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Tokyo Olympics: A guide to Utah’s top medal contenders, how to watch, and a look at the Games’ newest sports

Utah has more medal contenders than you might think, and a few athletes who have already made history.

(Eugene Hoshiko | AP) Staffs walk at the grandstand as athletes compete during a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Game Cycling BMX Freestyle test event Monday, May 17, 2021, at the Olympic BMX Course of Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo.

It took the Olympic flame longer than expected to get to Tokyo.

But one year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced its postponement, and amid a resurgence of the virus in Japan’s capital, the Summer Olympics are set to begin this week.

Here’s what you need to know:

When do the Olympics start?

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics — the name organizers are sticking with despite the one-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic — officially will be held from July 23 to Aug. 8. However, competitions actually begin July 21 (July 20 in the United States) in both softball and soccer.

Spectators will not be allowed in venues in Tokyo, including opening and closing ceremonies, after officials declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 case numbers. Some events outside of the city, however, may have some fans in attendance. But almost all of the cheering you hear will either be piped in or will come from teammates and fellow competitors.

How can I watch the 2020 Olympic Games?

(Eugene Hoshiko | AP) A woman walks by the Olympic Rings near the National Stadium in Tokyo Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

The Olympics will be broadcast, as they have been for the past 33 years, by NBC and its partners. In all, the action — from the opening ceremony on July 23 to the closing one Aug. 8 and some on the fringes of those dates — will be featured by NBCUniversal on two broadcast networks, six cable networks and multiple streaming platforms.

NBC and CNBC will carry prime-time coverage, including men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer, swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball. USA Network, NBCSN, The Olympics Channel, The Golf Channel and Telemundo Deportes will also air events.

Between NBColympics.com and the NBC Sports app, the media company is expected to stream more than 5,000 hours of action. You’ll need to verify your cable provider or sign up for a monthly subscription to Peacock ($4.99) to access it.

Remember that Tokyo is 15 hours ahead of Utah and most live events will be shown between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Who are the top medal contenders with Utah ties?

  • Haley Batten, mountain biking: The longtime Park City resident, who now lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., has positioned herself as a favorite to medal in the women’s cross country race on July 27. Earlier this year, in her first World Cup race as an elite, she finished on the podium. She took second in her next long-track race to punch her ticket to Tokyo. She is currently fourth in the World Cup standings.

  • Rhyan White, swimming: The Herriman native won the 200-meter backstroke at the U.S. Olympic trials with the third-fastest time in the world this year to qualify for her first Olympics. She will also compete in the 100 back and is expected to be part of at least one relay.

  • Amanda Chidester and Hannah Flippen, softball: Team USA won the last Softball World Championship, in 2018, in extra innings over Japan. The Americans are a slim favorite over their hosts for the gold.

(Jeff Roberson | AP) Grace McCallum after competing on the beam during the women's U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials Sunday, June 27, 2021, in St. Louis.

  • Grace McCallum, gymnastics: The USA Gymnastics team has brought home hardware from the Olympics every year since 1992 and it’s hard to see how it won’t win its third-straight gold with Simone Biles back on the team. The 18-year-old McCallum, who has committed to compete for the Red Rocks as a freshman, could also medal in the all-around. She finished fourth at the uber-competitive Olympic trials last month.

  • MyKayla Skinner, gymnastics: The former Red Rocks competitor won’t get to share in the team spoils since she was selected to compete as an individual in Tokyo. Still, she’s strong in the all-around and probably one of the top two vaulters in the world. She just has finish among the top two Americans in qualifying to get the chance to prove it.

(David Becker | AP) Nigeria's Gabe Nnamdi Vincent (22) and United States' Damian Lillard (6) chase the ball during an exhibition basketball game Saturday, July 10, 2021, in Las Vegas.

  • Damian Lillard, basketball: The Weber State product joins Team USA this go-round, and despite recent tune-up losses to Nigeria and Australia in Las Vegas, the Americans are still heavily favored by the odds-makers to win gold. Australia, which includes the Jazz’s Joe Ingles on its roster, is a distant second.

What are the new Olympic sports?

Surfing, sport climbing, skateboarding, karate, baseball and softball.

Japan was the first country allowed to add temporary but legitimate Olympic sports (not test events) to its program as part of the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Agenda 2020, its roadmap for the Games. The new sports are expected to infuse the Olympics — which for years has had a one-in, one-out policy for new sports — with flexibility, innovation and, most importantly, youth appeal.

Surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding have also been picked up by Paris 2024 (along with breakdancing). Baseball/softball and karate will have to wait until at least Los Angeles 2028 to see if they can get back on the Olympic schedule.

Climbing

(Rick Bowmer | AP) United States' Kyra Condie climbs during women's boulder qualification at the climbing World Cup on May 21, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Team USA’s sport climbing team features two Salt Lake City athletes: Nathaniel Coleman and Kyra Condie. They’ll be joined by Brooke Raboutou and Collin Duffy, both of Colorado, in the two, 20-person fields.

In an unusual setup for the sport, athletes will compete in three disciplines: boulder, lead and speed. Their points in all three will be combined to determine who takes home the single set of medals, per gender, in the sport. Speed is considered the outlier of the three and training for what amounts to a sprint up a climbing wall can clash with that of lead and boulder, the two more creative and acrobatic disciplines. In Paris, medals will be awarded for both speed and for the combo of lead and boulder.

For more details on Olympic climbing, check out this guide from climbing.com.

Skateboarding

(Richard Vogel | AP) Members of the first U.S. Olympic skateboarding team arrive on their boards for a news conference in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, June 21, 2021. The Olympic skateboarding team was introduced in Southern California, where the sport was invented roughly 70 years ago. Skateboarding is an Olympic sport for the first time in Tokyo, and the Americans are expected to be a strong team.

Some of the first medals of the Tokyo Games will be awarded in street-style skateboarding on July 25 and 26. It’s a subjective sport in which athletes are scored for the maneuvers they do on a course that mimics any city center, complete with stairs, railings, ramps and benches. In a twist of irony, though, doing any of those maneuvers in a Japanese urban area and on most streets and sidewalks is still illegal and skateboarders are still seen as mischief makers.

While no Olympic skateboarders hail from Utah, it’s a sport worth keeping an eye on. As soon as they’re done competing in Tokyo, many of the athletes will be hopping on a flight to Salt Lake City to participate in the first Street League Skateboarding event of the season. It is scheduled for Aug. 27-28 at the Utah State Fairpark.

Medals will also be awarded in men’s and women’s park skateboarding. It’s held in a large concrete bowl made up of several smaller, linked bowls and is the style made popular by Tony Hawk (who has joined NBC’s commentary team).

Surfing

After much debate, surfing will not be held in a wave pool — which would put the athletes on a level playing field but wouldn’t test their ocean knowledge or ability to surf beach breaks. It will instead be held off of Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Chiba, Japan, about four hours from Tokyo. The fields will consist of 20 men and 20 women. The World Surf League, the sport’s professional league, classifies Hawaii as its own country, but the Olympics won’t play by those rules. That means the USA will be represented by Carissa Moore and John John Florence of Hawaii as well as Kolohe Andino of California and Caroline Marks of Florida.

Karate

Karate will be featured as an Olympic sport in the country in which it originated, and then it is expected to disappear for at least the next two Games. Two disciplines will be showcased in Tokyo: kumite and kata. Athletes will spar in kumite, which features three weight classes per gender. In kata, athletes will demonstrate their knowledge and ability to perform many of the 102 forms recognized by the World Karate Federation.

Baseball and softball

(Eli Hartman | Odessa American via AP) United States' Amanda Chidester (4) is congratulated by teammates after scoring in the first game of the team's doubleheader against Team Alliance, made up of college players from around the country, Friday, June 11, 2021, in Midland, Texas.

Baseball and softball enjoyed about a 10-year run on the Olympic program after they were added in 1992 and 1996, respectively. However, they were removed after the 2008 Games in Beijing via a vote by the IOC, which had committed to reducing the number of sports on the program. This will be their first — and possibly last — time back. Neither will be part of the games in Paris, and L.A. 2028 hasn’t said whether it will try to add the sports.

The USA softball team is a gold-medal favorite. It will feature many of the best-known players in the game, such as pitcher Monica Abbott, as well as two athletes with Utah ties: former University of Utah player and assistant coach Hannah Flippen, who is an alternate, and Draper resident Amanda Chidester, a catcher. Chidester’s fiancée, U. of U. alumna Anissa Urtez, will play for Team Mexico.

No players who are on an MLB team’s 40-man roster will be allowed by the league to compete in Tokyo. But that rule opened the door for Eddy Alvarez, a former Salt Lake Community College shortstop. Alvarez already owns some Olympic hardware: He won a silver medal in short track speedskating in 2014.

Other notable Utahns at the Games

These Utah athletes will be the only competitors in their sport for the country they’ll represent:

  • Nathan Ikon Crumpton, track: For all the track and field events in the Olympics, American Samoa could send only one male and one female representative. Crumpton, who lives in Park City, will be the man and will compete in the 100 meters.

  • Kathleen Noble, rowing: Noble, who was born in Uganda but rowed sweeps for Princeton, started training for the Olympics with Utah Crew shortly after her college graduation. In 2019, the then-Huntsman Cancer Institute technician became the first person from the African country to ever qualify for the Olympics in rowing. She’ll compete in single sculls.

  • Josue Dominguez, swimming: The Dominican Republic will send just one athlete to represent it in swimming in Tokyo, and BYU swimmer Dominguez earned the honor. He swam national records in the 100M and 200M breaststrokes in April to punch his ticket.

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