Current time in Tokyo: Aug. 5, 11:34 a.m.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Japan has now won all three gold medals in skateboarding. The fourth and final event, men’s park, kicked off on Thursday morning in Tokyo (Wednesday night in the United States).

Men’s park is a wide-open contest that promises high-flying acrobatics, perfect for television. American talent runs deep: Heimana Reynolds from Hawaii and ranked No. 1 in the world; No. 2 Cory Juneau, who hails from California; and Zion Wright of Florida. Each of these men might win a medal — or none at all. A trio from Brazil could interfere, or maybe Oskar Rozenberg of Sweden.

Rune Glifberg of Denmark will get attention because, at 46, he looks like most everyone else’s dad. He won an X Games medal in 1995, before most Olympic skateboarders were born.

Skateboarding, making its debut at the Olympics, was added with the hope that it would instill the Summer Games with a jolt of youthful rebellion. But for those with more than a passing familiarity with names like Tony Hawk, Nyjah Huston and Yuto Horigome, it probably looks a lot like other major skate contests, such as the Dew Tour or Street League Skateboarding.

There are two distinct disciplines at the Games: street, which was completed at the end of July, and park. Both are judged by a panel, and each have their own qualified athletes. If you watch snowboarding at the Winter Olympics, think of them a little like slopestyle and halfpipe — variations in the setting that feature slightly different types of acrobatics.

Park is meant to evoke a swimming pool. It is a deep and unsymmetrical bowl of steep drops and contours. Athletes will navigate it in a single nonstop stretch for 45 seconds, or until they fall. They will launch and spin high over the bowl’s lip and drop back into the pool to gather speed to do it again. A panel of judges will score each athlete’s three runs, and the best score is the only one that counts.

In park, as in the street competition, the fields of 20 men and 20 women (featuring no more than three per country in each discipline) will each be reduced to eight finalists, who will come back later in the day and start over again.

The skateboard competitions are being held at Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo, an outdoor venue constructed specifically for these events.

Because of the time zone difference, the competition begins on Wednesday evening on the East Coast and ends after midnight. It will be broadcast live on CNBC and replayed later Thursday on NBC.




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United States

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Russian Olympic Committee

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The U.S. women’s soccer team, once a tournament favorite, now hopes to win the bronze medal game.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — A comprehensive victory over Spain seems to have righted the ship for the American men’s basketball team. The United States advanced to a semifinal at 1:15 p.m. Tokyo time, 12:15 a.m. Eastern on Thursday, against Australia, a team that beat the Americans in an exhibition game last month.

The U.S. women’s soccer team can’t be happy to have lost its own semifinal, but a consolation bronze is still available if the Americans can beat Australia in Kashima in a match that begins at 5 p.m. in Japan, 4 a.m. Eastern.

In track and field, several Americans are in the mix for medals in the men’s shot-put, and Grant Holloway could bring home triple jump gold in the morning session (Wednesday night U.S. time). At night, the men’s 400 meters is the highlight.

Nevin Harrison of the U.S. carries the country’s canoe/kayak hopes in the 200-meter canoe race, where she is the reigning world champion.

April Ross and Alix Klineman have advanced again in beach volleyball and will now play in the semifinal.

Also on Thursday, the first golds in climbing and karate will be awarded.

April Ross and Alix Klineman of the United States moved into their first gold medal match as a team.
Credit…John Sibley/Reuters

April Ross is going to play for her third Olympic medal in beach volleyball.

On Thursday morning, as the sand baked in the sun and a speckling of spectators looked for patches of shade, the American pair of Ross and Alix Klineman defeated Anouk Vergé-Dépré and Joana Heidrich of Switzerland in two sets, 21-12, 21-11, to advance to the gold medal game.

Ross won a silver medal at the 2012 Games in London with her partner Jen Kessy, and a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Games with Kerri Walsh Jennings.

Now with Klineman, an indoor volleyball player who made the transition to beach volleyball in 2017, Ross is looking to add an elusive gold medal to her collection.

They expected their semifinal match to be a difficult one. Vergé-Dépré and Heidrich had advanced to the semifinals with an impressive run, defeating Brazil, 21-19, 18-21, 15-12, on Tuesday.

When asked if going for any Olympic medal was getting to be old news, Ross laughed.

“No!” she said emphatically. “We are going to prepare as hard as we can and recover as hard as we can for tomorrow.”

That rest will have to come quickly. The final will be played in the midday Tokyo sun. But Ross and Klineman do not seem worried. They are getting used to the heat, they said, and are mentally prepared for the sweltering conditions expected during the final.

They will face the Australians Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy, who hope to follow in the footsteps of Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst, the last Australian duo to win an Olympic medal in the sport, a gold in 2000.

The gold medal game is set for 11:30 a.m. on Friday in Tokyo, 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Nevin Harrison began her Games on Wednesday, winning her qualifying heat in 44.94 seconds. She won her semifinal on Thursday morning.
Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

TOKYO — When Nevin Harrison first tried canoe racing at age 12, becoming an Olympian was not the first thing on her mind. Staying out of the water was.

By age 17, she was going fast enough to be a world champion.

There are sports the United States excels at and sports where it does not. It is pretty safe to say that canoeing and kayaking fit in the second category.

At the last world championships in 2019, out of 30 events only one American even advanced to a final. That paddler was Harrison, who won the gold medal in the 200-meter canoe race. Suddenly the United States, of all places, had canoeing’s brightest young star.

Harrison is by far the biggest American name in the sport, and the only canoe or kayak sprinter of either gender to qualify for these Games.

She began competition on Wednesday, winning her qualifying heat in 44.94 seconds and then advanced to the final by breezing through her semifinal on Thursday morning with the fastest qualifying time. That made her the favorite in the eight-woman final later in the day, scheduled to begin at 10:57 p.m. Eastern. All races will be streamed live on Peacock and, and the finals will be broadcast on CNBC at 1:15 a.m.

Harrison, now 19, was a standout in soccer, softball and track while growing up — sports more typical for a young American with athletic talent. But misfortune made her turn her focus to canoeing. She began feeling hip pain at age 14. Hip dysplasia was diagnosed, a condition in which the hip socket does not connect correctly with the thighbone. “A doctor said there was no way I was going to compete in sports again,” she said. “That was super devastating for me. I had only ever hoped to be an athlete.”

Running and sports that involved running were hard on her hip, so she turned her focus to canoeing. Once she mastered staying in the canoe, she started getting better. Her upward trajectory to world champion at 17 was dizzying.

“It was nothing short of crazy,” she said. “I couldn’t really believe it; things were happening so fast.”

Women’s canoeing was added to the Games for the first time in Tokyo, and Harrison’s event, the 200 meters, is the individual race that is being contested.

The race, the shortest in canoe/kayak, lasts about 45 seconds. But it isn’t an all-out dash. “It’s similar to the 400 meters in track,” she said, another event that takes roughly 45 seconds. “It’s a sprint, but there’s a little bit of strategy because you can’t quite go 100 percent for 45 seconds.”

“People have different strategies,” Harrison said. “I tend to go really hard for the first 50, the second 50 just try to keep it up and try to stay ahead (if I am ahead), and then in the last 100 build up to top speed.”

Max Irving of the U.S. water polo team during a match against Greece in the preliminary round.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Here are some highlights of U.S. broadcast coverage on Wednesday evening and overnight. All times are Eastern.

TRACK AND FIELD A range of running finals airs tonight on USA Network, including the women’s pole vault, the men’s shot put, the men’s triple jump and the men’s 110-meter hurdles. Look out for Grant Holloway, the American who dominated the 110-meter hurdles to secure his Olympic berth in Tokyo. The action begins at 8 p.m.

SKATEBOARDING Japan has won all three gold medals so far in skateboarding. Fans can catch the fourth and final event, men’s park, at 11:30 p.m. on CNBC. The preliminary round in the event airs at 8 p.m. on the network.

WATER POLO The young U.S. men’s team, which includes several first-time Olympians, fell to Spain in the quarterfinal. NBCSN has the replay starting at 8 p.m.

BEACH VOLLEYBALL Norway takes on Russia in this replay of the men’s quarterfinal, which airs at 9 p.m. on NBCSN.

BASKETBALL Breanna Stewart scored 23 points in the United States’ 79-55 rout of Australia in the women’s quarterfinals, helping to bring the Americans one step closer to their seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal. A replay of the game begins at 10 p.m. on NBCSN. The U.S. men’s team is hitting its stride after a defeat of Spain on Tuesday. With Kevin Durant leading the way, the team faces Australia in a semifinal; the game streams live at 12:15 a.m. on Peacock and

CANOE/KAYAK Coverage of the final races begins at 1:15 a.m. on CNBC.

Florian Wellbrock of Germany won the gold medal in the 10-kilometer swim.
Credit…Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — They are among the Games’ earliest risers and some of its hardiest competitors, waking well before dawn for a race start at 6:30 a.m. that requires diving into a hot, polluted bay that one competitor likened to a “warm puddle.”

For nearly two hours, they knife a ragged line through the murky water and occasionally get hit by fish, until the end, when they thrash furiously to a finish that belies the languid pace of the 10-kilometer swim and often with just seconds separating gold and silver.

Marathon swimming is much different from the pool competitions that get more attention at the Games. And it is not just because of the longer distance. It is always conducted in open water, and around the world, that means low temperatures, high temperatures, flotsam and jetsam, sea creatures, currents and waves.

It is an accepted part of the challenge, and on Thursday, Florian Wellbrock of Germany met it best, winning the men’s race in 1 hour 48 minutes 33.7 seconds.

“The temperature today was the biggest competitor,” he said. “I beat it, and I beat everything in this race.”

He defeated Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary, who came in at 1:48:59, and Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy, who won the bronze with a time of 1:49:01.1.

On Wednesday, in the women’s race, Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil won in 1:59:30.8, beating Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands at 1:59:31.7 in a stroke-for-stroke finale, while Kareena Lee of Australia took bronze at 1:59:32.5.

“It was tough conditions at the end,” van Rouwendaal said. “It got warmer and warmer when we went faster and faster.”

In Tokyo, the heat and pollution posed challenges beyond the norm.

Despite the early-morning start, the air temperature hovered around 81 degrees at Odaiba Marine Park, and it felt much hotter. The water temperature, 84 degrees, was not far from the cutoff of 88 degrees set by the sport’s governing body for safe swimming, a measure taken especially seriously after the death from heat stroke of Fran Crippen, an American long-distance swimmer, in an open-water race in the United Arab Emirates in 2010.

Swimmers in an event in the bay before the Olympics likened the water to a toilet bowl, but Tokyo officials insisted that a high-tech filtration system would keep the level of dangerous E. coli bacteria low. And they installed a water circulation system that brings cooler water from the bottom to the surface.

Most swimmers on Wednesday acknowledged the challenges but shrugged them off as just part of the sport. They are allowed occasional sips of bottled fluids handed to them on long poles by boaters following them, and several said they had made sure to take advantage of those opportunities.

But churning at race pace for nearly two hours still takes a toll.

Ferry Weertman, a Dutch swimmer, trained in Curaçao. Yet the heat was still a factor as he passed a group of swimmers who “got gassed” midway through the race, chasing the leaders.

“Florian had a big gap in the beginning, and I was just a little behind, and I just couldn’t really catch up,” said Weertman, who finished seventh in a time of 1:51:30.8.

Not everyone was impressed with the heat. Rasovszky, the silver medalist, said he had trained in a lake in his native Hungary where the temperature was more than 90 degrees.

“So this,” he said, “was really cool for me.”

Amber Ruffin on the set of her show earlier this year.
Credit…Heidi Gutman/Peacock

Amber Ruffin, comedian and host of “The Amber Ruffin Show” on Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform, added a twist to post-match interviews with athletes as part of her on-the-ground coverage of the Games from Tokyo.

“The interviewers ask stressful questions like, ‘Do you know that everyone’s counting on you?’” Ruffin said in a gruff voice in one video, wagging her finger at the camera.

But not Ruffin. Her style hit a slightly lighter note.

“Question number one: Do you know you did an amazing job?” Ruffin asked athletes including Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Cales, two American beach volleyball players, as they left competition venues.

Ruffin also spoke with players from Canada, Kenya and Switzerland, injecting her questions with some feel-good comedic relief that elicited laughs from all of the athletes.

Ruffin, a former writer and performer on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” was covering her first Olympics. In addition to her exit interviews, Ruffin also featured segments like “Athletes Tell Jokes” and even competed in her own Olympic event she dubbed “artistic weight lifting.”

Ruffin is not the only one making the Olympics funnier. The comedian Leslie Jones is using Twitter and Instagram to share her real-time reactions to practically every event, infused with the same enthusiasm and passion she brought to past Olympics and to “Game of Thrones.” And the comedian and actor Kevin Hart and the rapper Snoop Dogg, who are co-hosting a highlights show on Peacock, recently went viral for their commentary on one of the Games’s equestrian events in which they describe how a horse is doing the crip walk through its routine.

Ryo Kiyuna competing at the karate world championships in Madrid in 2018.
Credit…Javier Soriano/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — Every city that hosts the Olympics pushes for events popular in its country to be included in the program, and Tokyo is no different. The Japanese organizers successfully lobbied for baseball to return after an absence of a dozen years and for surfing to make its debut.

The International Olympic Committee also signed off on the Japanese organizers’ request to include karate as a medal sport, an upgrade from the cameo it made as a demonstration sport at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Thanks in part to Hollywood movies, karate is perhaps the best known of the martial arts. It forms the basis of numerous other martial arts, including taekwondo, and has a wide following across the globe.

Karate has its roots in the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa, where it was developed centuries ago. It is fitting, then, that one of the gold medal favorites in the three-day tournament that begins Thursday is Ryo Kiyuna, an Okinawan. A three-time individual world champion, Kiyuna will compete in the men’s kata portion on Friday, and if he meets expectations, he will be the first Okinawan to win an Olympic gold medal.

“Since karate has finally been selected as an official event at the Tokyo Olympics, I would like to show the world what karate is all about, both as a representative of Japan and as a representative of Okinawa,” he told Jiji Press last year.

Casual observers of the sport are probably familiar with kumite, where two fighters face off and try to hit and kick their opponents to score points.

Kata, by contrast, includes the building blocks of karate performed against an imaginary opponent, traditional aspects of the martial art that purists relish. In kata, athletes perform alone, demonstrating a series of offensive and defensive moves. Karateka choose from among 102 katas, or techniques, that are approved by the World Karate Federation.

The seven judges base 70 percent of a score on technical proficiency, which includes focus, breathing, timing and stances. The other 30 percent is based on athletics, including strength and speed.

Kiyuna has dominated the kata world in recent years, the only karateka to receive a perfect score, something he did in 2019. Now 31, he began practicing karate at 5, inspired to join a friend from kindergarten. He started winning competitions, and studied under Tsuguo Sakumoto, a karate master from Okinawa. By 2014, Kiyuna overtook his biggest rival, Antonio Díaz of Venezuela. His main competition at the Tokyo Games is Damián Quintero of Spain, who was runner-up to Kiyuna at the past two world championships.

According to Masahiro Ide, who runs a karate fan newsletter, Kiyuna has exceptional speed, sharpness and strength and accurate techniques.

“His moves are so strong that the judges can feel his power just from his appearance, which allows him to get high scores,” said Ide, who expects Kiyuna to win a gold medal. “He is also good at pulling power from within himself.”

Unfortunately for karate fans, the sport will not be on the program at the Paris Games in 2024. Supporters of karate hoped its inclusion in Tokyo would boost the sport’s popularity much the way taekwondo benefited from being added to the Olympic program at the Sydney Games in 2000.

For now, the sport will get plenty of exposure in Tokyo this week, with Kiyuna and Okinawa as two of the main attractions.

“The Japanese feel that karate is theirs, and they want to regain dominance,” said Sherman Nelson Jr., a karate analyst for NBC Sports. “The world caught up. The sport is a melting pot. Everyone has to adapt.”

Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah after winning the women’s 100-meter final on Saturday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah, who made history in Tokyo by becoming the first woman to win gold in the 100 and 200 meters in consecutive Games, was temporarily blocked from posting to Instagram on Tuesday afternoon after sharing a video of her Olympic races.

“I was blocked on Instagram for posting the races of the Olympic because I did not own the right to do so. So see y’all in 2 days,” she said on Twitter on Tuesday.

However, she regained permission to post hours after her tweet. “My block is cleared,” she posted on an Instagram story on Tuesday night, along with two hugging face emoji.

The International Olympic Committee owns the intellectual property associated with the Olympic Games, restricting what athletes and other credentialed personnel can share to their social media accounts, including some images or videos from the Games.

A spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, confirmed that it removed a video but that Thompson-Herah’s access was mistakenly suspended.

Instagram removes content when it is reported by the person or organization who owns the rights, the spokesperson said.

Thompson-Herah set a Jamaican record for the women’s 200 meters with a time of 21.53 seconds and an Olympic record in the women’s 100 meters with a time of 10.61 seconds, breaking the American Florence Griffith Joyner’s mark of 10.62 from 1988.

Her next race will be Thursday when she competes in the women’s 4×100-meter relay.

Noah Lyles, left, finished third in the men’s 200 meters, while his teammate Kenny Bednarek finished second. 
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

TOKYO — Noah Lyles, the American sprinting star, was less than an hour removed from racing to a bronze medal in the men’s 200 meters at the Tokyo Games on Wednesday when he opened up about his mental health and the challenges he had faced over the past year.

He spoke about dealing with depression. He spoke about seeking help in therapy. He spoke about the pressures of his profession. And he cried as he spoke about his younger brother, Josephus, whose own Olympic dream as a professional runner currently lives through Noah because he didn’t make the Olympic team.

“Sometimes I think to myself, this should be him,” Noah Lyles said through tears.

For Lyles and many others competing in Tokyo, the Olympics have doubled as a sort of catharsis. In fact, Lyles’s raw display of emotion was hardly unusual: Many athletes here have been outspoken about the burdens of performing in the wake of the most daunting 18 months of their lives, a period shadowed by the pandemic and racial strife — and a yearlong postponement of the Games themselves.

Simone Biles, the world’s greatest gymnast, withdrew from multiple competitions, citing the stress of the past year as one of the reasons she had lost the ability to control her body as she tumbled through the air.

Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked tennis player who had dominated his sport for months, cracked in his semifinal match, hurling his racket into the stands and smacking a replacement against a fence post. After that loss, and then after missing out on the bronze medal, he was as distraught as he had been in years.

Members of the U.S. women’s soccer team, a fairly indomitable force entering the Olympics, fell in the semifinals and spoke of losing the joy they usually feel when they step onto the field.

Lyles, 24, has been one of the most celebrated stars in American track and field since he won a pair of gold medals at the 2019 world championships. But he has also routinely used his platform to share his struggles with anxiety and depression, and it was no different for him in the wake of winning his first Olympic medal.

“I knew there was a lot of people out there like me who’s scared to say something or to even start that journey,” he said. “I want you to know that it’s OK to not feel good, and you can go out and talk to somebody professionally, or even get on medication, because this is a serious issue and you don’t want to wake up one day and just think, you know, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’”

For a long time, he said, track was a sort of oasis for him. School was difficult for him when he was young, and running was an outlet. But over the course of the pandemic, some of that enjoyment disappeared. He took anti-depressants on and off, and he was also profoundly affected by the police killings of unarmed Black people.

Before leaving for Tokyo, he broke down crying in front of his girlfriend, he said, “just talking about how hard it was to get through this year.”

Lyles had always told himself that he would leave the sport behind if he ever lost his passion for it, he said. But while he ultimately chose to continue to train and compete, he was determined not to let track control his life. In the process, he said, he sought more balance. He pointed to his interests in music, art and fashion.

“Even if this doesn’t go right in track, I still have a life outside of it,” he said. “I have places that I can go. I am not defined by being an Olympic bronze medalist, or a gold medal world champion, or the high schooler who went pro. That’s not who I am; I’m Noah Lyles.”

He was at his most emotional, though, when he addressed his relationship with his brother, Josephus, a sprinter who fell short of making the U.S. Olympic team this summer. When they were children, Noah Lyles said, it was actually his brother’s dream to compete at the Games.

“This wasn’t even my dream,” Lyles said as he sobbed. “I just wanted to tag along because I loved my brother, and I wanted to do this together. And it’s taken us so far, and I feel like he should be here.”

In the 200-meter final, staged in an empty stadium, Lyles finished behind Andre De Grasse of Canada and Kenny Bednarek, Lyles’s American teammate. Lyles called his bronze medal “boring.”

“I didn’t win,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s a great achievement.”

Adam Ondra has won a number of indoor climbing championships but has struggled in the Olympic event, in which different disciplines have been combined.
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times

In sport climbing’s first appearance at the Olympics, eight men have advanced to the final, scheduled for Thursday in Tokyo.

Adam Ondra of the Czech Republic, widely considered the best indoor and outdoor climber in the world, is among them. The biggest question is whether he can convert that talent into a gold medal in the Olympics’ version of sport climbing.

Outdoors, on real rocks, Ondra has scaled the most difficult routes ever climbed around the world. Indoors, on fake obstacles and holds, he has won a slew of world championships and World Cup events.

But this is different, in a lot of important ways. Mainly, climbing’s entry into the Olympic program came with a compromise: Different disciplines were combined into one medal event.

Ondra finished 18th out of 20 in the speed portion of the qualifying round on Tuesday and might finish last in the final. Because the scores are combined to determine the winners, that deficiency might cost him a medal.

Some of his rivals have managed to find good rhythm on the speed wall, none more than Tomoa Narasaki of Japan, a boulder specialist who managed to finish second in the speed qualifier. But others who seemed to have a good shot at a medal were knocked out in the qualifying round, including Alex Megos of Germany, Jongwon Chon of South Korea and Kai Harada of Japan.

The Belarusian athlete Kristina Timanovskaya at the airport in Tokyo. She flew to Poland, which offered her and her husband asylum.
Credit…Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

When Belarusian Olympic officials went to the sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya’s room after she complained publicly about her coaches, the head of the national team made it clear they had an order for her to return home — and it came from the top.

That’s because, like much else in Belarus, sports is a family-run business. That family belongs to President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who has held sway with authoritarian power in the Eastern European country for 27 years.

Timanovskaya refused and defected in an Olympic scandal reminiscent of the Cold War. On Wednesday, she arrived in Poland, which had offered her and her husband political asylum.

Her situation, though, has shed light on an anachronistic dictatorship where no sphere of life can evade politics, and the ruling family increasingly cracks down ruthlessly on any whiff of dissent.

If not for the drama, it’s likely that few interested in the Olympics would have paid much attention to Belarus, which, unlike the old Soviet Union to which it once belonged, is hardly a gold medal powerhouse. But the defection has drawn global attention to yet another of the many ways the Lukashenko family wields its power: sports.

“For Mr. Lukashenko, sports is a propaganda tool just as it is for any dictator in any totalitarian system,” said Alexander Opeikin, the executive director of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund, a group that opposes the government.

“Lukashenko always perceived the awards of athletes, medals of athletes at the Olympics, as his own medals.”

But if the use of sports as a propaganda tool has a long history, so do the embarrassing defections that have punctured the aura of invincibility carefully cultivated by authoritarian governments.

Runners navigating the water pit it is 12 feet across in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase on Wednesday.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

One of the most entertaining — and difficult — events in track and field is the steeplechase, with its barriers and water jumps that are not unlike the ones in the horse race it is named after.

Starting in the 18th century in Ireland, horses and riders raced from one town’s steeple to the next because of their visibility over long distances, with competitors navigating various obstacles in the countryside along the way. Now contested on a track, the most famous steeplechase race in the world is the Grand National, run in Liverpool, England, since 1839.

The track and field event can be traced to the two-mile cross-country races run at Oxford University in the mid-19th century. It was made a track event, with barriers, at the 1879 English Championships. The men’s steeplechase has been an Olympic event since 1920, although with varying distances before being standardized at 3,000 meters. The women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase appeared for the first time at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

On the track, competitors have to navigate 28 fixed barriers and seven water jumps. Besides strength and endurance, top steeplechasers, not unlike horses, also require superior agility.

The barriers in steeplechase are wider and more stable than those in hurdle races in track and field. In contrast to those races, athletes can step on the barriers. The height of each barrier is 36 inches in the men’s event and 30 inches in the women’s.

The water jump includes a hurdle and a water pit that is 12 feet square and 70 centimeters, or more than two feet, at its deepest. Athletes try to jump farther to avoid water to maintain their speed. The water jump is not a part of the oval track; it is situated inside or outside the track’s second bend (in Tokyo it’s on the inside).

Unlike some other track events, the steeplechase does not require athletes to stay in their lanes. Instead, they can break immediately for the inside lane after a bunched standing start.

One of the most famous mishaps in the history of the Olympics happened in the steeplechase event in the 1932 Los Angeles Games. The officials lost count of the number of laps, and the athletes ran about 3,460 meters.

While they might not have been quite as dramatic, the events at the Tokyo Games did not disappoint.

On Wednesday, Peruth Chemutai of Uganda won gold in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, with a time of 9 minutes 1.45 seconds. Courtney Frerichs, a 28-year-old from Nixa, Mo., earned silver in 9:04.79, and Hyvin Kiyeng of Kenya took bronze in 9:05.39.

Two days earlier, Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco secured gold in 8:08.90 to become the first non-Kenyan to win Olympic gold in the men’s event since Bronislaw Malinowski of Poland won the title in Moscow in 1980. Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia finished second with a time of 8:10.38, and Benjamin Kigen of Kenya was third in 8:11.45.

Since the 1968 Olympics, men’s steeplechase has been dominated by Kenyan athletes, who won gold in every Games except those in Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980, which they boycotted, and earned a clean sweep of the medals at the 1992 and 2004 Games.

Credit…Pool photo by Ben Stansall
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Credit…Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
Credit…Dennis Owen/Reuters
Credit…Hannah McKay/Reuters
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times
Credit…Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Mexico’s artistic swimming duet performing on Wednesday in Tokyo.
Credit…Tom Pennington/Getty Images

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — When the artistic swimming team competition begins on Friday at the Tokyo Games, the goal of the swimmers will be to make their movements appear effortless. But while viewers will see smiling performers, sparkly suits and gelatin-slicked hair, a risk lurks beneath the surface: the potential for concussions.

Artistic swimming, formerly known as synchronized swimming, combines elements of gymnastics and ballet in the water. Teams of up to eight athletes swim quickly, closely and precisely together, coordinating with one another and the music. Often described as beautiful above the water, the sport requires constant furious activity below. It’s not unusual for teammates to kick or land on each other during their routines.

The artistic swimming world has long known it has a brain injury problem, but nobody knew how extensive it was. So in 2019, as a student researcher at Stanford, I conducted research into how common concussions are in the sport in which I once took part.

The answer surprised me: In a survey of 430 athletes, about one in four who have competed in the United States reported having at least one concussion.

Over the past 20 years, artistic swimming has required athletes to move faster and swim closer together, as performances are judged on the difficulty of the routine and technical merit.

But the sport has in recent years begun to reckon with its concussion problem. The United States is not a powerhouse in the sport — it sent only a pair of artistic swimmers to the Olympics — but U.S.A. Artistic Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, has taken steps to promote concussion safety.

The long-term effects of head injuries have been studied in many sports over the years, from football to sliding sports, inspiring leagues and federations to adopt protocols to mitigate effects or prevalence. But studies of concussions within artistic swimming have been limited.


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