Friday, July 30, 2021

Olympic Games Losing Luster as Stars Struggle

At the Los Angeles Times, "A stormy 24 hours: Stars in unexpected trouble at increasingly turbulent Tokyo Olympics":

TOKYO — These Olympic Games were always walking a tightrope, right from the beginning, teetering on the edge of disaster. From the first positive coronavirus test, there were fears the COVID-19 pandemic might land scores of athletes in quarantine, maybe wipe out an entire event like the men’s 100-meter final.

From the first explosion of fireworks over an empty stadium during the opening ceremony, there were doubts that Tokyo could generate any real buzz without fans in the seats.

But the Games instead are troubled by a different problem. The mental stress that drove Simone Biles to abruptly withdraw from the women’s gymnastics team competition on Tuesday night underscored a more alarming trend.

These Olympics are losing their star power.

Biles was merely the latest marquee name to suffer misfortune in the last few days. American swimmer Katie Ledecky — another ostensible “Greatest of All Time” — finished second in her initial race and fifth in another, before winning a gold medal in her last race Tuesday. Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose face adorns countless billboards and television commercials in this country, was bounced from the women’s draw in the third round.

“I’m disappointed in every loss,” Osaka said, “but I feel like this one sucks more than the others.”

There have been bright moments in Japan. The host nation got early gold from skateboarder Yuto Horigome — another highly publicized athlete here — and in sports such as judo and table tennis. Victories by 17-year-old Alaskan swimmer Lydia Jacoby and Carissa Moore in the inaugural surfing contest provided the American team with highlights.

“It was crazy,” Jacoby said after the surprising 100-meter breaststroke. “I knew I had it in me, but I wasn’t really expecting a gold medal.”

Still, the list of disappointments has run considerably longer.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray of Britain withdrew from singles, deciding to give his body a rest by playing only doubles. Positive coronavirus tests derailed Jon Rahm of Spain, the world’s top-ranked golfer, and Bryson DeChambeau of the U.S., ranked No. 6, before the start of play.

The powerhouse U.S. women’s soccer team has looked shaky, barely escaping pool play with a 0-0 draw against Australia, and the men’s basketball team, stocked with NBA talent, hasn’t played any better.

“I think that’s a little bit of hubris if you think the Americans are supposed to just roll out the ball and win,” Coach Gregg Popovich said...

Still more.