Gold on the line in beach volleyball; US looks to extend win streak in women’s basketball


The U.S. women take center stage Friday at the Tokyo Olympics.

Americans April Ross and Alix Klineman have yet to lose a set in their three elimination matches in women’s beach volleyball and have only lost one set total in Tokyo. Now, they play for gold against Australia’s Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy.

Meanwhile, the U.S. women’s basketball team puts its 53-game Olympic winning streak on the line when it takes on Serbia for a spot in the gold-medal game. The Americans haven’t lost in women’s hoops since the semifinals at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

In indoor volleyball, the women of Team USA also have to go through Serbia in the semifinals to earn a a shot a gold.

Finally, the University of Minnesota’s Gable Steveson will wrestle for gold in the men’s freestyle 125kg division. If he wins, Steveson could be in for a huge payday, even if he decides to return to school.

Team USA players celebrate their win over Australia in the women’s basketball quarterfinals at the Saitama Super Arena.

THURSDAY’S RECAP: U.S. wins gold in shot put, pole vault, freestyle wrestling

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Olympic glory can also be very lucrative for athletes from different countries

TOKYO – For athletes from some countries, an Olympic medal brings more than glory and fulfillment for years of hard work. It’s a pay day – and occasionally a big one.

Weightlifter Hsing-Chun Kuo of Chinese Taipei will receive roughly $716,000 for her gold in the 59 kg category. But go up one weight class and it’s clear how varied this can be.

Canada’s Maude Charron won at 64 kg, but that only earns her roughly $16,000. Italy’s Giorgia Bordignon will receive nearly $107,000, thanks to her silver medal. And Chinese Taipei’s bronze from Wen-Huei Chen will earn her more than $179,000.

Why does it work out that way?

A couple reasons. Generally, countries with larger delegations and more projected medals give less in bonuses. The United States, for instance, is challenging for the top of the medal count and tops out at $37,500 for gold medals.

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Many countries fund their sports regularly through their Olympic committees or ministry of sport, so rather than getting a big payday after an event, athletes receive regular funding.

That doesn’t mean Americans can’t make money here.

Caeleb Dressel earned $187,500 just from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee for his five golds. Two gold and two silver earned Katie Ledecky $125,000, and both will receive bonuses from USA Swimming on top of that.

Both will be handsomely rewarded for leading the United States in the pool. With one medal, though, athletes from Singapore could surpass them.

The country has the most generous medal bonus of any surveyed. A gold for any of its 23 athletes will earn them $1 million.

American Sakura Kokumai right at home in Tokyo karate competition

TOKYO – For Sakura Kokumai to step onto the mat at the famed Nippon Budokan with a chance for a bronze medal in karate’s Olympic debut is a storybook ending of its own.

Kokumai is Japanese-American, born in Hawaii, and lived most of her high school and college years in the very city where she competed Thursday for the U.S. in kata, a demonstration event comparable to floor exercise in gymnastics. Her parents live in Okayama, an eight-hour drive west of Tokyo.

For Kokumai, ranked No. 7 in the world, to reach the final six at the Olympics – there are two bronze medal matches in kata – wasn’t shocking. Rather it’s fulfilling for a 28-year-old whose parents are Japanese nationals yet identifies with a sport born in Japan (via the indigenous Ryukyu Kingdom, annexed in 1879) through her American heritage.

Kokumai lost her bronze medal match, but she was proud of her performance. “I would not change anything about it,” she said. “I’m happy to be back here in Japan. I spent a lot of time here as a kid and a college student. It was a very special Olympics. Unfortunately, I won’t be back with the hardware.”

— Jeff Metcalfe

Texans’ Jonathan Owens ‘sick’ watching girlfriend Simone Biles struggle

Simone Biles’ boyfriend, Jonathan Owens, knows a thing or two about the pressure that comes with being an elite athlete. Owens is a safety for the Houston Texans, but he acknowledges he doesn’t understand the pressure Biles felt.

“It was hard for me to really understand what she was going through because I’m not on that stage and dealing with those pressures and everything, but I just try to be as understanding as possible,” Owens told reporters Thursday.

Houston Texans defensive back Jonathan Owens, pictured here during practice on Saturday, July 31, 2021, spoke out about watching girlfriend Simone Biles struggle during the Olympics.

When Owens saw Biles walk off a rough first vault in the gymnastics team final on July 27 and immediately talk to her coach, he said he felt sick to his stomach.

“I was sick for her, just because I can see her face, I kind of know her facial expressions, I can kind of read her lips and kind of know what was going on and kind of what she was telling her coach,” Owens said.

“I kind of knew what was going on beforehand so I was just really hoping she was going to get over it and be able to go out there and perform,” Owens continued. “So I was sick to my stomach because she wasn’t able to go out there.”

Part of Biles’ legacy will also include how she stepped away from the sport on its biggest stage to preserve her mental and physical health. That’s something Owens, like most of the gymnastics world, is proud of.

“I was proud of her,” Owens said. “Just to be able to overcome what was going on. She kind of altered her beam routine, but I was just happy for her.”

— Alyssa Hertel

Kevin Durant one win away from becoming America’s greatest international basketball player

TOKYO – We’ve never really known what makes Kevin Durant happy, what he really wants his legacy in this game to be. Perhaps that’s the way he prefers it. But from the outside looking in, his 13 years in the NBA have marked by the ennui of a millennial who is seduced by the promise of fulfillment, only to discover real life doesn’t exactly work that way.

The path Durant has chosen for his career made him a target of constant derision. He was called a frontrunner for leaving Oklahoma City to join Steph Curry’s team in Golden State. When he left basketball nirvana to join up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, the only explanation that made sense was annoyance with how little credit he got for delivering two titles.

But Durant is one game away at these Olympics from doing something that will hopefully deliver the satisfaction and the unique place in history that seems so elusive for him. If he wins the gold medal on Saturday, Durant will have a claim as the greatest American men’s basketball player of all time on the international stage.

— Dan Wolken

Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley makes a splash with knitting

British diver Tom Daley, who won a gold medal last week in synchronized 10-meter platform diving, has taken social media by storm with his crafting projects during the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Daley on Wednesday revealed a cardigan he made and embroidered with symbols to represent the Tokyo Games and Team Great Britain. The sweater features the word “Tokyo” on the front, a Union Jack flag, and a “Team GB” logo with Olympic rings.

Daley showed off the cardigan in a video posted to social media.

“When I got to Tokyo, I wanted to make something that would remind me of these games. Something that I could say I had made in Tokyo, during the Olympics!” Daley wrote in the caption of his video.

Daley in a video last week revealed a pouch he made to store his gold medal. He shared with fans that “the one thing that has kept me like sane throughout this whole process is my love for knitting and crocheting, all things stitching.”

His videos have quickly gone viral, garnering millions of views on Instagram and TikTok.

Daley’s knitting and crocheting at Olympic events in Tokyo have also caught the eye of fans at home, who have celebrated his crafting on social media.

Daley has also used his knitting and crocheting skills to raise money for the Brain Tumor Charity in the U.K., setting up a raffle last month that fans could enter for the chance to win a colorful sweater.

Robert Daley, Tom Daley’s father, died of brain cancer in 2011.

The diver is set to raffle off Tokyo-inspired sweaters to raise money for the organization, according to multiple reports.

— Marina Pitofsky

US wrestler can win a lot more than just gold in final

U.S. wrestler Gable Steveson will participate in the men’s freestyle 125kg final Friday at the Tokyo Olympics, where he will compete with pride and honor in representing his country.

He’ll be competing for 250,000 other reasons, too.

Steveson, also a wrestler for the University of Minnesota, stands to cash in big with a gold medal, thanks to award programs in place that pay out stipends to athletes who make it to the podium.

It starts with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC). Through its program Operation Gold, any U.S. athlete who wins a medal in any sport will also receive a financial reward: $37,500 for gold, $22,500 for silver, $15,000 for bronze.

But that’s just the beginning.

Several of the national governing bodies of the sports have additional incentive reward programs, based on performance. But since the national governing bodies are organized as private, non-profit organizations, they are not required to publicly disclose the monetary amounts of the awards.

The governing body of wrestling, however, USA Wrestling, has details about its reward program called the Living The Dream Medal Fund on its official website.

Under the program, any wrestler who gets a gold medal will cash in $250,000. A silver nets $50,000 and a bronze $25,000.

USA Wrestling spokesman Gary Abbott confirmed to USA TODAY Sports’ Steve Berkowitz that USA Wrestling had the Living The Dream Medal Fund in place for the Tokyo Games.

So when Steveson faces Geno Petriashvili, the 2016 bronze medalist and three-time world champion (2017-19) of Georgia in the final on Friday, he could take home the quarter of a million dollars.

— Lorenzo Reyes

Beach volleyball ‘A Team’ close in on Olympic gold

TOKYO – For finals-bound U.S. beach volleyball duo April Ross and Alix Klineman, the dream of an Olympic gold medal started with a risk.

In 2017, 31-year-old Klineman abandoned a lifetime of playing indoor volleyball and switched her focus exclusively to beach. The 6-foot-5 Stanford alumna had her sights set on the Olympics despite having no international beach volleyball experience.

Ross, 39, had a legacy on the sand. After winning silver at the 2012 London Olympics with Jennifer Kessy and taking bronze at the 2016 Rio Games with Kerri Walsh Jennings, Ross sought a new partner. Then, after parting ways with Lauren Fendrick — her teammate in 2017 — Ross took the plunge and joined up with Klineman later that year.

In their 2-0 semifinal victory over the Swiss pair of Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidric, Ross and Klineman showed what makes their partnership special. Both displayed their offensive prowess, as Ross finished with 15 attack points and Klineman added nine. Klineman, who was named AVP’s best blocker in 2018 and 2019, contributed four block points.

Although Ross knew what to expect heading into her third Olympics, she admitted the tournament doesn’t get any easier with time. That’s why the prospect of earning a medal is still just as exciting as it was when Ross first set out on her Olympic journey. They’ll have that opportunity in the final on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET Thursday) when they play Australia’s Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy.

To win gold with Klineman would be the perfect payoff on a major investment.

“She has worked so hard to get where she is,” Ross said. “I didn’t want to let her down. I think the fact that we’re in the gold medal match is just what we both wanted for each other.”

— Olivia Reiner

Alix Klineman, left, and April Ross, right, get set for a serve during a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games match against Germany at Shiokaze Park in Tokyo, Japan.

Sumo wrestler statue may be scaring equestrian horses

They may be used to hurdling over obstacles in front of crowds, but horses are still skittish by nature.

It takes years of training to wean them of their natural behavior and channel their strength into equestrian jumping, but when a life-sized sumo statue is added next to an obstacle, it may compound their jumpy nature.

“As you come around, you see a big guy’s (butt),” British rider Harry Charles said.

“It is very realistic,” Israel’s Teddy Vlock added.

The sumo wrestler, whose arms are apart while the body is hunched over in a squat, is positioned on the 10th obstacle in the 14-jump Olympic course and riders believe its presence may have distracted some horses in qualifying for the individual jumping final Tuesday night. Some pairings accumulated penalty points when their horses pulled up short of the barrier, preventing pairs from entering Wednesday’s finals.

— Christian Ortega

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympics 2021 live updates: Beach volleyball gold medal match tonight



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