Tokyo Olympics: Daily Diary

By Sports Desk July 23, 2021

It's been a long time coming but the Olympics are here at last!

Postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a very real fear these Games wouldn't happen at all.

Yet, after an opening ceremony mixing poignancy with hope in Tokyo, the 32nd Olympic summer Games are officially underway!

Over the next two and a bit weeks, Stats Perform's man on the ground, Peter Hanson, will bring you daily updates from life in Tokyo.


Fireworks, flags, magnificent drones and mixed fashion successes at the opening ceremony 

Amid all the uncertainty over these Games, it was genuinely rather heart-warming to see the athletes arriving at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium.

The flags over 200 nations were waved, as hordes of athletes were paraded in front of a little under 1,000 delegates and dignitaries.

Some teams were looking quite dapper (kudos Team GB), while the sight of topless Tongan, Pita Taufatofua, was a welcome one.

There were a couple of fashion faux pas (those green Germany tracksuits…wow). But whatever controversy there may have been, we are (officially) underway!

And perhaps most impressive was the 1,824 drones used to illuminate the Tokyo sky, switching from the Olympics emblem to a light-up globe.

Dealing with jet lag…

So far, it's been a busy start work wise in Tokyo with writers' briefings and plenty of content to be produced…but due to the fact I have to quarantine life has been consigned to the hotel thus far.

One of the issues to contend with has been jet lag and trying to adjust to being in a different time zone – something I've yet to fully achieve with regular wake-up calls at 2.30am in the morning.

It's not been a problem for Team GB sprint star Dina Asher-Smith, though, who says she has learnt her lesson from a previous bad experience at the Beijing Olympics.

She said: "To be fair, it [jet lag] hasn't been rough, obviously in 2015 we did Japan before we did the Beijing World Championships. That one, and I can be frank about it now, [I] really messed up the jet lag - we were off for about 10 days six years ago!"

Anime to get you in the spirit?

It's fair to say the clamour for these Games from the people living Japan has not exactly been high, in large due to the fear of the spread of coronavirus.

But many are attempting to drum up the Olympic spirit - including a group of artists who have drawn up a series of samurai characters inspired by the flags of competing countries for the World Flags projects, with nations such as South Africa, India and Great Britain represented.

Speaking to BBC News, creator Kamaya Yamamoto said: "Samurais are unique to Japan and we want everyone to get to know traditional Japanese culture."

Djokovic and Murray back on the court together

It has been four years since Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic shared a court for a competitive game of tennis, largely due to the former's well-documented injury issues.

Murray is the two-time defending men's singles Olympic champion, while Djokovic is gunning for top spot on podium as part of his bid to complete a Golden Slam in 2021.

On Friday, fans of these two megastars would have had their hearts warmed to see the pair sharing the practice courts ahead of the start of the tennis tournament on Saturday.

Following their knock, Djokovic took to social media to thank Murray for a "great practice". Isn't that just lovely?

Related items

  • Saint-Maximin has chance to show he can be first 'superstar' at new Newcastle Saint-Maximin has chance to show he can be first 'superstar' at new Newcastle

    Karl Darlow, Ciaran Clark, Matt Ritchie and Isaac Hayden all started for Newcastle United in the final game of the Mike Ashley era. Dwight Gayle appeared from the bench.

    Those were five of Newcastle's 12 most-used players in the Championship in 2016-17, appearing for a combined 14,122 minutes. Gayle, with 23 goals, was their leading scorer.

    Steve Bruce, in charge against Wolves, regularly cited this longevity as a positive as the team battled relegation.

    Like Bruce, though, clinging to his job ahead of his 1,000th career game in management against Tottenham, their stays are highly unlikely to be extended long into the ownership of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which last week purchased 80 per cent of the St James' Park outfit to become the richest football club owner in the world.

    Amanda Staveley, whose PCP Capital Partners bought 10 per cent of Newcastle, has already talked of matching Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, who this year respectively became the first British club to make a £100million signing and recruited the greatest player in the history of the game.

    The mere thought of Jack Grealish or Lionel Messi might make steady, unspectacular centre-back Clark a little dizzy.

    "We are in the market to compete for world-class players," Staveley said in another interview, before generously adding: "We already have world-class players."

    One-paced right-winger-turned-left-back Ritchie certainly cannot be counted in that group. But Allan Saint-Maximin, with a little time and some elite coaching, might yet be.

    Key like Kompany

    It is easy to imagine Newcastle's bottomless budget allowing them to cast aside their entire existing XI.

    A viral social media post shared by Gary Lineker last week showed a video clip of an alternative Magpies team lining up for the Champions League anthem on EA Sports' FIFA: Mohamed Salah, Messi, Kevin De Bruyne, Neymar, Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, Son Heung-min, Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo, bolstered by N'Golo Kante in goal.

    But if City's 2008 takeover provided the blueprint, it showed how some players already at the club can have vital roles in the years ahead.

    In their final game before the Abu Dhabi United Group took charge, Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany both started. Pablo Zabaleta was signed the same day.

    Kompany (358), Zabaleta (333) and Hart (308) to this day rank third, fifth and seventh for City appearances in all competitions in the Abu Dhabi era, each sticking around for at least two of the club's five Premier League title triumphs.

    So, who might be the Newcastle equivalents?

    "I don't think anyone has lived up to their potential," former Newcastle captain Rob Lee told Stats Perform. "You've got to be brutally honest and say we wouldn't be in this position we're in [19th] if they'd played as well as they can."

    However, he added: "Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson I'd leave out of that."

    Wilson and Joe Willock were both reportedly of interest to Staveley's group before they were brought to Tyneside, but Saint-Maximin is the genuine jewel in Newcastle's knock-off crown.

    In fact, if not for this takeover, Newcastle fans would have been fearing a January exit for their exciting number 10.

    A year ago, Saint-Maximin said: "If the club is developing well, and it's in line with my desires, staying is a possibility. Afterwards, if things don't turn out like that, obviously the question of leaving will arise."

    Since that interview, Newcastle have earned the joint-fewest points of all ever-present Premier League teams (41 – tied with Southampton). Saint-Maximin, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength.

    Maximin impact

    Saint-Maximin arrived at Newcastle with a reputation as an entertainer, equal parts exhilarating and frustrating. Across his first two seasons at St James' Park, he lived up to that billing.

    Among players to make 10 starts in that time, the winger ranked third in Europe's top five leagues for both dribbles attempted (9.1 – behind Neymar and Sofiane Boufal) and dribbles completed (5.7 – behind Neymar and Adama Traore) per 90 minutes, but his end product was too often lacking.

    Three goals and four assists in 2019-20 represented a goal involvement every 267 minutes, ranking between Jonjo Shelvey (265) and Matej Vydra (271) in the Premier League. When he reproduced the same figures again the following season, Saint-Maximin improved to an involvement every 224 minutes – just behind Danny Welbeck (221).

    However, with two goals and three assists already this term, he has an involvement every 126 minutes, which puts him directly between Bruno Fernandes (125) and Son (130).

    Indeed, only seven Premier League players have this season created more than Saint-Maximin's 16 chances – Ritchie (21) is actually joint-second – which include 15 from open play and four 'big chances', from which Opta would expect a player to score.

    These attacking statistics are all the more impressive given the role Saint-Maximin is asked to play for Newcastle.

    The Magpies start their possessions just 39 metres from their own goal on average – third-deepest in the league – meaning Saint-Maximin, of late playing as a central striker in either a 3-5-2, 5-4-1 or 4-3-3, is tasked with taking the team up the pitch.

    That is why Saint-Maximin has carried the ball 1,950m, further than any other player in the league, including 1,212m upfield – trailing only Traore (1,267m). His 99 carries upfield are the most of any attacking player.

    Traore is the sole player in Europe to successfully take on more players (49) than Saint-Maximin's 33, although only five of the Newcastle man's 54 attempted dribbles have been in the box – some way shy of Mbappe's leading 18.

    Saint-Maximin is Europe's outstanding counter-attacking creator, forging 11 chances from carries (two more than Traore), but he might be even more effective a little closer to goal in a better, more progressive team. That opportunity should now arise on Tyneside.

    "Imagine what these players must be thinking," Lee said. "I'd love to be a player at the minute at Newcastle.

    "I'd be thinking, 'If I win something here, there'll be statues of me everywhere'. That's what you've got to look at. The first people to win something after that long are going to be idolised forever."

    Saviour, then superstar?

    There will undoubtedly be some high-profile, high-cost arrivals to come at St James' Park – Lee, doing his best Kevin Keegan impression, "would love it" if Newcastle signed Sunday's opponent Harry Kane – but Saint-Maximin must first lead his side to Premier League safety.

    Newcastle are without a victory in seven this season and winless in four at home against Spurs.

    But City also found life tough in 2008-09, tumbling into the bottom three at Christmas despite being afforded a single day in September to sign Robinho following the takeover.

    Three goals from Robinho across the next two games provided a little breathing space going into January, when City were able to spend again and finish the campaign comfortably in midtable – their form from Boxing Day onwards the seventh-best in the division.

    For now, Saint-Maximin is the closest thing Newcastle have to a Robinho, who provided a goal involvement (14 goals, five assists) every 139 minutes in that campaign.

    Across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, Newcastle won 42.9 per cent of the 42 matches in which Saint-Maximin started, earning 1.5 points per game, versus 14.7 per cent of 34 without him, collecting just 0.8 points.

    That puts into context their awful start to this season, in which Saint-Maximin has been one of only two Newcastle players – Ritchie the other – to play all 630 minutes, a bright spark in a gloomy stretch.

    If the Frenchman can continue to stay fit, he will be key to ensuring results quickly turn in this new era – starting against Tottenham.

    "I'd love to see superstars [at Newcastle] – that's what we all want to see," Lee said. "'The Entertainers' was all about having a very, very good team but also signing superstars, like Alan [Shearer], Tino [Asprilla] and David Ginola."

    Forget Kane, Philippe Coutinho and Mauro Icardi; Saint-Maximin is primed to be this team's first superstar.

  • Agnes Tirop: World record holder found dead at home in Kenya Agnes Tirop: World record holder found dead at home in Kenya

    World record holder Agnes Tirop has been found dead at the age of 25 in her home in Kenya.

    Athletics Kenya released a statement on Wednesday to confirm the saddening news that Tirop's body had been found at her home in the western town of Iten, a training hub for many athletes.

    The Kenyan national athletics organisation added that they are working to learn more details about Tirop's death.

    "Kenya has lost a jewel," Athletics Kenya continued in their statement. "She was one of the fastest-rising athletics giants on the international stage thanks to her eye-catching performances on the track."

    One of the best women in the world at long-distance running, Tirop followed up her fourth-place finish in the 5,000 metre Tokyo Olympics final by setting the world record in a women's only 10-kilometre road race in Germany in September.

    Alongside her record-breaking outing at Herzogenaurach, in which she finished in 30:01, Tirop collected two bronze medals at the World Athletics Championships in 2017 and 2019.

    She also won the World Cross Country title in 2015, becoming the second-youngest women's winner in the history of the event, after also triumphing in the Africa Cross Country Championship the previous year.

    Tirop endured a lean year in 2021 but placed third in Kenya's Olympic trials before missing out on the podium in Tokyo by one place.

    In her most recent race, Tirop finished second in Geneva on October 3, in which she clocked 30:20.

    World Athletics paid their tributes in a statement, adding they are "deeply shocked and saddened by the untimely death."

  • Is the Miami Dolphins' rebuild a failure? Is the Miami Dolphins' rebuild a failure?

    No franchise wants to rebuild. Tanking your immediate hopes of success to collect assets that can eventually propel the team back to the top can be a miserable experience. However, the Miami Dolphins attacked rebuilding with remarkable zeal and have endured relatively little pain as they have constructed their roster on a new foundation.

    Brian Flores oversaw a 5-11 season not short on reasons for encouragement in 2019 even amid a fire sale that saw the likes of Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick sent off to pastures new in exchange for major draft capital. Last season, the Dolphins finished 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs, raising hopes that their project would imminently yield dividends.

    As such, this season was always likely to be seen as a measuring stick for the franchise, with Flores entering his third year as head coach and the man they picked to be the quarterback of the future faced with a make-or-break campaign, the Dolphins entered 2021 with expectations with which they are unfamiliar.

    And, following a 1-3 start, with a franchise quarterback at least temporarily on the shelf and the defending champions coming to town to potentially put Miami in a deeper hole, tough questions will start to be asked about the direction of the organisation.

    Few teams recover from a 1-4 start to reach the postseason. There is the unlikely possibility the Dolphins could upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but the more plausible scenario is a fourth successive defeat that would beg the question: is Miami's rebuild a failure?

    Defense developing, but results declining

    The biggest feather in the cap of this Dolphins' regime has been the play of Miami's defense, which last season led the NFL in takeaways with 29.

    Yet those turnovers masked the fact that the Dolphins' defense was one teams generally had success moving the ball against. Indeed, Miami ranked 24th in opponent yards per play allowed in 2020, giving up an average of 5.90.

    The Dolphins have improved in that regard so far this season, sitting 13th with 5.51 yards per play allowed, but are 23rd in offensive points allowed despite generating six turnovers through four games.

    Miami's defense is one that appears to have grown more efficient when it comes to stopping the progress of offenses on a per-play basis and still takes the ball away but is not keeping offenses from putting up points.

    Why is that the case? Put simply, they are on the field too long because of the failures of an offense that is not living up to the amount the Dolphins have invested.

    A lack of possession

    Miami's offense ranks 30th in average time of possession, having control of the ball for just 26 minutes and eight seconds. Their defense, as a result, has been on the field for an average of 33 minutes and 52 seconds. Only the defenses of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks have had to exercise greater endurance this season.

    And the offense has shown little in the way of efficiency when on the field.

    The Dolphins rank last in yards per play with an average of just 4.05. The New York Jets (5) are the sole team to have scored fewer offensive touchdowns than the Dolphins' six while only 10 of Miami's 42 offensive drives have ended in points.

    That level of offensive ineptitude is unacceptable for a team looking to compete, and much of the blame can be pinned on an offensive line where the Dolphins have spent a large portion of their resources.

    Despite having a first-round pick and two second-rounders starting up front, the Dolphins have allowed 80 pressures through four games, the seventh-most in the NFL.

    It is difficult for a quarterback to succeed when under duress that consistently but, if the Dolphins continue to struggle, an apparent misevaluation of the class of signal-callers in the 2020 draft will come under even greater scrutiny.

    Tua a costly mistake?

    The elephant in the room is quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whom the Dolphins selected fifth overall in the 2020 draft despite his career with Alabama being ended by a dislocated hip.

    Miami backed Tagovailoa to eventually put that injury behind him and develop into the NFL star many expected him to become. Yet he failed to prove a superior option to Ryan Fitzpatrick in his rookie year and, rather than taking season-two strides, seemed to be regressing before a rib injury suffered in the Week 2 loss to the Buffalo Bills saw him placed on injured reserve.

    In the small sample size of 30 attempts this season, Tagovailoa has delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball a league-low 63.3 per cent of the time. Only two quarterbacks, rookies Zach Wilson and Davis Mills, have a worse pickable pass rate than Tagovailoa's 6.67 per cent.

    Tagovailoa was long since pencilled in as the player the Dolphins' grand rebuild was going to be constructed around. Now reduced to the role of spectator for the time being and struggling to live up to his draft status, going with him over reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert looks like a serious misstep.

    It is not the only premium pick Miami made from that class whose selection is in question. Left tackle Austin Jackson's inability to make the leap to the highest level effectively is a key reason for the offensive line struggles — he has won under 70 per cent of his pass-blocking matchups in 2021 — and their third first-round choice from 2020, cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, has not played a single defensive snap in 2021.

    Any judgement on this year's crop would be a premature one but, although there have been some encouraging signs from first-round picks Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips, the former is being limited by the struggles of the offense, recording a big play on an underwhelming 16 per cent of his targets, and pass rusher Phillips has won only 12 of his 43 rushes this season.

    The mediocre starts of Waddle and Phillips are a long way down the list of concerns for the Dolphins, however, and they will not be the primary causes should Miami's poor start lead to a year of unmatched expectations.

    Miami's rebuild rested on whom the Dolphins selected to be their quarterback and their fortunes in protecting him. The decisions they made in each of those areas have to this point largely backfired, leaving them with an offense that looks ill-equipped to compete this Sunday with a Buccaneers attack that could hardly be in a better position in the trenches and under center.

    There is, of course, time for Miami to right the ship this year and the Dolphins — through their pre-2021 draft trade with the San Francisco 49ers — have more capital with which to improve weaknesses on their roster in the coming years.

    But persistent talk of the Dolphins using those resources to strike a deal for quarterback Deshaun Watson is not a sign of a successful rebuild or faith in Tagovailoa to turn things around.

    It's becoming increasingly clear the Dolphins bet on the wrong horse at quarterback last year and may have failed to properly evaluate prospects at several other positions. Opportunities for any regime to get the chance to select a second quarterback are rare but, regardless of how the Dolphins try to rescue their best-laid plans to return to prominence, the franchise's future gambles must be more astute.

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