Current time in Tokyo: July 25, 1:22 a.m.
Here’s what you need to know:
SAITAMA, Japan — The first game just wasn’t good enough, the United States women’s soccer players declared.
The loss of a single match, even the opening game of the Olympic tournament, was one thing. The lack of energy. The absence of purpose. The surrender of the team’s championship mentality, baked into their very being through years of wins and work — those were things they could never accept.
“It’s a switch that should never be switched off,” the veteran forward Carli Lloyd said. Her teammate Kelley O’Hara had boiled down the response to a single word.
“We have to come out the next game,” she had told her teammates privately ahead of Saturday’s game against New Zealand, “and we have to be absolutely ruthless.”
Ruthless was a good description for the performance the United States turned in during a 6-1 thrashing that was the polar opposite of the Americans’ disastrous performance in a shutout loss against Sweden only three nights earlier.
Then, the United States had been dominated from start to finish. On Saturday, they were the ones delivering the beating, applying the pressure, directing the game.
“Being on our front foot, winning every battle, having a physical presence out there — that was the first thing for us,” midfielder Lindsey Horan said. “Everything else comes next.”
The chances and the goals — the first came in the ninth minute — began almost from the first minute and arrived nearly every way imaginable: a Rose Lavelle curler and a Horan header, a skillful Christen Press finish and a clinical one by Alex Morgan.
New Zealand added to its own misery, and bloated the scoreline, by turning two own goals into its net, but even those hardly mattered. When the shots and the pressure finally stopped, the result was, from a United States perspective, a welcome 180-degree turnaround, and a fairer representation of what a team filled with World Cup champions and Olympic gold medalists can do.
“It is what makes this team really special: the mentality,” Lloyd said. “We can spend hours upon hours doing tactical work, technical work, but if we don’t have the mentality that’s been built for so long, since the start of this team, we’re not going to win.
“I’ve been a part of eight world championships, won four. I can tell you that we’ve won four because of the mentality.”
That mentality had been questioned in recent days after a listless, toothless defeat against Sweden on Wednesday. Many of the players had taken the result almost as a personal affront: a galling night that wounded their pride but not their expectations, a terrible day that could only be erased by a better one.
“You know, we don’t go from being a really great team a few day ago to not being a great team anymore,” defender Crystal Dunn said.
Setting out to prove just that, the Americans were relentless from the opening minutes. Coach Vlatko Andonovski made five changes to his starting lineup — bringing in veterans like Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz — and sent him team out on the hunt, to press the attack and to never let up.
How big was the win? It might have been far worse for New Zealand: The United States had four goals ruled out by offside calls in the first half.
Asked in his news conference if he would like to summarize the match, New Zealand Coach Tom Sermanni deadpanned, “Not really.”
His counterpart, Andonovski, was surely more pleased though barely more descriptive.
“We came here and did the job we needed to do tonight,” he said. “We wanted to be aggressive, wanted to play with urgency, wanted to be intense.
“I was very happy with the approach. We could see that right off the back, from the first whistle.”
Next up for the United States? A final group game against Australia in Kashima on Tuesday. Its defeat against Sweden could have lingering effects: Sweden won again on Saturday, beating the Australians, and now can claim the group with a win or a tie against a battered New Zealand.
The prize is a better seed in the knockout round — the Sweden-United States-Australia group winner will face a third-place finisher from another group, while the runner-up most likely will get the Netherlands or Brazil — and a chance to build some more momentum.
Based on Saturday’s effort, that is a feeling the United States has regained in abundance. Their gold-medal hopes had been dinged by their opening loss. By Saturday night, those expectations — not to mention the team’s swagger — might have returned.
“We needed to come out,” Horan said, “and show that we want this.”
TOKYO — Fans may have been barred from the Games as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. But that does not mean the events are spectator free.
A section of seating at several events has been reserved for national Olympic committees, allowing athletes to attend and — in many cases — ignore rules that forbid cheering.
On the first day of swimming competition on Saturday night local time, boisterous contingents from the United States, Australia and Germany made their way to the Tokyo Aquatics Center to fill a few blocks of an arena that was otherwise empty. Some of the Americans came armed with thunder sticks to push their teammates on.
At the gymnastic arena, when the American men started to compete in the evening session, a sudden roar erupted from one corner of the building.
The entire U.S. women’s gymnastics team had shown up, including the champion Simone Biles. Each time an American man began an event, the women would whoop, applaud and call out that gymnast’s name. About a dozen other American gymnastics officials and coaches also were present.
Representatives from several other countries joined the Americans in the stands. Danusia Francis, a former U.C.L.A. gymnast who is competing for Jamaica, and officials from Turkey, Spain, Italy and Brazil, sat in groups, socially distanced, following guidelines amid a growing number of positive coronavirus cases in the athletes’ village.
Signs on some of the seats said, “Please don’t use this seat,” warning people to give each other space. A lone man wearing pants that said Azerbaijan on them stood and waved the Azerbaijan flag.
Host countries often outperform at the Olympics, and Japan wasted no time capturing its first gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Games, appropriately enough in judo, a sport the Japanese dominate.
On the first full day of competition, Naohisa Takato won a gold medal in judo in the under-60 kilogram weight class, making up for his disappointing bronze medal finish at the Rio Games in 2016. The three-time world champion beat Taiwan’s Yang Yung Wei at Nippon Budokan, the sport’s hallowed home.
Takato, who is the highest-ranked judoka in his weight class, won gold just after Funa Tonaki won a silver medal in the women’s under-48 kilogram class.
Japan has medal contenders in virtually every weight class in judo. The national judo team is so dominant its nickname is “Godzilla Japan.”
TOKYO — Nearly everyone in the gymnastics arena — other gymnasts, coaches, arena workers and reporters — stopped what they were doing on Saturday to watch Kohei Uchimura of Japan, considered one of the best male gymnasts ever, perform his horizontal bar routine.
At the start of his fourth Olympics, Uchimura, one of the most revered and beloved athletes in Japan, swung around the high bar and soared over it in his usual daring and dazzling way. But then his hands slipped during a fast — maybe too fast — pirouette requiring intricate handwork, and spectators gasped.
Uchimura fell, landing on the mat with a loud smack that was likely to echo throughout the country. The mistake, during the men’s qualifying event, ended his hopes of winning a gold medal at his home Olympics. And it was emblematic of how the Summer Games have gone for Japan: so much hope, followed by a huge letdown.
Uchimura did not qualify for the final, and he said he was stunned.
“I never failed like this in practice and I can’t figure out why it happened,” he said. “I’ve also been successful at the Olympics throughout my whole career. I’ve never experienced failure like this.”
Uchimura, 32, has been a staple at the top of the sport for more than a decade. At the 2016 Rio Games, he won the all-around to become the first male gymnast to retain his Olympic title in the event in 44 years. From 2009 to 2016, he didn’t lose an all-around at the world championships or the Olympics. Leading up to that dominance, he won the silver medal in the all-around at the 2008 Beijing Games.
But at these Games, he was competing only in horizontal bar as an event specialist, not as part of Japan’s four-man squad that will vie for the team gold medal. He barely made the Olympic team and said he was grateful for the chance.
After his fall, Uchimura fist-bumped a few teammates and walked out of the arena, silently passing a giant set of Olympic rings on the wall before disappearing under the stands.
Later, he said he came back to cheer on his teammates. They were doing so well, he said, that it dawned on him: “Maybe the team doesn’t need me anymore?” But he said he loved gymnastics so much and still had so many things to learn that he wouldn’t dare declare that he was retiring.
Through two of three qualifying rounds on Saturday, Japan was in first place in the team competition, and its gymnasts said they were motivated to perform at their best for Uchimura after his fall because they did not want to disappoint him. China was second and Russia was third, with all three teams separated by about one-tenth of a point.
Japan’s Daiki Hashimoto, 19, sat in first place in the all-around and was first in the horizontal bar. If he ends up winning that event final, he said, he knows exactly what he would do with his gold medal.
“I will put the medal around Uchimura’s neck,” Hashimoto said. “Because he should’ve been the person to win it.”
Olympic Athletes From Russia
Novak Djokovic resumed his quest for a “Golden Slam” and the Olympic gold medal Saturday, easily dispatching Hugo Dellien of Bolivia in straight sets.
But tougher challenges await Djokovic, the world No. 1, and he got an early feel for what might serve as his biggest foe — the sweltering Tokyo summer.
When tennis players talk about how the Olympic tennis competition feels different than any other tournament, they are usually referring to representing their country — playing for national pride and a medal rather than simply prize money or points in the professional standings.
This year, there is that, but this is also shaping up to be one of the hottest and most uncomfortable tennis tournaments they will ever play in their lives. As play got underway Saturday morning temperatures were approaching 90 degrees in the shade. The combination of the sun, the humidity and the hardcourts made it feel far hotter than that on the courts.
Temperatures can be higher in Australia occasionally, but it is usually a dry heat. Cincinnati in August and the U.S. Open in late summer in New York have their oven-like days as well, but those days are shorter, and there are evening and night matches, too.
With the sun high throughout the afternoon there was little shade anywhere on any of the courts. There is a reason tennis tournaments in this part of the world take place in the fall.
There are few players in the world who dislike the heat more than Djokovic, who struggled early in his career in difficult conditions.
Djokovic rarely struggles. He is on the heels of his 20th Grand Slam win at Wimbledon earlier this month — his third major win this year. He is trying to become the first male player to sweep the four Grand Slam singles titles and win the Olympic gold medal in a single year.
It is easy to think he can’t be beat, but the combination of opponents needing only to win two out of three sets to beat him — rather than three out of five in a Grand Slam — and the uniquely brutal conditions under which this tournament is taking place gives opponents some rare hope.
Not Dellien — the player ranked No. 139 in the world had little chance for an upset. Trying to expend as little energy as possible, Djokovic broke Dellien’s serve in the sixth and eighth games, clinching the first set in 35 minutes when he sent a nifty inside out forehand from one sideline to the other. Djokovic cruised from there, taking the second set in just 25 minutes.
Djokovic said he tried to prepare for the heat by practicing in the middle of the day, but walking onto the court in Tokyo was unlike anything he and several players he spoke to had ever experienced, because the stifling conditions are there day after day. He said he was dizzy at times on the sunny side of the court and suggested that organizers consider starting the matches a few hours later, allowing the athletes to play into the evening.
“We had some retirements today, and you don’t want to see that,” he said.
Djokovic’s match was the fourth of the day on center court, and he wrapped up his match as if he were punching out his timecard at 5 o’clock.
Before the first hour of play Saturday morning, the heat was on the verge of claiming its first victim. After losing the first set, 6-0, Sara Errani of Italy struggled to answer the bell in the second set. She sat for several minutes in her chair during the changeover. Trainers measured her blood pressure and covered her in towels stuffed with ice. She put her face in front of a hose that blew cold air.
“It’s very hard,” said Iga Swiatek of Poland.
Swiatek loves to play in the cool air and under the gray skies of northern Europe. She won the French Open the one time it was played in October. For many players, their last competition was at Wimbledon in London, where the weather bears little resemblance to the cauldron of Tokyo. Swiatek said she traveled to Nagasaki to acclimate before coming to Tokyo, which helped, but there is only so much a player can do. Dealing with the heat becomes yet another mind game.
“You walk out, you know it’s not going to be fun,” Medvedev said after his straight sets win over Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan. “You tell yourself you’re going to make it tough for him. You’re going to make him suffer.”
It was so hot that during her loss to Leylah Fernandez of Canada, Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska rolled her shirt into a midriff and Fabio Fognini of Italy did his post-match interviews shirtless with a towel draped around his neck.
And yet there was one player who was in her element. It turns out Maria Sakkari of Greece, perhaps the fittest player in the game who loves few things more than spending several hours in the weight room, said she would not be bothered if it was even a few clicks hotter.
“I actually really like these conditions,” Sakkari said after her straight sets win over Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. Minutes after the victory, Sakkari looked like she had just walked out of an air-conditioned room. “We grow up playing in the heat in Greece. This is normal for me. Maybe a little more humid, but I felt really good out there.”
The debut of three-on-three basketball at the Olympics on Saturday featured two things that have been all too rare at these pandemic-restricted Games: sustained loud noise and something resembling a crowd.
The noise came from the speakers, which played a nonstop mix of hip-hop and international pop music throughout the day’s slate of games, a soundtrack that reflected the International Olympic Committee’s recent push to introduce more youth-oriented events to its program.
And the crowd was composed of the combined security teams and entourages of Jill Biden, the first lady of the United States, and President Emmanuel Macron of France, who were on hand to watch their countries face off in the women’s competition. They filled up a good part of one section in the stands.
“Playing in front of my president is such an honor,” said Mamignan Toure of France, which fell to the U.S., 17-10. “Everyone shared a good experience, good emotions, good vibes.”
The relative physicality of three-on-three basketball compared to traditional five-on-five was on display all day, and fans — and players — accustomed to N.B.A. or W.N.B.A. rules may have been surprised to see players routinely getting tangled up.
All four members of the American women’s team — Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young — play in the W.N.B.A, and they easily dispatched Mongolia, 21-9, in their second game of the day. The men’s team, composed not of N.B.A. players but an assortment of former professionals, was expected to do well at the Games, too. But they failed to make it through the qualifying tournament and are not in Tokyo.
“It is a different sport,” said Plum, referring to the physicality. “In the beginning for me personally — you can watch it on film all you want, but when you get in the game there’s a couple of times where I’m like, ‘That was definitely a foul in America, but not here.’”
Because these games are held outside in a complex reminiscent of a small tennis arena, some players labored, particularly in the daytime sessions, amid stifling temperatures, suffocating humidity and piercing sunlight. The court, at least, was shaded by a partial canopy.
TOKYO — Before Saturday’s qualification at the Tokyo Games, the men on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team had their own pep rally.
They were in the warm-up gym and had set up a portable speaker. They played rap, country, rock ’n’ roll, techno, any and all kinds of music that would get them relaxed enough to compete at their best.
They figured that there would be no fans in the stands because of Covid-19 restrictions, so why bother getting stressed? Their theory seemed to work.
The American men qualified fourth overall, enough to advance to the team final next week. Yet the finish was miles behind teams from Japan, China and Russia that finished in the top three, separated by about three-tenths of a point. Still, the Americans said they were proud of their performance and they had fun, which was what they had wanted out of these Olympics.
“We were joking around, not taking things too seriously, keeping it light,” said Sam Mikulak, the six-time national champion in the all-around who is at his third Olympics. He and Brody Malone, a rising senior at Stanford, qualified in the top 24 men on Saturday, enough to make it to the all-around finals.
The U.S. men haven’t won a medal at the Olympics since they finished third at the 2008 Beijing Games. In the next two Olympics, they finished fifth both times. Mikulak said it would take “a perfect meet” for them to make the podium this year, with a “flawless competition” from the United States and “a horrible competition” from countries that qualified ahead of them.
Shane Wiskus, from Minneapolis, looked at it this way: “It actually takes the pressure off. We have nothing to lose at this point, you know?”
What helped their performance was the unexpected cheering section that popped up in one corner of the arena. Though paying fans were barred from the event, the women’s Olympic team, including Simone Biles, were there to cheer on their male counterparts.
Alec Yoder, the team’s pommel horse specialist, appreciated their support. When he finished a spectacular routine on the pommel horse and qualified for the event final, he pumped his arms and pointed to cheering section as Biles and the others there shouted for joy. Yoder and Biles, both 24, have been close friends for years, back to when they were young teenagers.
“Them coming out to support us meant a lot to us,” Yoder said. “It was just kind of cool.”
NBC and its sibling networks are covering a full slate of Olympic competitions on Saturday morning, in the early hours in the United States. All times are Eastern.
Soccer: Women’s group play continues with the United States playing New Zealand at 7:30 a.m., on NBCSN.
Swimming: Saturday morning, action in the Olympic pool airs at 6 a.m. on USA. Coverage includes heats in the men’s and women’s 400-meter individual medley, and the women’s 100-meter butterfly. NBC’s Saturday evening lineup includes the men’s 400-meter freestyle and the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay.
Tennis: The first round of men’s and women’s singles and doubles airs live until 10 a.m. on the Olympic Channel.
Beach volleyball: April Ross and Alix Klineman of the U.S. face Chen Xue and Xinxin Wang of China on Sunday morning in Tokyo. NBC will air the match on Saturday evening.
The first gold of the Olympics went to Yang Qian of China on Saturday in the women’s air rifle. But her victory was in large part because of a terrible final shot by her rival, Anastasiia Galashina of Russia, who recorded the worst score of the entire eight-women final, with just 8.9 points out of a possible 10.9 on the shot.
Six days after placing third in Tour de France, Richard Carapaz won gold in the men’s road race, marking the second time that Ecuador has won the top medal since Jefferson Pérez took home a gold for racewalking in 1996. Wout van Aert of Belgium won silver and Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia, the Tour de France’s victor for the second year in a row, took home the bronze.
The United States women’s national soccer team came back from a stunning loss with a “ruthless” performance against New Zealand, winning 6-1.
Three-on-three basketball made its Olympic debut, and the United States women’s team started out with two victories, 17-10 over France and 21-9 over Mongolia.
It was a rare opening day without a medal for the U.S., with sixth places in cycling and shooting the best finishes the team could muster, but there are still weeks left of competition ahead.
Tokyo 2020 can’t seem to catch a break.
As if a tenacious pandemic and Japan’s notoriously humid summer heat weren’t enough for the Olympics organizers to worry about, forecasts for an approaching typhoon are adding another layer of risk to the Games, which officially opened on Friday.
Early on Saturday, the U.S. team sent an alert that the rowing schedule was being adjusted because of an “inclement weather forecast.” Races originally scheduled for Monday have been moved to Sunday, and heats in the men’s and women’s eights, originally scheduled for Sunday, were moved to Saturday.
According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, a typhoon hit the Ogasawara Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, south of Tokyo, late Friday. Forecasts show that the storm, which was upgraded to a typhoon from a tropical cyclone during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium, is slowly moving north and could affect the Tokyo region on Tuesday.
The rowing events take place at Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay, not far from the city center.
At a news briefing on Saturday, Christophe Dubi, the sports director for the International Olympic Committee, said that having the forecasting abilities of Japan’s meteorologists “is a very big plus.”
“So we’re fortunate to have this technology available,” he said. Because of the advance warning, “we didn’t have to make the call on the day.”
No major schedule changes were planned other than those for rowing, Olympic organizers said on Saturday.
TOKYO — Six days after finishing third in the Tour de France, Richard Carapaz of Ecuador flew to Japan, battled the steamy conditions, pushed his body past exhaustion and won gold in the men’s road race on Saturday.
Digging deep for a closing burst, Carapaz, 28, broke away from Brandon McNulty of the United States with nearly six kilometers left and sprinted to the end, recording a 6:05:26 finish, comfortably ahead of the next riders.
Looking over his shoulder and seeing no one nearby, Carapaz kept pushing toward the cheering crowds at the finish line at Fuji International Speedway. With a few meters remaining, he smacked his handlebars and threw his arms into the air.
It was his first Olympic medal and only the second gold in Ecuador’s history. In 1996, Jefferson Pérez won the top prize in men’s 20-kilometer race walk.
Cycling – Road: Men’s Road Race ›
Wout van Aert of Belgium finished 1:07 behind Carapaz for the silver medal. And Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia, who toyed with Carapaz less than a week ago while winning his second consecutive Tour de France, made a mad final dash to secure the bronze.
The competition, which began with nearly 130 riders, was a battle of attrition.
The brutal 234-kilometer course was made worse by intense heat and humidity. It began around Musashinonomori Park, just west of Tokyo, and ran up part of Mt. Fuji, finishing at Fuji International Speedway in Shizuoka Prefecture. In the stretches of the course outside of Tokyo, the riders wove through small towns and past fans lining the road.
In all, the cyclists were subjected to 4,865 meters of climbing, making it one of the toughest races in Olympic history.
For much of the race, the leading pack of riders was bunched up. But little by little, they began falling back through the tough final ascents. The 2016 gold medalist, Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium, dropped off with about 52 kilometers left.
Twenty kilometers later, McNulty, Pogacar and Michael Woods of Canada made their moves toward the front. Soon, McNulty and Carapaz pulled ahead. But over the final six kilometers, Carapaz was simply too powerful; he rode to the finish line alone.
Hou Zhihui of China is in a class by herself. As other weight lifters in the women’s 49-kilogram division took turns on Saturday lifting heavier and heavier weights, she waited and waited some more.
Her declared attempt in the snatch event was several kilograms above that of her nearest competitor, Mirabai Chanu of India, who took silver. On her second attempt, Hou, 24, achieved an Olympic record. On her third minutes later, she blew past that record by lifting 94 kilograms.
Hou, 24, set records again in the clean and jerk with each of her three successful lifts, finishing at 116 kilograms. She also collected three more Olympic records for the combined total of her lifts.
Few details are publicly divulged about individual members of China’s women’s weight lifting squad. In the Olympics information guide, Hou’s ambition was listed briefly as “to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.”
But one thing is certain. This Chinese squad, handpicked and nurtured by the state sports system, aims for gold and nothing else.
To harvest maximum gold, China has built a network of hundreds of state sports schools. The students there are scouted by coaches who fan into the countryside to find future world champions. While China’s growing wealth has made some parents less willing to send their children to such sports academies, the state’s hunger for gold remains.
As Beijing fine-tuned its “gold medal strategy,” it systematically targeted sports that are underfunded in the West. That often means women’s sports and disciplines that are less in the public spotlight. The Chinese sports system has also nurtured athletes in sports that offer multiple gold medals because of different divisions.
In women’s weight lifting, each national team can enter a maximum of four weight classes out of seven. If China doesn’t claim gold in each one it will be considered an upset.
“The Chinese weight lifting team is very cohesive, and the support from the entire team is very good,” Hou said, after winning her gold. “The only thing we athletes think about is to focus on training.”
Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.
Ecuador won a medal on Saturday, the first day medals were awarded at these Summer Games. So did Kosovo, Thailand and Iran. Russia, which isn’t even exactly in the Games, won a medal as well.
The United States did not.
It was a tough opening day for the U.S. in the 11 medal events. By early evening, all of the events were either over, or all the American entrants had been eliminated.
The top U.S. finishes were sixth place in shooting and cycling. The archery team and all the fencers went no further than the round of 16. The United States did not have any entrants in the judo and taekwondo events on Saturday.
One reason for the weak showing was that in swimming, traditionally an American strength, no finals were held, only heats. The United States will be a heavy favorite to win medals on Sunday morning, when the first four finals are held. (Those groping for a silver lining could point out that those finals are on Saturday night U.S. time, perhaps making them honorary Day 1 events.)
It wasn’t a bad day at the Olympics overall for U.S. athletes. The women’s softball, water polo and three-on-three basketball teams all won. But in the early medal table, the country is in an unaccustomed spot: at the bottom.
TOKYO — For decades, with rare exceptions, men competed with men and women with women at the Olympics.
Increasingly, though, the Games have been adding mixed team events. On the menu for the first time in Tokyo are mixed-gender track, swimming and triathlon relays. There will also be new coed team events in judo and shooting, and mixed doubles in table tennis.
The first mixed event of the Games was held on Saturday, with favored South Korea winning the mixed team archery competition.
The team of An San and 17-year-old Kim Je Deok tore through the field, winning their first three matches, 6-0, 6-2 and 5-1. The Netherlands team of Gabriela Schloesser and Steve Wijler put up the biggest fight, taking a 2-0 lead before South Korea fought back for a 5-3 victory, ending the match with a string of three perfect 10s and a 9.
The result was no surprise; South Korea has won five of eight men’s team events contested at the Olympics and all eight women’s events.
Mexico won the bronze.
The U.S. team of Brady Ellison and Mackenzie Brown fell behind Indonesia, 4-0, in their first-round match, rallied to tie, but lost in a shootout.
TOKYO — After the final point, after all that she had been through, Hend Zaza, the youngest Olympian at the Tokyo Games, shed a tear.
Reaching the Olympics is no small feat, let alone at age 12 and from war-torn Syria, where finding a safe place to train with uninterrupted electricity was a challenge.
But Zaza’s Olympic appearance was short-lived. She lost on Saturday in straight sets (4-11, 9-11, 3-11, 5-11) to Liu Jia of Austria in the opening round of the women’s singles table tennis tournament. Afterward, Liu, 39, walked over to Zaza and offered a hug.
“I had maternal feelings,” said Liu, who has a 10-year-old daughter. “It was less about the sport side of this game and more the human side.”
At 12 years and 204 days, Zaza became the youngest table tennis player ever to compete in the Olympics, according to the Tokyo Games. She was the youngest Olympian in any sport since 1992, when Judit Kiss of Hungary, then 12, competed in swimming, and 11-year-old Carlos Font of Spain participated in rowing.
Although Zaza had hoped for a better showing, the loss capped a whirlwind trip. The night before her match, she was a flag bearer for Syria at the opening ceremony. A late night, plus the lingering six-hour jet lag, meant that she barely slept — not great preparation against Liu, who is making her sixth Olympic appearance.
“I was hoping for a winning match and for better play, but it’s a tough opponent so it’s a good lesson for me, especially with the first Olympics,” Zaza said through an interpreter. “I will work on it to get a better result next time, hopefully.”
Still, with her long hair bouncing as she did around the table, Zaza showed ability that impressed her seasoned opponent.
“I had to remind myself not to underestimate her,” Liu said. She called Zaza “a great talent” with good rhythm and instincts who simply needed more experience.
Zaza began playing table tennis at 5, following in the footsteps of an older brother. A local coach, Adham Aljamaan, spotted her and took her under his wing.
For most of Zaza’s life, Syria has been locked in a civil war. She practiced in a place with old tables, a concrete floor and frequent power outages, according to the International Table Tennis Federation’s publication.
At 11, Zaza qualified for the Tokyo Games by defeating 42-year-old Mariana Sahakian of Lebanon in the Western Asia Olympic qualification tournament in Jordan last year. The Chinese Olympic Committee invited Zaza to train in China, a table tennis powerhouse, once coronavirus pandemic restrictions were lifted, she said.
“For the last five years, I’ve been through many different experiences, especially with the war happening around the country, with the postponement, with the funding for the Olympics,” Zaza said. “It was very tough. But I had to fight for it.”
She added: “And this is my message to everyone who wishes to have the same situation: Fight for your dream, try hard regardless of the difficulties that you’re having, and you will reach your goal.”
The effects of positive coronavirus tests among Olympic athletes began playing out on Saturday, hours after the opening ceremony, as a women’s beach volleyball team did not play because of an infection.
The Czech players Marketa Slukova and Barbora Hermannova were “unable to play,” according to the official scoring report, giving the win to their Japanese opponents. Slukova is one of at least four members of the Czech Olympic team who have tested positive.
Her result was announced on Thursday, and both she and her playing partner have been ruled out of the Games because of Covid-19 regulations.
Tokyo Olympic organizers announced 17 new positive tests on Saturday among people connected to the Games. At least 127 people with Olympic credentials, including 14 athletes, have tested positive.