Home » Entries posted by CHRIS LEHOURITES AP Sports Writer

An Olympics like no other, Tokyo perseveres to host Games

An Olympics like no other, Tokyo perseveres to host Games

TOKYO — It’s an Olympics like no other — and the Tokyo Games are surely that — but this is an event that has persevered through wars, boycotts and now a pandemic over its 125-year modern history.The Tokyo Olympics have already broken new ground because of the 12-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, pushing it into an odd-numbered year for the first time. But with no fans permitted in Japan, foreign or local, it has the distinction of being the first Games without spectators.“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Steve Wilson, the former president of the Olympic Journalists Association who covered the Olympic movement for The Associated Press for nearly three decades until 2017.“These will be Games without the carnival atmosphere, celebration and fun that we’ve come to expect and look forward to. Definitely one for the history books.”There have been many other unusual editions of the Olympics in the past, however. The United States and many of its allies boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets and many of its allies reciprocated four years later by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.Dozens of countries, mainly from Africa, boycotted the 1976 Montreal Games to protest New Zealand’s sporting ties to the South African apartheid regime. South Africa was banned from competing from 1964 to 1988 because of apartheid.World War I and World War II forced the Olympics to be canceled altogether, so there were no 1916, 1940 or 1944 Games. The separate Winter Olympics didn’t exist at the time of World War I, but World War II forced two of them to be called off.The 1940 Games were supposed to be held in Tokyo, but upon the return of the Olympics in 1948, London was chosen as host. Tokyo had to wait until 1964 to host the Games for the first time.And then there was 1920, an Olympics held in Antwerp, Belgium, that took place as the world was emerging from both World War I and a flu pandemic that killed more than 50 million people.“In a minimum of time, they organized the Games, but they were relatively improvised Games,” Roland Renson, a Belgian sports historian, told the AP last year. “They had to do it with the means they had at their disposal, and they were at that time far from abundant in a city so heavily hit by war.”The coronavirus pandemic even affected Antwerp’s 100-year anniversary, forcing last year’s celebrations to be canceled.Another odd Olympic occurrence came at the 1956 Melbourne Games, when the equestrian events were held in Stockholm because of animal quarantine regulations in Australia.And then there is the 1906 Athens Olympics, or maybe the lack of a 1906 Olympics.Originally called the “Athens International Olympic Games” and sanctioned by the IOC, they are now known as the Intercalated (or Intermediary) Games of 1906 — hosted halfway between the normal four-year Olympic cycle. They were ruled unofficial in 1949, according to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky.Tragedy has also marked the Olympics, most notably when 11 members of the Israeli team were murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September at the 1972 Munich Games and when a bomb exploded in the Olympic Park at the 1996 Atlanta Games.Other host cities have turned down the right to host the Games. The 1908 Olympics, for instance, were originally awarded to Rome, but they were relocated to London following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius because the Italian government decided its financial resources would be better spent on rebuilding Naples.Rome finally hosted the Games in 1960.One particular Olympics has an especially controversial past: the 1936 Berlin Games. Although the Games were awarded about two years before Adolf Hitler became dictator, they went ahead under Nazism. Jesse Owens, an African American track great, went on to win four gold medals, but he was supposed to compete in only three events, the 100 meters, 200 meters and long jump.Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller had been two of the presumed team members for the 4×100-meter relay. They were replaced by Owens and Ralph Metcalfe, who won the race alongside Frank Wykoff and Foy Draper in world record time.“What made the situation ugly,” Wallechinsky wrote in “The Complete Book of the Olympics” in 2012, “was that Stoller and Glickman were the only Jews on the U.S. track team, and they returned to the United States as the only members of the squad who didn’t compete.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

'Sad story': An injured Serena Williams is out of Wimbledon

'Sad story': An injured Serena Williams is out of Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams bit her upper lip. She held her left hand over her mouth and tried to hold back tears while getting ready to serve.It was the first set of her first-round match Tuesday at Wimbledon, and Williams knew this stay at a tournament where she has won seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles was about to end because she hurt her right leg when she lost her footing behind a baseline.Moments later, her legs buckled as she tried to change directions to chase a shot by her opponent, 100th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. Williams dropped to her knees, her head down on the grass. She used her racket to help her stand, but only so she could limp to the net to concede — just the second mid-match retirement at any Grand Slam tournament of her career and first since 1998.“I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today,” Williams said in a statement released by the tournament.“Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on — and off — the court,” she said, “meant the world to me.”Said Sasnovich: “She’s a great champion, and it’s (a) sad story.”Roger Federer surely articulated a common sentiment when told by a reporter what happened to Williams.“Oh, my God,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”Williams was serving while leading 3-1 at Centre Court — where the retractable roof was shut because of rain that forced the postponement of two dozen matches until Wednesday — when her left shoe seemed to lose its traction while she was hitting a forehand.Williams winced and stepped gingerly between points, clearly troubled. After dropping that game, she asked to visit with a trainer and took a medical timeout.She tried to continue playing. The crowd tried to offer support and encouragement. Eventually, the 39-year-old American couldn’t continue. The chair umpire climbed down to check on her, and they walked together up to the net; the score was 3-all, 15-30 when Williams stopped.Williams, who began the match with her right thigh heavily taped, raised her racket with right arm and put her left palm on her chest. Then she waved to the spectators.Officially, this goes in the books as only the second first-round Grand Slam exit of Williams’ career. The other came at the 2012 French Open, where she was beaten by Virginie Razzano. Shortly after that, Williams teamed up with coach Patrick Mouratoglou and began accumulating majors to eclipse Steffi Graf’s professional era record of 22 and move within one of Margaret Court’s all-era mark of 24.“All the best for her,” said Sasnovich, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2018 for her best Grand Slam result.Williams’ departure makes a wide-open women’s draw even more so. As it was, defending champion Simona Halep and four-time major champ Naomi Osaka withdrew before the tournament started.And so, even as her 40th birthday approaches in September, Williams was among the top contenders. With her best-in-the-game serve and stinging groundstrokes, she had made it to the past four finals when she entered Wimbledon — winning in 2015 and 2016, missing the tournament while pregnant in 2017, then finishing as the runner-up in 2018 and 2019 (it was canceled last year because of the pandemic).Williams was hardly the first player to find it difficult to deal with the slick grass over the first two days of main-draw play.In the match that preceded hers in the main stadium, eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer advanced when his opponent, Adrian Mannarino, injured his right knee late in the fourth set when he tumbled near the same spot Williams did.Federer was trailing two sets to one, but ahead 4-2 in the fourth, when Mannarino fell. He tried to continue but dropped eight of nine points when they resumed and called it quits.“Obviously,” Federer acknowledged, “he was the better player.”Novak Djokovic fell twice in the first set of his first-round victory Monday at Centre Court, too.“I do feel it feels a tad more slippery, maybe, under the roof. I don’t know if it’s just a gut feeling. You do have to move very, very carefully out there. If you push too hard in the wrong moments, you do go down,” Federer said. “I do feel it’s drier during the day. With the wind and all that stuff, it takes the moist out of the grass. But this is obviously terrible.”It was, by far, the most significant development Tuesday, when the winners included Williams’ older sister, 41-year-old Venus, 17-year-old Coco Gauff, reigning French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova and No. 1 seed Ash Barty in the women’s bracket, and No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, No. 4 Alexander Zverev and No. 10 Denis Shapovalov in the men’s.Sebastian Korda — a 20-year-old American whose father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open and whose sisters, No. 1-ranked Nelly and No. 13 Jessica, are on the LPGA Tour — made a successful Wimbledon debut, eliminating No. 15 seed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5).Venus Williams accumulated 10 aces by smacking serves at up to 114 mph — not quite like the old days, but not too shabby, either. She drove forehands to corners. She made her way to the net for crisp volleys.And when it was all over, she celebrated her first Wimbledon match win since 2018 by raising her arms and yelling “Come on!” before reprising her familiar smile-and-twirl wave at No. 3 Court.A five-time singles champion at the All England Club who is making her 23rd appearance here, the elder Williams sister began her record-extending 90th Grand Slam tournament with her 90th career victory at Wimbledon, beating Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.Venus Williams is a former No. 1-ranked player who came into this week ranked 111th and having lost in the first or second round at the past eight majors. That included a first-round exit in 2019 at the All England Club against a then-15-year-old Gauff.”You can’t win them all. Life is about how you handle challenges. Each point is a challenge on the court. No one gives you anything,” said Venus Williams, who was diagnosed a decade ago with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain. “I like to think I handle my challenges well.”———AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.———More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Welcome back, Wimbledon: Slam returns to rain, fans, upsets

Welcome back, Wimbledon: Slam returns to rain, fans, upsets

WIMBLEDON, England — Shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Monday, two years minus two weeks from the last time a meaningful match was played at Wimbledon, a voice blared over the loudspeakers: “Good afternoon and welcome to Centre Court.”Then came an announcement welcoming “special guests in the Royal Box,” including a woman who developed one of the COVID-19 vaccines, prompting the first of the day’s several standing ovations from spectators. And, eventually, came the words, “We’ve waited awhile for this,” before the introduction of Novak Djokovic and the opponent he would go on to beat 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 with the help of 25 aces, Jack Draper, a 19-year-old wild-card entry from England ranked 253rd.It was, in some respects, as if Wimbledon had never left, as if the All England Club hadn’t decided to cancel the oldest Grand Slam tournament for the first time since World War II a year ago because of the pandemic.There was raucous cheering from the stands — even before two-time champion Andy Murray played, and won, his first singles match at the place in four years. There was rain — so much rain that play on courts without a roof was delayed more than 4 1/2 hours, 11 matches were suspended in progress because of darkness and more than 20 others were postponed until Tuesday.And there was tennis — and reminders of how sports are unpredictable and can bring such joy and disappointment. A pair of Americans picked up the most newsworthy victories: Frances Tiafoe eliminated French Open runner-up and No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, while 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens beat two-time Wimbledon winner and No. 10 seed Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-4.Tiafoe had been 0-11 against opponents ranked in the Top 5.“That guy is special. He’s going to do a lot of great things, win a ton of Grand Slams,” Tiafoe said about Tsitsipas, then broke into a wide smile and added: “But not today.”Murray, whose title at 2013 made him the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, has been working his way back after a pair of hip operations and he tested the locals’ patience during a topsy-turvy 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 win over No. 24 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili at Centre Court.“Amazing reception when I came out. Great atmosphere the whole match,” Murray told the crowd after blowing a 5-0 lead and two match points in the third set. “So thanks for that.”Tiafoe and Stephens are among 34 Americans in the singles brackets (21 women, 13 men), the most at Wimbledon since there were 35 in 1998. Others who won on Day 1 included qualifier Denis Kudla, who knocked off No. 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3; 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys, Danielle Collins and Lauren Davis.Other seeded men who lost: No. 19 Jannik Sinner of Italy and No. 27 Reilly Opelka of the U.S.“Not playing last year was very, very disappointing, and it feels a little bit weird that there was such a big gap in between grass seasons. But to have a crowd and the size of the crowd that we had today — I, at one point, felt like it was back to normal,” said No. 23 Keys, who beat British qualifier Katie Swan 6-3, 6-4 without facing a break point.“It was just very, very nice to be back in a situation where you felt an amazing crowd,” Keys said, “even if they were cheering, obviously, for my opponent and wanted her to win. It was just so nice to have energy and people who are excited to watch tennis.”The coronavirus still looms over the event.Fans must wear masks around the grounds (although not while watching a match) and show proof they either are fully vaccinated or had COVID-19 in the past six months. All players and their entourages have to stay at one London hotel, where they take regular tests and are subject to contact tracing.Britain’s only seeded woman in singles, No. 27 Johanna Konta, was forced to withdraw Sunday night because she must self-isolate for 10 days after one of her team members tested positive for COVID-19.The top-seeded Djokovic got off to a slow start in his bid for a record-tying 20th Grand Slam title and sixth at Wimbledon.It would have been so easy — so understandable, even — for Draper to be fazed by the moment and the opponent, the setting and the stakes, right away. This was his Grand Slam main draw debut, after all. But he stole the first break to lead 2-1 and wound up taking that set by saving 7 of 7 break points.Djokovic took two tumbles onto his backside in the first set, losing his footing on the slick grass behind the baseline. This was his first competitive singles match on the surface since edging Roger Federer in the 2019 final.“To be honest, I don’t recall falling this many times on the court,” Djokovic said with a laugh. “Well, quite slippery, whether it’s because the roof is closed or it was raining quite a lot the last few days, I don’t know.”A 125 mph service winner gave Draper the opening set after 37 minutes. He shook his racket, then pumped his right fist.The crowd roared.And two hours later, it was all over.Djokovic cleaned up his act considerably, going from just six winners and nine unforced errors in the opening set to a combined 41 winners and 15 unforced errors the rest of the way.“I’m really glad,” he said, speaking for many, “that the sport is back.”———AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.———More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Excited tennis fans return to Wimbledon after 1-year break

Excited tennis fans return to Wimbledon after 1-year break

Fans are back at Wimbledon after a one-year hiatus and the gray, overcast weather felt right at home at an event notorious for its rain delaysBy CHRIS LEHOURITES AP Sports WriterJune 28, 2021, 2:29 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWIMBLEDON, England — Cheery fans, dreary skies.Wimbledon is back after a one-year hiatus and the gray, overcast weather felt right at home at an event notorious for its rain delays.“Perfect spectator weather,” said Hannah Scott, a 26-year-old mask-wearing graduate student from London who was among the first fans to arrive on the grounds on Monday. “You’re not going to burn in the sun.”Last year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since World War II. It’s going ahead this year but with a reduced capacity at the start. Organizers, however, are planning to have a full crowd of 15,000 at Centre Court for the men’s and women’s finals in two weeks.The usual flower-filled grounds greeted the many fans that poured through gates early Monday. Stands selling food, drinks and souvenirs were staffed and doing business right from the start, while stewards were helping spectators find their way around.The weather, of course, played its part, too, delaying the start of play for about two hours.“One of the things that we thought long and hard about, worked hard to deliver, is a familiar feel about The Championships,” All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton said. “So when people arrive at the gates this morning, as they are doing now, what they will see and feel is something very familiar – a Championships that we’ve all missed for two years.”Arlo Godwin, a 10-year-old boy from London, was soaking up the wet weather and everything else Wimbledon had to offer on his first visit to the club.“I’m always excited,” said Godwin, who was with his mother. “I was looking forward to it last year but it didn’t happen. But I watched a lot of Roland Garros.”Godwin said his favorite player is Novak Djokovic, who was first up on Centre Court in the traditional spot for the defending men’s champion, but he and his mother have tickets for Court No. 2.“We’re seeing (Andrey) Rublev and then Dan Evans, which is good because he’s British. And Venus Williams, too,” Godwin said with excitement in his voice.Alas, a few hours later, the matches involving Evans and Williams were among those postponed until Tuesday because of the rain.Helen Godwin was also visiting Wimbledon for the first time — after many failed attempts to in recent years to secure tickets online. When she finally got them, the fact Monday is a school day for Arlo didn’t matter at all.“A cheeky day off school,” said Helen, a 48-year-old doctor who has worked to set up a vaccine clinic during the pandemic. “This is a much more educational day.”The walkways around the many courts at the All England Club are usually packed with people, as is the hill behind Court No. 1 where you can watch matches on a big-screen television — a place often called Murray Mount or, in years past, Henman Hill. This year the atmosphere is so far much tamer, with plenty of space for pedestrians to walk between courts.And there’s even some extra space in the gift shop, where Scott made her first stop after passing through the gates.“I’m not supposed to be here. I got the ticket from a friend who couldn’t make it,” said Scott, who bought a Wimbledon towel as a consolation gift for her disappointed friend and then used some tennis lingo to get herself in the mood. “Order of play change.”———More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports