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Day Six: Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Published in Table Tennis
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 20:23

Sun sets up All-China Final

Sun Yingsha engineered a commanding performance as she took down Mima Ito of Japan 4-0 (11-3, 11-9, 11-6, 11-4) in their semi-final clash. The number two seed Chinese has won six of the last eight meetings against Ito, who is seeded one spot below Sun. 20-year-old Sun, who is just 14 days younger than Ito, took control of the match early by winning the first game 11-3. She stormed to a 5-0 lead in the second game before Ito fought back to 9-9. However, the Chinese was too fast and decisive in her strokes and snatched the next two points to go 2-0 up. Sun would go on to make it an All-China with Chen as she outplayed Ito 11-6, 11-4 in the third and fourth game.  “The turning point came in the second game as it could go either way. I fought for every point and did not give up as I wanted to extend my advantage after winning the first game. Mima has already won the Mixed Doubles gold medal, and she’s a very good player. I knew it was not going to be an easy match and just told myself to play my own game and be focused,” said Sun

Chen books place in Women’s Singles final

China’s Chen Meng ended Yu Mengyu’s hopes of making it into the Women’s Singles final when she beat the Singaporean 4-0 (11-6, 11-8, 11-7, 11-6) in today’s opening table tennis match.

Chen enjoyed a 2-0 advantage over Yu in their head-to-head record and last played each other at the 2019 Hungarian Open. She extended that winning record over Yu with her quick and aggressive style play, which proved too strong for the Singaporean

Chen, who is making her Olympics debut, started aggressively by taking the first game 11-6 in nine minutes. The Chinese came out strongly again in the second game by racing to a 6-0 lead before Yu staged a comeback, winning eights points to take the game to 8-10. Chen then called for a time-out which proved crucial as she took the second game, 11-8. Despite taking an early lead in the third game, Chen showed her dominance again, winning the game in seven minutes. Yu then suffered what appeared to be a leg injury when she was 2-4 down in the crucial fourth game. After receiving medical attention, Yu continued her battle, winning three consecutive points to tie the game at 5-5. But the world number one once again outplayed the Singaporean by clinching the decider 11-6 to book her place in the Women’s Singles final.

“I’m very pleased with how I played today. I was focused and fought for every point. I’m looking forward to the final tonight and hopefully, I can play well again,” said Chen.

The Vegas Golden Knights attempted to break the internet on Tuesday, trading the reigning Vezina Trophy winner -- and face of the franchise -- Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks.

In a move that generated considerably less angst on Wednesday, they traded Nick Holden and a 2022 third-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for scoring winger Evgenii Dadonov.

Which side comes out ahead in this swap? Here are our grades for both general managers:

As day turned to night on the first day of 2021 NHL free agency, it appeared that the Colorado Avalanche had missed out on all of their targets in the goalie market.

Instead, GM Joe Sakic swung big, landing Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes, in exchange for defenseman Conor Timmins, a 2022 first-round pick and a conditional 2024 third-round pick.

Who comes out ahead in this deal? Let's dive into the details and grade each team:

KAWAGOE, Japan – Given the nature of an Olympics that was postponed a year by a pandemic, Thomas Pieters’ concern was understandable.

“I wasn’t in a good way yesterday,” Pieters admitted on Thursday.

Pieters said he suffered from fever and headaches on Wednesday which limited his preparation to just a single nine-hole practice round. Although a COVID-19 test came back negative, the 29-year-old from Belgium said he wasn’t much better early Thursday when he arrived for Round 1 at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Thomas Pieters shot 6-under 65 in Round 1 of the men's Olympic event, highlighted by an eagle hole-out at the par-4 11th.

“I felt horrible this morning,” he said. “I stressed a little bit yesterday. I just didn’t drink enough on Tuesday. A bit better today.”

Pieters’ poor health didn’t seem to impact his play on Day 1 of the Olympic Men’s Competition. After a slow start, he eagled the par-4 11th and added four birdies to finish with a 6-under 65, which was two shots behind early leader Sepp Straka.

It was exactly the kind of round he envisioned ever since he finished in fourth place at the 2016 Olympics. Coming up just short of a spot on the podium has been his primary motivation ever since.

“Being from a small country, we’ve got two medals up to now. If you just get one more for your country, it’s like legendary status back home,” he said.  “I just want to get a medal.”

Hoppe hopes to continue making impact, exceed expectations

Published in Soccer
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 21:13

Time was running out for Matthew Hoppe, in more ways than one. There was little more than seven minutes left in Sunday's Gold Cup quarterfinal between the U.S. and Jamaica, but Hoppe's night was going to end before the full-time whistle. Nicholas Gioacchini was on the sidelines ready to replace him. The next stoppage in play would see Hoppe carry a night's worth of frustration with him to the bench.

At which point, Hoppe, 20, made sure he went out on a high. With Cristian Roldan's deft cross arcing across the Jamaica goalmouth, Hoppe skied at the far post, outleaping Jamaica's Oneil Fisher, avoiding attentions of Reggae Boyz keeper Andre Blake and headed the ball home to give the U.S. men's national team a 1-0 victory.

Hoppe then exited the pitch, his job done. Nothing that happened before the goal mattered, be it the two times that Blake had stymied Hoppe's fierce drives, or the occasional missed pass. What mattered more was the relentlessness with which Hoppe played and helped his team.

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"When a guy puts that type of effort in, and hangs in there and keeps going, we want to stick with him because we thought it was doing a good job and because he's goal dangerous," said manager Gregg Berhalter about Hoppe. He later added, "It's also something we talked about; no space between the backline and the goalie. We've got to get it to the far post, and so it was a good play."

For Hoppe, it was the latest milestone in a year full of them. Last November he made his first-team debut with club side Schalke 04. Six weeks later he became the first American to record a Bundesliga hat trick in a 4-0 win over TSG Hoffenheim, one that allowed Schalke to avoid setting a dubious Bundesliga record for longest winless streak in league history. He was soon adorning the front page of Kicker, the German soccer bible. (Hoppe made sure to grab a few extra copies.) People were soon stopping him in the street, although due to COVID-19 restrictions, neither as many nor as often as in normal times.

"A lot changed for me," Hoppe told ESPN. "But at the same time, I tried to make everything the same, so I can just keep focusing on what I had to do because we were in a relegation battle. We didn't have time to celebrate anything. We just had to focus and get on to the next game."

Schalke was unable to avoid the drop, but that didn't stop Hoppe's run of success. He impressed Berhalter enough during a U.S. training camp prior to the CONCACAF Nations League finals that he was named to the Gold Cup roster. His debut came against Martinique and now he's bagged his first international goal, all while playing an unfamiliar position on the left wing.

"I've been having to adapt to that, except it's not something that's new to me necessarily, because when I play striker, I like to move around to confuse the defenders, create spaces for myself and for other people," he said. "So I'm used to not only stretching the backline, making runs in behind, but also dropping into the pocket to get the ball, and turning and driving at the opponent. I have what it takes to be a complete player, a complete attacker. I just have to keep developing my skills."

There is a swagger to how Hoppe plays. Outwardly, there's no shortage of confidence given the way he attacks opponents off the dribble, and strikes the ball with venom. But in the past year, new challenges have emerged. That transition from unknown to the cover of Kicker has waylaid plenty of players. Expectations get raised. Attention increases.

Hoppe admits there have been times during his career when expectations have weighed heavy. When he was at Barcelona's residence academy in Casa Grande, Arizona, he said it wasn't uncommon for him to throw up before games. Perhaps it was residual hurt from being cut from the LA Galaxy's academy at age 14, or not getting called into U.S. youth national team camps. Or maybe with his dream of being a pro getting closer, he sensed what was at stake.

"I'd just be so tough on myself because I expected a lot from me," he said. Over time, Hoppe learned to make pressure his friend and not his enemy.

"Embrace how you feel," he said. " And [it's about] how you adapt, rather than how you react to it, you know? However you feel, that's how you're supposed to feel, and you're supposed to work with it no matter what."

By the time he got to Schalke, Hoppe had become more adept at being comfortable with being uncomfortable. When he moved up to the first team, he spoke of feeling "good nerves," the kind that didn't cause him to freeze up, but gave him the energy he needed to excel on the field. It made each step up the ladder easier to manage, although the demands to perform never completely went away.

"When I made my move to the first team, I guess there's some pressure on me at first, things like, 'Why are you playing this guy? Why are you letting him play forward? Why are you letting him lead the team?' I got some goals and then eventually I just stopped letting the pressure get to me, and just decided to play."

That freedom is now emerging with the U.S. team. Berhalter noted how Hoppe took some time off following the camp prior to the Nations League, and that it has been a process for the attacker to get up to speed. Now he sees progress.

"[Hoppe's] improving with the concepts, with the position, with his fitness, the sharpness, so all these things have been progressing during the tournament in a positive way," said Berhalter. "We know we're asking him to play at times out of position, but it is what it is. We don't have wingers on this team and it's an opportunity, and sometimes that's what you need to really make a difference."

With Schalke set to spend the 2021-22 campaign in the 2. Bundesliga, the expectation is that the club will transfer Hoppe elsewhere. Various reports have clubs from six leagues -- including the Premier League quartet of Newcastle United, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers -- showing interest in the American. One source cited AS Monaco and Eintracht Frankfurt as being among those who are chasing Hoppe.

"I don't know what the future holds," said Hoppe. "My focus is on winning Gold Cup and getting another trophy for the USA."

And meeting increasing expectations.

Bat long and take the game deep. These were the things Dhananjaya de Silva was telling himself during his match-winning 40 not out off 34 balls on Wednesday when he helped deliver Sri Lanka's first T20I victory in six matches.
Not known for his hitting capability, the match situation was perhaps made for de Silva, who struck only two boundaries - a six and a four - and focused instead on running singles and twos. With a severely depleted India making only 132, Sri Lanka did not require huge fireworks with the bat to chase it down.
"This is what I'm meant to do for the team," de Silva said after the match. "In the previous match as well, what I'd been told was to bat 20 overs from one side. I wasn't able to do that in the previous game. Today was my day and I did that. If I can bat at a run-a-ball until the final overs, letting others attack around me, I can raise my strike rate towards the finish as well. That was the coach, captain and selectors' plan."
de Silva said the surface for this match was the slowest of the tour. It took a significant turn right through the game, with spinners picking up seven of the 11 wickets to fall. Only three sixes were struck in the entire match.
"We knew it was a slow pitch, so our target while bowling was to restrict them to 125 or 130," he said. "Our bowlers did well and we were able to manage that. When it came to our innings, we knew that it would be tough to bat as well, but if we dragged the game out to the 20th over, the equation becomes simple and we know what we have to do. I think even a T20 match, that's the way to do it."
Despite de Silva's innings, Sri Lanka's chase was far from straightforward. They had actually been behind the DLS par score when rain arrived at the end of the 18th over, raising the possibility of the teams going off the field. In the end, the rain ceased quickly and the match continued with only a minor delay, but it required a six from the bat of Chamika Karunaratne in the 19th over to swing the game Sri Lanka's way again. de Silva, though, said he trusted his lower-order team-mates.
"We know that in the last four or five batters we have a few that can hit a six. Chamika, Wanindu Hasaranga, Isuru Udana and even Dushmantha Chameera can hit a big shot. What I'd wanted to do was to take the game deep, thinking that Wanindu or Chamika would be there with me to finish it off. Thankfully, Chamika was there at the end."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf

Support pours in on social media after Biles' exit

Published in Breaking News
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 21:17

Simone Biles posted on social media Wednesday night that the outpouring of love and support she has received since her withdrawal at the Olympics has made her "realize I'm more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed."

Earlier in the week, Biles withdrew from Thursday's individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Games to focus on her mental well-being. The decision came after Biles also removed herself from the team final following one rotation, on vault. She cited her mental health as the reason when speaking to the media following the competition.

On Wednesday, though, her message was one of appreciation. Biles also shared popstar Justin Bieber's message in support of Biles on Instagram. Drawing on his own personal experience cutting a tour short to take care of his mental health, Bieber said, "Nobody will ever understand the pressures you face! I know we don't know each other but I'm so proud of the decision to withdraw. It's as simple as -- what does it mean to gain the world but forfeit your soul," he wrote.

"No's are more powerful than yes's," he added. "When what you normally love starts to steal your joy it's important to take a step back to evaluate why."

Simone also shared another post by fitness trainer Andrea Orris in which Orris elaborated on Biles' numerous accomplishments and expressed anger at people who called Biles "weak" for quitting.

"For non-gymnasts, the fact that she balked mid-air and accidentally did a 1.5 on her first vault instead of a 2.5 is a big deal. It's terrifying. She could have been severely injured getting lost in the air like that," Orris wrote.

On Wednesday evening Tokyo time, Biles spent some time watching American teammates Sam Mikulak and Brody Malone compete in the men's all-round finals. Mikulak, who has competed in three Olympics, also praised Biles' decision to put her mental health first.

Dressel delivers in 100 free to capture 2nd gold

Published in Breaking News
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 21:05

TOKYO -- At an Olympics where some of America's biggest stars have faltered, Caeleb Dressel lived up to the hype.

Dressel claimed the first individual Olympic gold medal of his career with two furious laps of the pool Thursday morning, winning the 100-meter freestyle over defending champion Kyle Chalmers.

As is his style, Dressel dove into the pool and came up with the lead. He was still ahead at the lone flip, and turned away the Aussie's bid for a second straight gold.

"It means a lot," Dressel said. "I knew that weight was on my shoulders."

Dressel's winning time was an Olympic record of 47.02 seconds, a mere six-hundredths of a second ahead of Chalmers, who had to settle for a silver at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

"I wasn't worried about anything," Dressel said. "During the race there's only so much you can do. Whatever's going to happen is going to happen. I stuck to my race plan so if it got me first, OK, if it got me second, OK."

The bronze was claimed by Russia's Kliment Kolesnikov (47.44), who added to his silver in the 100 backstroke.

The first three gold medals of Dressel's career were all in the relays: two in Rio de Janeiro, another in the 4x100 free relay at the Tokyo Games.

Now, Dressel has earned a gold all by himself.

"It is a lot different. I guess I thought it would be, I just didn't want to admit to it," he said. "It's a lot tougher. You have to rely on yourself, there's no one to bail you out from a bad split."

Dressel climbed atop the lane rope, a look of wonder on his face, and held up the index finger on each hand -- No. 1 indeed.

Dressel's gold was the second of the morning for the Americans, who got a surprise victory from Bobby Finke in the Olympic debut of the men's 800 free.

Also winning golds: Australia's Izaac Stubblety-Cook in the men's 200 breaststroke and China's Zhang Yufei in the women's 200 butterfly.

After Michael Phelps retired, Dressel emerged as the world's dominant swimmer.

He turned in staggering performances at the last two world championships, earning seven gold medals at Budapest in 2017, followed by a six-gold, two-silver performance at Gwangju in 2019.

As important as those meets were, they're not the Olympics.

He needed an individual gold to solidify his legacy.

Mission accomplished.

"These moments are a lot different than worlds," Dressel conceded.

Finke's pulled out his victory with a dazzling burst on the final lap.

Germany's Florian Wellbrock snatched the lead from Italy's Gregorio Paltrinieri on the final flip, with Finke lurking back in fourth.

But the American turned on the speed at the end of the 16-lap race, passing all three swimmers ahead of him to take the gold. Finke's final 50 was 26.39 - nearly 2 seconds faster than anyone else.

"I had no idea I was going to do that," Finke said. "I noticed with 10 meters off (the final turn) I was catching a little bit of ground, and that was the only motivation I needed."

Finke's winning time was 7 minutes, 41.87 seconds, just 0.24 ahead of Paltrinieri. Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine touched in 7:42.33 to take the bronze, knocking Wellbrock back to fourth.

Over two swims, Finke knocked about 6 seconds off his personal best coming into the Olympics to walk away with a historic gold.

He wasn't thinking about the pain until he touched the wall.

"Your mind just kind of disappears and you're blocking it out at the end," Finke said.

The men's 800 freestyle was added to the Olympic program for these games, marking the first time that approximate distance was contested by the men since there was an 880-yard race at the 1904 St. Louis Games.

Mirroring Finke's finish, albeit over a much shorter distance, Stubblety-Cook rallied on the final lap to pass Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands, who went out fast and tried to hold on.

The winning time was an Olympic record of 2:06.38, giving the team from Down Under its fifth gold of the swimming competition - and its first men's breaststroke gold since Ian O'Brien at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Stubblety-Cook was surprised as anyone to be standing on the top step of podium.

"I was happy enough just to be here," he said. "Honestly, I'm just pretty lost for words at the moment. It's still all sinking in."

Dressel's victory pulled the Americans ahead of the Aussies with six golds in Tokyo. They also led the overall medal tally with 20.

Kamminga was under world-record pace through the first 150 meters, but he faded to the silver in 2:07.01. The bronze went to Finland's Matti Mattsson in 2:07.24.

American Nic Fink finished fifth.

Zhang turned in a dominating performance to win China's first swimming gold of these games in the women's 200-meter butterfly. Her Olympic-record time of 2:03.86 put her more than a body length ahead of the pair of Americans, Regan Smith and Hali Flickinger.

The U.S. swimmers dueled back and forth for the silver, with Smith pulling ahead at the end to touch in 2:05.30. Flickinger earned the bronze in 2:05.65.

Smith, whose best stroke is the back, was thrilled to claim a medal in the fly.

"I was just super surprised," she said. "I really fought hard."

In the final event of the morning, China surprised the U.S. and Australia with a world-record performance in the women's 4x200-meter freestyle relay.

Katie Ledecky took the anchor leg for the Americans in third place, nearly 2 seconds behind the Chinese and also trailing the Aussies. Ledecky passed Australia's Leah Neale and closed the gap significant on China's Li Bingjie, but couldn't quite catch her at the end.

Li touched in 7 minutes, 40.33 seconds, denying both Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus another gold medal. After winning both the 200 and 400 free individual titles, Titmus led off for Australia in the relay.

The Americans claimed silver in 7:40.73, and Australia took the bronze in 7:41.29.

It was the first swimming world record of the Tokyo Games -- in fact, all three medalists broke the previous mark of 7:41.50 set by the Aussies at the 2019 world championships.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Top draft prospect Suggs signs deal with Adidas

Published in Basketball
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 19:58

Jalen Suggs has landed a multiyear footwear and apparel deal with Adidas ahead of his anticipated selection early in the 2021 NBA draft on Thursday.

"I'm so excited to be with the brand," the former Gonzaga star said. "I grew up inspired by [Derrick] D-Rose and Dame [Lillard] and want to follow in the steps of the young Adidas family coming up now like Trae [Young] and Don [Mitchell]."

After a breakout freshman season leading the Nike-sponsored Bulldogs to the national championship game of the NCAA tournament, Suggs became one of the most sought-after players entering shoe-deal talks this spring.

The contract was negotiated by Wasserman, with Suggs and the agency holding a series of seven presentations -- most in person, some virtual -- in Los Angeles to begin the process. Adidas ultimately emerged as Suggs' choice.

Along with outlining product plans for Suggs in both basketball and lifestyle footwear categories, the brand committed to funding a court refurbishment in his hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and mapped out a pathway to a potential signature shoe down the road.

Adidas currently makes signature footwear for the NBA's James Harden, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Trae Young, with each product being released during the player's second or third season with the company.

In addition to Suggs, Adidas has finalized endorsement deals with three other players expected to be selected near the top of the draft, signing explosive wing Jalen Green, versatile big man Evan Mobley and scoring guard Sharife Cooper.

"Each individual brings something unique to our team," Eric Wise, global general manager of basketball at Adidas, said in a statement. "From their talent and work ethic on the court, to a community-first mindset, values and openness to collaboration, we cannot wait to see where this week takes them."

Behind the scenes, the brand recently merged its Originals and Basketball departments to work more closely together, as the culture of the sport has continued to blur the lines between performance and lifestyle in recent years.

Another factor in swaying players to land with the brand has been the recent appointment of designer Jerry Lorenzo, founder of high-fashion brand Fear of God, to help lead the creative and business strategy of Adidas Basketball. Lorenzo has launched coveted crossover basketball sneakers with Nike in the past, while also carving out his own sought-after footwear category at Fear of God, before signing a long-term partnership with Adidas in late 2020.

With new designers at the helm and a new hybrid marketing approach, along with existing signature athletes he has long looked up to, Suggs is looking ahead to a future with Adidas as he begins his NBA career.

"We will create culture together," Suggs said. "And if you give me some time, I will pursue greatness like them."

Source: Avs get goalie Kuemper, pay steep price

Published in Hockey
Wednesday, 28 July 2021 19:37

The Colorado Avalanche paid a hefty price to acquire goaltender Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes after failing to come to terms with their free-agent starter Philipp Grubauer.

The Avalanche traded a 2022 first-round pick and young defenseman Conor Timmins for the 31-year-old Kuemper, a source confirmed to ESPN on Wednesday.

The Avalanche also gave the Coyotes a conditional 2024 third-round draft choice.

Colorado was left desperate for a goaltender on the first day of NHL free agency, as 17 different goaltenders either received new contracts or were traded in a 24-hour span. That included Grubauer, the Avalanche's starter for three seasons who was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season.

The expansion Seattle Kraken signed Grubauer to a six-year deal worth $5.9 million annually.

"I don't think we expected Grubauer to get to free agency," said Seattle GM Ron Francis, "and we were fortunate enough to get him signed."

Kuemper has one year left on his contract at $4.5 million against the salary cap. The Coyotes are retaining $1 million of that to facilitate the trade, according to Sportsnet.

That left the Avalanche, a favorite to win the Stanley Cup next season, with only backup Pavel Francouz under contract for next season, a goalie who missed the entire 2020-21 season after surgery for a lower body injury.

Kuemper was one of the best -- and only -- options available on the trade market. He's entering his 10th NHL season, having played the past four seasons in Arizona where he had a 55-48-15 record with a .920 save percentage and a 2.43 goals-against average. Over the past three seasons, Kuemper has 44.1 goals saved above average, 12th among all goaltenders and right ahead of Grubauer (42.5).

Last season, Kuemper had a 10-11-3 record with a .907 save percentage.

Timmins, 22, was a second-round pick for the Avalanche in 2017. He's played 32 games in the NHL over the past two seasons with Colorado, tallying seven points. He was known as an offensive defensemen in Canadian junior hockey, but has yet to replicate that on the pro level. The Avalanche dealt from a position of strength, as they have a deep group of defensemen.

The trade gives the Coyotes two first-round picks to go along with five second-round selections in the 2022 NHL Draft. After losing goalie Antti Raanta as a free agent to Carolina and trading Kuemper, former Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton is the only goalie under contract with substantive NHL experience.

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