown on the Golf Channel, NBC Olympics, NBC Sports Network, Telemundo and USA Network. Events will also be streamed on NBCOlympics.com, NBCSports.com and Peacock, the network’s streaming platform.

After the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Games will stretch across 16 days, culminating in the closing ceremony on Aug. 8.

Credit…Irene Rinaldi

It’s been a rocky road to the 2021 Tokyo Games, which, after being delayed a year by the pandemic, will now take place (beginning Friday) without any spectators. Uncertainty and controversy, and a rising number of Covid-19 cases in the city, have increasingly overshadowed the preparations for the Summer Olympics, and early events like the ceremonial torch relay have felt subdued.

But despite the circumstances, the Games will (almost certainly) go on. Whether you’re a dedicated Olympics fan or a casual viewer, these podcasts will get you in the mood.

This compelling new investigative podcast series tells the little-known true story of one of the biggest mistakes in Olympic history. Women’s gymnastics got off to a rough start at the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, marred by controversies over substance use and falsified ages — and then, during a competition vault event, things really got weird. One by one, with the whole world watching, elite gymnasts kept falling off the vault, in ways that were embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst. By the time somebody figured out what was going on (no spoilers here), the damage was done. In this five-episode series, through interviews with athletes who were there, Ari Saperstein delves into the bizarre back story of what happened.

Starter episode: “Episode 1”

When a city wins its bid to host the Olympics, the implications go way beyond the single summer (or winter) when the ceremonies took place. Using the city of Sydney as its test case, this six-episode show explores what happens once the last medal has been awarded and the crowds have dispersed. Twenty years after the Sydney Olympics, the journalist Mark Beretta interviews the organizers and officials who were responsible for fulfilling the pledge to make it “the greenest Games ever” and how that decision inspired urban transformation and environmental progress throughout Australia.

Starter episode: “How the Green Games Influenced a National and International Environmental Movement”

The first podcast from Team U.S.A. debuted less than a year ago, in November of 2020, and it’s sure to whet your appetite for the long-awaited Games. Hosted by Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist in figure skating, the show features weekly conversations with guests who are mainly fellow Olympians, including several Tokyo-bound athletes like the gymnast Yul Moldauer, the Paralympic basketball player Matt Scott and the softball player Haylie McCleney. Because the show began during the pandemic, many of the interviews touch on subjects like mental health and staying motivated in a time of uncertainty, which are just as relevant to nonathletes. The show just wrapped up its first season at the start of July, but there are plans for it to return in the future.

Starter episode: “Tokyo Bound”

Israel’s national baseball team is headed to the Olympics in Tokyo. On an American tour, the team recently played in Pomona, N.Y.Credit…Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

Shortly before the start of a recent exhibition game, the members of Israel’s national baseball team assembled along the third-base line at Maimonides Park in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn and replaced their baseball caps with skullcaps in preparation for the singing of the Israeli national anthem.

But only a few players knew enough Hebrew to sing along.

The team, currently on tour in New York, has only four players who are native to the country. The rest of the 24-player roster mostly consists of American players whose Jewish roots allow them under Olympic rules to play for the team. It’s also a ragtag assemblage of retired major leaguers, current minor leaguers and even some weekend warriors with day jobs.

Four years ago, the team was ranked 48th in the world, but it shocked the baseball world by qualifying for the World Baseball Classic, making it into the tournament’s second round. In 2019, it continued its surprising run by qualifying for the Olympics.

Team Israel will compete in Tokyo against five other qualifying countries: the U.S., Japan, the Dominican Republic, South Korea and Mexico.

At Maimonides Park on July 11, some fans waved Israeli flags. Others wore hats and shirts bearing the Star of David. One fan wore a T-shirt showing a rabbi slugging a baseball along with the words “Jew Crew,” a reference to the national team, which was wearing crisp blue uniforms also featuring the Star of David.

The squad probably has more fans in New York than in Israel, said Peter Kurz, the team’s general manager.

Brandon Lakind and his friend Cameron Johnson, high school students from Randolph, N.J., said they had been following the team.

“It’s crazy to see that they made the top six teams in the world,” Brandon said. “That alone is pretty cool.”

Olivia Breen, a Paralympic bronze medalist, in 2018.Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Olivia Breen, a two-time Paralympic world champion for Britain, said she was “speechless” and “gobsmacked” when an official at the English Championships told her on Sunday that her competition bottoms were “too short” and “inappropriate” after she competed in a long jump event.

In a tweet afterward, Breen wrote that she had been wearing these types of shorts, designed for competition, for years and hoped to wear similar ones when she competes in the Paralympics in Tokyo next month.

After the episode, Breen questioned whether male athletes would be subjected to the same scrutiny, joining an array of female athletes speaking out against uniform double standards that can result in fines against women.

Breen said that it was extremely hot on Sunday and that many male long jump athletes took off their shirts but were not approached by any officials. But after her event, when Breen was chatting with a teammate, she said an official asked to speak with her.

“She was just like, ‘I think your briefs are too revealing, and I think you should consider buying a new pair of shorts,’” Breen said. “My first response was, ‘Are you joking?’”

Breen, 24, has cerebral palsy, hearing loss and some learning difficulties. She has won gold twice at the I.P.C. World Championships — in the T38 long jump in 2017 and the T35-38 100-meter sprint relay in 2015 — and bronze in the 4×100-meter relay in the 2012 Paralympic Games.

Breen said lightweight briefs — in this case, Adidas official competition 2021 briefs, which she later posted a photo of online — gave her an advantage. The bottoms complied with regulations, she said, adding that she filed a formal complaint to England Athletics, the organization running the competition.

Since posting about the episode, Breen said she had heard from other female athletes who have had similar experiences and said she thought women had a right to feel comfortable while competing.

“It just made me so angry,” Breen said. “We shouldn’t be told what we can wear and what we can’t wear.”

England Athletics said in a statement that it would investigate the matter.

“The well-being of all participants in athletics is of the utmost importance, and everyone should feel comfortable to compete and participate in the sport,” the statement said.