By Arnie Leshin
Well, at least they’re off and playing as Friday’s opening ceremony nears in Japan.
No fans allowed in the stands and various other restrictions in and around Tokyo have become old news. Those who want to tune in to these 2020 Summer Olympics can do so via television. This includes those who have purchased hotel rooms but don’t actually have anywhere to go.
But despite this coronavirus pandemic that has endangered the globe, in Japan it’s all go and you can expect an impressive, skilled state-of-the-art opening ceremonies. That is because the people of this hospitable nation are known for creating beauty and displaying top of the heap attractions, kind of like being unbeatable in what they accomplish.
So for those who want to watch this stirring event that Japan has pieced together with numerous hurdles, tune in the early morning and prime time opening ceremonies. This country has worked double overtime to present this, as well as doing its honest best to come away with a joyous two weeks of this prestigious event.
The United States is off to a booming start as softball has returned to the Games for the first time in 13 years, and the top-ranked red, white and blue has already shut out Italy, 2-0, and Canada, 3-0. No hit parade here, but two superstar pitchers like 38-year-old Cat Osterman and 35-year-old Monica Abbott turning in stellar efforts.
Each allowed one hit and not a single batter got past second base. Thus, this squad has no doubt the best one-two punch in the circle. Not only that, but Osterman is a right-hander who stands tall and mixes up her pitches that the hitters have no answer for. Same with Abbott, a tall, fast-balling southpaw who has a fast-moving motion that has batters shaking their heads.
And both have the experience, with Osterman out of University of Texas and Abbott out of University of Tennessee, and both All-Americas. On opening day, only one walk was issued, that being on a 3-2 count served up by Osterman.
After she retired the side in order in the sixth inning of the sport’s regulation time, Abbott twirled the seventh and struck out the side on only 11 pitches. They are long-time friends and their program’s all-time leading hurlers.
“Monica and I are so happy that softball was brought back,” Osterman said. “It may not be played in the next Olympics, so for us it’s our fondest wish to be here. I quickly came out of retirement and Monica had been pitching in leagues in Japan for quite some time.”
Baseball has also returned after it, too, was not allowed in the 2008 Olympics, and have also welcomed it. The United States team is in Group B with Israel and South Korea, and Japan, its biggest challenge, in Group A with the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
The red, white and blue opens on Friday, June 30, against Israel. It will no doubt get a tougher test versus South Korea, and it could come down to the championship game against the host nation.
The top-ranked US soccer women have already taken the pitch and were stunned by a 3-0 setback to Sweden, its latest nemesis. Now it will have to win and win against New Zealand (0-1) Saturday, and against Australia (1-0) on Tuesday, in order to survive this group by avenging the loss to the Swedes.
But no men’s soccer here for the USA. We did not qualify for these Games and the co-favorites are now Brazil and Germany, who play Thursday night.
But we are favored in basketball. Our men have finally come close to a full 12-man roster after the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns ended their National Basketball Association finals, and 6-7 Khris Middleton and 6-3 Jrue Holiday of the victorious Bucks, and 6-5 Devin Booker of the Suns, have flown in to Japan today and head coach Gregg Popovich might be able to hold practices the next two days.
Replacements Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee are already there, with Johnson turning in an impressive 15 points in the win over 2nd-ranked Spain, and McGee boarding a flight this past Tuesday.
The question mark now is forward Zach LaVine, who reportedly tested positive for the virus, but later reports still have him on the roster.
This is important because the 6-foot-5 LaVIne of the Golden State Warriors is one of the key players, and he fits in well with 6-10 Kevin Durant, 6-7 Middleton, 6-3 Holiday and 6-5 Booker.
The remainder of the team is all vastly talented with is 6-6 defensive-minded Draymond Green of the Warriors, 6-9 inside banger Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, 6-2 sharpshooter Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers, 6-8 outside shooter Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, and 6-8 versatile Jerami Grant of the Detroit Pistons.
The 7-foot McGee is currently with the Denver Nuggets and the 6-5 Johnson plays under head coach Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
“Hopefully, we’ll have some well-needed practices,” Popovich said on Wednesday. “We didn’t play our best in losses to Nigeria and Australia, but did play our best game against Spain, one of the better teams.”
The USA women will finally have the elite Diana Taurosi taking the court. She had been sidelined with a hip problem and worked out daily and at practices. She and pal, elite point guard Sue Bird are expected to run the red, white and blue offense, and Brianna Stewart, who with Taurosi and Bird played for Connecticut, is the go-to player at 6-5, and with the Phoenix Mercury.
There’s size with 6-9 Brittany Griner of the WNBA Las Vegas Aces, there’s a strong bench regarding each position. Back court players are Skylar-Diggins Smith of the Mercury, Chelsea Gray of the Aces, Ariel Atkins of the Mercury, and Jewell Lloyd of the Seattle Storm.
Inside help will come from 6-4 Tina Charles of the Washington Mystics, 6-6 Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx, 6-3 A’Ja Wilson of the Storm, and 6-3 Napheesa Collier of the Lynx.
The women will play a 3-group stage of games in the opening round, and are in quest of their 50th-straight victory and 8th Olympic gold in a row that dates back to 1992. They have played three exhibition games, losing to the WNBA All-Stars, 93-85, Australia 70-67, and rolled over Nigeria, 93-62. They will open July 27against Nigeria.