Olympians Sue Bird, Eddy Alvarez to carry US flag at Opening Ceremony


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Basketball star Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez have been chosen as flag bearers for the United States Olympic Team at Friday's Opening Ceremony — an event that may serve as an anticlimactic start for the long-delayed Tokyo Games.

Firstly, the Games already began days ago, but it's not entirely unusual for the Olympics to start before the Opening Ceremony.

What is unique is about Friday's event at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium is that unlike past Games, there will be fewer than 1,000 spectators in attendance due to coronavirus restrictions. As CNN reported, about 950 VIPs will be at the event, including 800 foreign guests and 150 from Japan, including Japanese Emperor Naruhito, who will be part of the proceedings.

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A sunset view of the Japan National Stadium in the City of Shinjuku a day before the opening ceremony of the Olympic games

Basketball star Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez have been chosen as flag bearers for the United States Olympic Team at Friday's Opening Ceremony. Bird is the second US women's basketball player to carry the flag, joining current coach Dawn Staley, who did it at the 2004 games. Those were the first that Bird participated in. 'It's an incredible honor to be selected the flag bearer for Team USA,' Bird said. 'I know what that means, because I got to witness Dawn Staley go through it when she was selected in 2004. It's an honor that is bigger than the moment in that you've been selected by your fellow Team USA athletes to represent the entire delegation, and it will last forever.' Bird will be trying to win an unprecedented fifth gold medal with teammate Diana Taurasi, which would give them the most in golds in women's basketball history. Alvarez becomes the first baseball player to carry the flag for the US. The sport returned to the Games at the request of Japan after being absent from the previous two Olympics. He made his major league debut last year with the Miami Marlins, but has been in the minors this year. If the US baseball team were to medal, he'd be the only the third American to medal in both the Winter and Summer Games, joining Eddie Egan (boxing and bobsled) and Lauryn Williams (track and field and bobsled)

US gymnasts Jordan Chiles (left) and Simone Biles pose after a training session at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo

First lady Jill Biden arrives at the US military's Yokota Air Base in Fussa, western Tokyo on Thursday morning 

April Ross, from the United States, returns a volley during women's beach volleyball practice at the 2020 Summer Olympics

Viewers hoping to forget about the last 16 months of the pandemic may want to turn their attention elsewhere.

Marco Balich, a former Olympic ceremony producer who is advising the Tokyo Games, described Friday's ceremony to Reuters as 'sobering.'

'Very Japanese but also in sync with the sentiment of today, the reality,' Balich said.

Alterations to the Opening Ceremony were understandably unavoidable after four years of planning followed by the chaos of the pandemic, which resulted in the year-long postponement of the Tokyo Games.

'The most difficult part of the process was that the postponement meant a simplification of the ceremonies and the message had to be drastically revised,' said Takayuki Hioki, an executive producer for the ceremonies.

Simone Biles practices on the uneven bars on Thursday 

'After nearly five years of planning, we found ourselves suddenly having to rethink everything. This was the biggest challenge,' said Hioki.

But the challenges haven't stop there.

The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee fired the opening ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi on Thursday because of a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy show in 1998.

And then there's the potential for more controversial protests.

Players from five women's soccer teams kneeled in support of racial justice Wednesday, the first day it was allowed at the Olympic Games after a ban lasting decades. The concession under Olympic Charter Rule 50, which has long prohibited any athlete protest inside event venues, was finally allowed this month by the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC has tried to reconcile enforcing the rule while recognizing, and sometimes celebrating, the iconic image of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raising a black-gloved fist on the medal podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

But the biggest story at Friday's opening ceremony will remain COVID-19, which is currently flourishing in Tokyo.

The city hit another six-month high in new COVID-19 cases on Thursday as worries grow of a worsening of infections during the Games.

Thursday's 1,979 new cases are the highest since 2,044 were recorded on January 15. 

Team USA's Kevin Durant warms up during a training session at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on Thursday 

Evy Leibfarth of Team USA trains at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Thursday 

Eduardo Alvarez Aznar of Spain takes part in the familiarization for the equestrian dressage event at the equestrian Park

The Olympic Rings are pictured as workers prepare the home plate area at Yokohamal Stadium in preparation for softball

Members of Japan self-defense force check belongings at a security gate of the International Stadium Yokohama

A general view shows the 3x3 basketball competition court at the Aomi Urban Sports Park, ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games

Pedestrians walk past a huge display showing news report about the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee sacking of Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi, in Tokyo, Japan, 22 July 2021. Just a day before the opening ceremony is due to be held, the organizing committee of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games decided to sack Kentaro Kobayashi, director of the opening and closing ceremonies, after footage from the late 1990s recently emerged of a skit in which he appears making jokes about the Holocaust

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is determined to hold the Olympics, placed Tokyo under a state of emergency on July 12, but daily cases have sharply increased since then

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is determined to hold the Olympics, placed Tokyo under a state of emergency on July 12, but daily cases have sharply increased since then.

The emergency measures, which largely involve a ban on alcohol sales and shorter hours for restaurants and bars, are to last until Aug. 22, after the Olympics end on August 8.

Japan has reported about 853,000 cases and 15,100 deaths since the pandemic began, most of them this year. Still, the number of cases and deaths as a share of the population are much lower than in many other countries.

Beyond the seating restrictions at the Opening Ceremony, spectators are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences allowed at a few outlying sites.

The situation has deteriorated so fast that Guinea pulled pulled its five athletes from the Tokyo Games on Thursday.

Minister of Sports Sanoussy Bantama Sow made the announcement in a letter Wednesday addressed to the president of the Guinean Olympic committee, blaming the virus and its variants.

'Due to the resurgence of COVID variants, the government, concerned with preserving the health of Guinean athletes, has decided with regret to cancel Guinea's participation in the 32nd Olympics scheduled for Tokyo,' the statement said. 

Simone Biles has unveiled a series of boundary-pushing elements over the last four years, and her latest — the Yurchenko double-pike vault, which has only previously been done in international competition by men — will become the latest to bear her name in the sport's Code of Points if she's able to land it in Japan

Training continues for other Olympic athletes, such as gymnastics star Simone Biles (pictured), who reportedly landed another Yurchenko Double Pike vault — a move so difficult it hasn't been attempted in Olympic competition

US gymnasts (from left) Sunisa Lee, Simone Biles, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum pose after a training session

Meanwhile, training continues for other Olympic athletes, such as gymnastics star Simone Biles, who reportedly landed another Yurchenko Double Pike vault — a move so difficult it hasn't been attempted in Olympic competition.

The 24-year-old Biles, hasn't lost since 2013, and is among the 2021 favorites, in part, because of her ability to pull off the move, which derives its name from former Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko.

A new emoji honors Simone Biles

Win or lose, Simone Biles has already claimed a slice of history at the Tokyo Olympics.

The reigning all-around champion -- long-regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time -- has become the first athlete to be awarded their own emoji on Twitter.

The social media platform announced Wednesday that it had given Biles her own emoji -- a goat wearing a leotard and a gold medal.

The symbol is a reference to Biles' status as the 'G.O.A.T: Greatest of all time' -- a tag the 24-year-old Olympian has embraced in recent years.

'Witness greatness. Tweet with greatness,' the official Twitter Sports account wrote in announcing the emoji.

The symbol is generated by inputting #SimoneBiles or #Simone in Tweets.

Biles recently began competing in a leotard decorated with silver rhinestones in the shape of a goat's head.

The American star -- who has dubbed her personal goat character 'Goldie' -- says the leotard design is meant to inspire others.

'I just hope that kids growing up watching this don't or aren't ashamed of being good at whatever they do,' she said in a recent interview.

'I want kids to learn that, yes, it's okay to acknowledge that you're good or even great at something.'

-Reuters

On Thursday, Biles attempted the maneuver twice, rolling her landing once and sticking it flawlessly on her second attempt.

'I didn't think she was going to do the double pike today,' coach Annie DiLuzio told reporters. 'Then she came out and did it and I was just as shocked as everybody else.

'If she does it like that, we could see it in competition, I'm not sure when.'

Biles has unveiled a series of boundary-pushing elements over the last four years, and her latest — the Yurchenko double-pike vault, which has only previously been done in international competition by men — will become the latest to bear her name in the sport's Code of Points if she's able to land it in Japan.

Yes, Biles is well aware of her influence. She didn't get into this trying to become a point of inspiration. Yet she's hardly running from the responsibility.

'When somebody is striving for perfection and doing her skills, it pushes other athletes to know that it's possible and that they can do it, too,' Biles said earlier this month. 'So, I feel like I would say we have reached a point where gymnastics is getting more difficult and more difficult and a little bit more dangerous. So we're kind of walking on eggshells here, but it's exciting to watch.'

Unfortunately for the US, alternate Kara Eaker has tested positive for COVID-19 in an Olympic training camp in Japan.

Al Fong, the personal coach for both Eaker and fellow Olympic alternate Leanne Wong, confirmed the positive test in an email to The Associated Press on Monday. The coach said Eaker, 18, was vaccinated against the novel coronavirus two months ago.

Eaker and Wong have been placed in isolation.

USA Gymnastics did not identify Eaker or Wong but said in a statement the athlete who tested positive and another alternate would be subject to additional quarantine restrictions.

'The Olympic athletes moved to separate lodging accommodations and a separate training facility, as originally planned, and will continue their preparation for the Games,' the organization said in a statement. 'The entire delegation continues to be vigilant and will maintain strict protocols while they are in Tokyo.'

The positive test was the latest in a growing line of daily reports of athletes and others testing positive at the pandemic-delayed Olympics. Eaker is the first American to test positive. 

'In alignment with local rules and protocols, the athlete has been transferred to a hotel to quarantine,' the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a statement, citing privacy in not identifying the individual.

The four alternates - Eaker, Wong, Kayla DiCello and Emma Malabuyo - traveled to Japan with the six-woman US delegation of world and Olympic champion Biles, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum, Sunisa Lee, MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey.

The positive test came after Eaker received what was described as a 'false positive' over the weekend. Eaker took a subsequent test that was negative before testing positive again multiple times.

'Kara is s doing very well with no symptoms,' Karla Grimes, who works at GAGE Center, the gym in the Kansas City, Missouri, suburbs where Eaker trains, said in an email to the AP. 'She is incredibly strong and very brave. Although this is a very disappointing outcome for her, she wants everyone to know she is OK.'

Biles, who is also the world champion, and the rest of the regular team have been vaccinated. Skinner, who made the team in the 'plus-one spot' - meaning she can compete as an individual in Tokyo - following Olympic Trials did battle both COVID-19 and pneumonia last winter.

Alternates have been rooming with other alternates since arriving in Japan, with the competitive team rooming with fellow competitors. All Olympic athletes and coaches have been moved to their own rooms since the positive test, with the Olympic athletes also moving to a new hotel, as was originally planned. 

Megan Rapinoe of United States vies with Hanna Glas of Sweden in the Women's First Round Group G match between Sweden and US during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Stadium. The US lost the game -- their first defeat in 44 matches

The US will be represented by flag bearers Bird, a four-time Olympic women's basketball gold medalist and the partner of US soccer star Megan Rapinoe, as well as Alvarez, a speedskating silver medalist at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Bird is the second US women's basketball player to carry the flag, joining current coach Dawn Staley, who did it at the 2004 games. Those were the first that Bird participated in.

'It's an incredible honor to be selected the flag bearer for Team USA,' Bird said. 'I know what that means, because I got to witness Dawn Staley go through it when she was selected in 2004. It's an honor that is bigger than the moment in that you've been selected by your fellow Team USA athletes to represent the entire delegation, and it will last forever.'

Bird will be trying to win an unprecedented fifth gold medal with teammate Diana Taurasi, which would give them the most in golds in women's basketball history.

Her partner Rapinoe, meanwhile, is hoping for her second gold medal following her 2019 World Cup triumph in France, but the US already dropped its opener to Sweden, 3-0, ending its 44-match winning streak. The Americans will continue in the group stage on Sunday against New Zealand. 

Alvarez becomes the first baseball player to carry the flag for the US. The sport returned to the Games at the request of Japan after being absent from the previous two Olympics.

He made his major league debut last year with the Miami Marlins, but has been in the minors this year. If the US baseball team were to medal, he'd be the only the third American to medal in both the Winter and Summer Games, joining Eddie Egan (boxing and bobsled) and Lauryn Williams (track and field and bobsled). 

Stefanie Dolson of Team USA practices in 3x3 basketball at Aomi Urban Sports Park ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Gettin' ready! Team USA's women's beach volleyball team donned bikini bottoms as they hit the court on Monday for a practice session ahead of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo

By Carly Stern for DailyMail.com

Team USA's women's beach volleyball team donned sports bras and bikini bottoms as they hit the court on Monday for a practice session ahead of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

While the tiny, skin-baring uniforms have been around for Olympic Games past, this year they've proven controversial after Norway's team refused to wear them for the recent European Championship, claiming the revealing bikini bottoms make them feel uncomfortable and unnecessarily sexualized.

The Norway team was slapped with a $1,700 fine by the Disciplinary Committee of the European Handball Federation on the same day the US team took to the court for their practice session. 

The stiff punishment was slammed by Norway's Minister for Culture and Sports, Abid Raja, who said: 'It's completely ridiculous. What a change of attitude is needed in the macho and conservative international world of sport.' 

Members of Team USA, however, don't appear to have objections to the skimpy sportswear, with team members photographed donning them for practice.

Teammates Alexandra Klineman, 31, and April Ross, who turns 39 tomorrow, were seen practicing on a volleyball court outside of the arena on Monday.

Both wore Team USA bikini tops and bottoms that fell inches below their navels. They certainly showed plenty of skin, but protected their faces from the sun with sunglasses and visors.

The pair have been playing together since 2018 and ranked number two in the world. Considered top contenders for medals, they already have six Federation of International Volleyball wins.

Ross also has an Olympic silver medal from 2012 and a bronze from 2016.  

Though neither seemed particularly uncomfortable in the uniform, their Norwegian counterparts have spoken out against the barely-there outfit.

At the European Beach Handball Championship in Varna, Bulgaria on Sunday, the teammates donned not bikini bottoms but tight shorts as they faced off against Spain.

In doing so, they risked a fine of 50 euros per player per match, according to Norway's Katinka Haltvik, quoted by public broadcaster NRK.

Pictured: Norway's beach handball team is facing a fine after the players refused to wear bikini bottoms in a European Championship match, instead competing in non-regulation shorts

Ahead of the European Championship, Norway approached the European Handball Federation to ask for permission to play in shorts, but were told that breaches of the rules were punishable by fines.

The team decided to go ahead with the shorts anyway, and Norwegian Handball Federation president Kare Geir Lio told AFP said that it was prepared to pay the fines for the players.

'The most important thing is to have equipment that athletes are comfortable with,' Lio said, adding that 'it should be a free choice within a standardized framework.' 

The issue has been debated in beach sports circles for several years as some players find the bikini degrading or simply impractical.

The Norwegian beach volleyball players said they found the bikini bottoms too revealing, with the uniform making them feel unnecessarily sexualized  and especially  uncomfortable when they have their periods.

But rules at the tournament banned shorts, though male players are expected to wear them. 

In trouble: By ditching the regulation bikini bottoms, the Norwegian women's team (pictured in 2017 wearing bikini bottoms) risked a fine of 50 euros per player per match

The rules governing uniforms at the Olympics, however, are a bit different, and allow for players to cover up more should they choose to.

Women's tops 'must fit closely to the body and the design must be with deep cutaway armholes on the back, upper chest and stomach (2-piece), respecting the space required for the manufacturer logo, athlete number, country flag/country code, and the place for the athlete's name.'

For the bottoms, they can wear briefs that should 'be a close fit and be cut on an upward angle towards the top of the leg' — or they can also wear a closely-fitting one-piece 'with open back and upper chest, respecting the space for the required inscriptions to be made.'

However, women may also choose to wear shorts that 'feature total length of 26-28 cm (from waistband) and 26 cm above the knee, and a waistband of 6-7 cm wide.'

They can also wear a half-sleeve top or knee-length pants, the bottoms of which are ' recommended to feature total length of 47 cm (from waistband) and 3 cm above the knee, and a waistband of 6-7 cm wide.'

The rules previously required bikinis only, but were changed to be more culturally inclusive. That year, Egypt's team played in long-sleeve shirts and pants. 

Norway's beach handball team compete in 2017 in regulation clothing. The issue has been debated in beach sports circles for several years as some players find the bikini degrading or simply impractical