Katie Ledecky helps US get relay silver

At the Tokyo Olympics, gymnast Simone Biles continues to be the main topic of discussion. The defending gold medalist in the women’s all-around competition qualified first for Thursday’s final, but withdrew to focus on her mental health. Jade Carey will take Biles’ place for Team USA.

The question now is whether or not Biles will compete in any of next week’s individual event finals. 

In the pool, Bobby Finke got the USA off to a strong start when he came from far behind to win an unexpected gold in the men’s 800-meter freestyle. Caeleb Dressel set an Olympic record to win gold in the men’s 100 free final. Also, Regan Smith and Hali Flickinger claimed silver and bronze the women’s 200-meter butterfly. And the women’s 4×200 freestyle relay team, anchored by Katie Ledecky, won silver.

Elsewhere, the men’s individual golf competition gets underway with opening round play. Men’s singles tennis moves into the quarterfinal round, while the women have their semifinals.

WEDNESDAY RECAP: Katie Ledecky, USA women’s 3×3 basketball win gold

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Thunderstorms in the area forced the suspension of play during the opening round of the men’s golf tournament. The action stopped at 1:55 p.m. local time.

Sepp Straka of Austria maintained his lead of 8-under at the stoppage. Eleven of the 20 groups had not yet finished their round, although all had moved to the back-nine.

— Chris Bumbaca

TOKYO – Some athletes get photos and videos from back home of their spouses or children.

USWNT defender Crystal Dunn gets them of her chickens.

When much of the United States shut down last year because of COVID-19, Dunn and husband Pierre Soubrier got five chickens: Rocky, Toulouse, Quinn, Juke and Chelsea. They live in a coop in Dunn and Soubrier’s backyard, and make occasional appearances on Dunn’s social media feed.

Crystal Dunn pictured inside of her chicken coop in her home in Portland, Oregon. Dunn is a defender for the U.S. Women's National Team.

Asked how the chickens are faring in the extreme heat the Pacific Northwest is experiencing, Dunn said they’re “doing fine.”

“I get my proof-of-life videos every morning,” Dunn said.

Dunn and Soubrier also have three cats.

“I feel bad for my husband. He has to take care of eight living things,” Dunn said.

— Nancy Armour

TOKYO – China upset the favored Australians to win the women’s 4×200 freestyle relay, while a strong final leg by Katie Ledecky allowed the United States to overtake Australia for the silver medal.

China broke the world record in 7:40.33, with the Americans .40 of a second behind. 

It was Ledecky’s third medal of these Games, coming a day after her historic 1,500 victory. She has won one gold and two silvers in Tokyo, with the 800 freestyle coming on Saturday.

U.S. swimmers closed the morning with five medals.

— Christine Brennan

Katie Ledecky reacts with her teammates after their silver medal finish in the women's 4x200-meter freestyle relay.

TOKYO — American pole vaulter and reigning world champion Sam Kendricks will miss the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed in a statement Thursday.

“In alignment with local rules and protocols, he has been transferred to a hotel to be placed in isolation and is being supported by the USATF and USOPC staff,” the organization wrote on social media. “Sam is an incredible and accomplished member of Team USA and his presence will be missed. Out of respect for his privacy, we cannot provide more information at this time.”

Kendricks, 28, won bronze in the pole vault at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and was expected to contend for another medal in Tokyo. 

— Tom Schad

Two American beach volleyball teams both scored victories Thursday. The women’s duo of Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil secured a spot in the playoffs with a 21-8, 21-6 win over Gaudencia Makokha and Brackcides Khadambi  of Kenya. Meanwhile, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena survived a three-set battle with Argentina’s Nicolas Capogrosso and Julian Amado Azaad — 21-19, 18-21, 15-6 — to finish men’s pool play with a 2-1 record, putting themselves in position to make knockout round. 

SAYAMA, Japan – Former University of Georgia golfer Sepp Straka, playing in the first group out during the men’s golf competition at the Tokyo Olympics, carded an 8-under-par 63 Thursday to pace the rest of the 60-person field at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Representing Austria, Straka played bogey-free golf and hit 16 of 18 greens to jump to the top of the leaderboard, which featured 53 golfers at or under par 71.

Straka, the son of an Austrian father and American mother who moved to Valdosta, Georgia, in high school, has his twin brother Sam on the bag as his caddy at the Olympics.

— Chris Bumbaca

TOKYO – The Olympics set a single-day high for coronavirus cases with organizers announcing 24 new positives on Thursday.

Three athletes were among the new cases, and 15 Olympic contractors tested positive. The remaining positives were other Games-concerned personnel. Four of the new cases were people inside the Olympic Village.

Since July 1, 193 people – including 20 athletes – have tested positive, according to organizers’ testing figures.

— Rachel Axon

Caeleb Dressel celebrates after winning the men's 100-meter freestyle.

TOKYO – Caeleb Dressel won his first individual Olympic gold, winning the men’s 100-meter freestyle on Thursday.

Dressel won in 47.02 seconds, a new Olympic record, beating Aussie Kyle Chalmers by .06 of a second. 

Dressel has already won gold as part of the 4×100 free relay on Monday here at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.

Dressel, 24, has become one of the most dominant swimmers in the world since he made his Olympic debut as a college student five years ago. He is favored to win the 50 free and 100 fly here after swimming the fastest times in the world this year during the Olympic Trials in June.

In addition to his remaining individual events, he is expected to be part of the USA’s mixed medley and 4×100 medley relays.

— Rachel Axon

TOKYO — Another two medals for Team USA.

And this pair ended a 21-year drought.

Regan Smith won silver and Hali Flickinger took bronze Thursday in the 200-meter butterfly, becoming the first American women to medal in the event since 2000, when Misty Hyman broke the Olympic record en route to gold.

China’s Yufei Zhang won Thursday’s race in a time of 2:03.86, a new Olympic record.

The silver and bronze in the 200 fly mark the second medals each for Smith and Flickinger in Tokyo. Smith, 19, has now won two medals in three days after taking bronze in the 100-meter backstroke Tuesday. Flickinger, 27, won bronze in the 400-meter individual medley Sunday.

The pair of butterfly medals gave the U.S. three on the day, with Caeleb Dressel adding a fourth and the women’s 4×200 relay still to race. Team USA has now won 35 medals total, including 20 in swimming events.

— Tom Schad

TOKYO – Simone Biles feels the love.

The four-time Olympic gold medalist took to Twitter on Thursday to express her gratitude for the support she’s received since withdrawing from the team and all-around competitions.

“(T)he outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before,” Biles said, adding a silver heart emoji to the post.

Biles has been widely praised by fellow Olympians, other athletes and mental health experts for her decision to withdraw from Tuesday night’s team competition after one event, saying she wasn’t in a good headspace and was concerned for her physical safety.

Mental health issues have affected Biles’ performance before, including in the leadup to the 2016 Olympics. But the expectations on her for Tokyo, where she was projected to win a record five gold medals, and the accompanying spotlight have exacerbated her unease.

— Nancy Armour

TOKYO – Two more U.S. boats came up short without medals in their respective races at the Olympic regatta.

The women’s lightweight double of Michelle Sechser and Molly Reckford finished fifth in their A final. The U.S has hasn’t medaled in the event since the 2000 Olympics.

In their semifinal on Wednesday, Sechser and Reckford eclipsed the previous world-best time set by Great Britain (6:41.99) in the preceding semifinal. The Italians finished first in the semifinal to set the new record of 6:41.36 and the U.S. finished .18 of a second behind them.

Meanwhile, U.S. women’s single sculler Kara Kohler finished fourth in her semifinal, failing to qualify for the A final. The defending bronze medalist at the 2019 World Rowing Championships will compete in the B final on Friday and is out of medal contention. Another upset occurred in the other women’s single semifinal – reigning world champion Sanita Puspure of Ireland finished fifth and will also race in the B final.

Only two U.S. boats remain in the hunt for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics – the men’s eight and the women’s eight. They will compete Friday on the final day of medal races.

— Olivia Reiner

TOKYO — Team USA continued to add to its medal total in the pool Thursday, as 21-year-old underdog Bobby Finke took gold in the men’s 800-meter freestyle.

Finke, a rising senior at the University of Florida, was in the middle of the pack for most of the race before using a furious final surge to pull ahead. He finished with a time of 7:41.87.

Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy took silver, and Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk finished third for bronze.

A Florida native, Finke comes from a diehard swimming family. His mother, Jeanne, swam collegiately at Ball State. His dad, Joe, is a swim coach. And his two older sisters, Autumn and Ariel, both swam at Division I schools.

The U.S. has now won 17 medals in the pool in four-plus days. Entering Thursday, swimmers had accounted for more than half of Team USA’s overall medal count. 

— Tom Schad

Former Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu shared support for Simone Biles on Wednesday after Biles withdrew from multiple competitions at the Tokyo Games to focus on her health.  

Moceanu shared a video on social media of her when she was 14 and fell during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, hitting her head on a balance beam. The moment came after she had already suffered a stress fracture in her tibia. 

“I was 14 y/o w/ a tibial stress fracture, left alone w/ no cervical spine exam after this fall,” Moceanu shared on multiple social media platforms. “I competed in the Olympic floor final minutes later.”  

“In our sport, we essentially dive into a pool w/ no water. When you lose your ability to find the ground — which appears to be part of @Simone_Biles decision — the consequences can be catastrophic,” Moceanu added.  

“She made the right decision for the team & herself.” 

— Marina Pitofsky

TOKYO — Expecting Simone Biles to produce medals on command, or not seeing her for anything beyond her athletic achievements, is dehumanizing, teammate Sam Mikulak said. It’s no wonder Biles reached a point where her mental health was precarious enough that she felt she had no choice but to withdraw from the team and all-around competitions.

“You go on Twitter and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, I’m really expecting this. I want this from this person.’ And, ‘Oh, Simone is going to be the medal factory of the world,’” Mikulak said Wednesday night after the men’s all-around, where he finished 12th. 

Biles came to Tokyo as the biggest star of the Games, projected to win a record five gold medals. But she pulled out of Tuesday night’s team competition after the first event and has since withdrawn from Thursday’s all-around.

Sam MIkulak and Simone Biles.

A six-time U.S. champion and three-time Olympian, Mikulak understands what Biles is experiencing. Just before he left for Tokyo, in fact, he was feeling some of the old anxiety, but was able to recognize it and address it.

“Everyone really needs to start focusing on their mental health a lot more, really ask the hard questions for your personal self, because those are the questions that are going to eat you up when you get out in these big pressure situations and you feel these expectations from the whole world,” Mikulak said. “Being able to tackle it early on is going to be the solution in the future.”

— Nancy Armour and Rachel Axon   

Olympic golf an ‘unbelievable’ experience for PGA Tour’s Thomas

TOKYO – Even before Justin Thomas teed it up for his first shot Thursday at Kasumigaseki Country Club, he’s already made his mind up about playing golf in the Olympics.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” the 28-year-old Louisville native said on the eve of golf’s second run since rejoining the Olympics in 2016. “Going to the village and checking out the USA building. It’s so hard to explain. It’s unbelievable.”

Thomas is No. 4 in the world with a win at the Players Championship in May that helped to put him on the hard-to-make U.S. Olympic team. Other Americans in the 60-man field are world No. 3 Collin Morikawa, No. 5 Xander Schauffele and No. 12 Patrick Reed (replacing No. 6 Bryson DeChambeau, out due to a positive COVID test).

— Jeff Metcalfe

TOKYO — Not one to take long vacations, Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young figured a three- or four-day trip to Florida during the WNBA’s Olympics layoff was an appropriate respite. 

She didn’t stay long. 

The WNBA’s 2019 No. 1 overall pick got a call from the USA Basketball selection committee letting her know that a member of the U.S. 3-on-3 team had tested positive for COVID-19 and they wanted her to join the squad.

Members of team United States, from left to right, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Stefanie Dolson and Allisha Gray pose with their gold medals during the awards ceremony for women's 3-on-3 basketball at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Young, who played college ball at Notre Dame, flew from vacation to Las Vegas to begin the testing protocol. She met her new teammates in Tokyo. And on Wednesday, they defeated the Russian Olympic Committee in the championship game.

“It’s crazy to think about,” Young said. “Ten days ago, I was on vacation. My life changed like that. Now I’m a gold-medalist. It’s crazy how things work out.” 

— Chris Bumbaca

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