24 hours ago

Axios Sports

πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅ Happy Friday! The Tokyo Olympics are officially here, and we plan to make Axios Sports the single best resource for keeping up with the Games.

  • ✍️ Feature stories: We will have (at least) one feature each day, ranging from athlete profiles to dispatches from Axios' Ina Fried, who's in Tokyo.
  • πŸ₯‡ Daily dashboard: Our "Olympics Dashboard" will include a daily schedule, highlights, medal count, and more quick links.

Today's word count: 1,841 words (7 minutes).

Let the Games begin...

1 big thing: πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Meet Team USA
Expand chart
Data: Team USA; Cartogram: Connor Rothschild/Axios

613 Olympians, plus a handful of alternates ready to step in at a moment's notice, will represent the U.S. in Tokyo over the next two weeks, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Why it matters: That's the largest contingent ever for a non-host nation, and the second largest in Team USA history (648 at Atlanta 1996). This is also the third straight Olympics in which women (329) outnumber men (284).

  • By state: 126 athletes are from California, which is more than twice as many as second-place Florida (51). Colorado (34), Texas (31) and New York (28) round out the top five.
  • Oldest: 57-year-old Phillip Dutton, who competes in equestrian eventing, is making his seventh Olympics appearance.
  • Youngest: 15-year-old swimmer Katie Grimes is the youngest U.S. Olympian β€” Summer or Winter β€” since Katie Ledecky in 2012.

Let's meet some of the athletes ...

Clockwise from top left: Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Sue Bird and Kevin Durant. Photos: Getty Images
  • Simone Biles (Spring, Texas): The gymnastics G.O.A.T. will compete in five events. If she wins them all, she'll tie Larisa Latynina of the former Soviet Union for most gold medals by a female gymnast (nine).
  • Katie Ledecky (Bethesda, Md.): The defending gold medalist in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle is even better in the 1500, which makes its Olympics debut on the women's side.
  • Kevin Durant (Washington, D.C.): With opt outs limiting the roster and other countries closing the talent gap, U.S. men's basketball is far from a lock to win gold. KD will be the face of the team, and has a chance to add to his legacy in a meaningful way.
  • Sue Bird (Syosset, N.Y.): The hoops legend is making her fifth Olympics appearance and will join baseball player (and Winter Olympics medalist) Eddy Alvarez as Team USA's flag-bearers.
Clockwise from top left: Caeleb Dressel, Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles and John John Florence. Photos: Getty Images
  • Caeleb Dressel (Orange Park, Fla.): The 24-year-old is favored in each of his three individual events. Add in four relays, and he's got a shot at tying Mark Spitz for the second-most golds in a single Olympics with seven (behind Michael Phelps' eight).
  • Allyson Felix (Los Angeles): The 35-year-old is just one medal shy of tying Carl Lewis for the most among American track and field athletes (10). This is her first Games since giving birth in 2018, which led to her departure from Nike after she criticized their poor maternity policies.
  • John John Florence (Haleiwa, Hawaii): Despite being fewer than three months removed from ACL surgery, the two-time surfing world champion may try to land a rare backflip if he catches the right wave.
  • Noah Lyles (Alexandria, Va.): Making his Olympics debut at 23, Lyles is the favorite to win gold in the 200-meter dash after recording the fastest time in the world this season (19.74 seconds at trials).

Go deeper: Full list of athletes (Team USA)

2. πŸ₯‡ Olympics dashboard
Expand chart
Data: olympic.org; Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

206 countries will compete in the Tokyo Olympics, one fewer than the record 207 that competed at the 2016 Rio Games.

  • πŸ“† Today: The Opening Ceremony, held in a mostly empty stadium and hosted by Savannah Guthrie and Mike Tirico, began at 6:55am ET on NBC and will be re-aired at 7:30pm. Full schedule.
  • πŸŽ₯ Highlight: Simone Biles nailed her new high-flying vault move β€” the Yurchenko double pike β€” in practice.

Good reads:

3. πŸ’ Releasing the Kraken

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

You think you had a long week? Trust me, Seattle Kraken employees have you beat.

What's happening: The NHL's newest franchise held its expansion draft on Wednesday, unveiled its 2021-22 season schedule on Thursday, and will pick No. 2 overall in tonight's amateur draft.

Behind the scenes: The organization is "kind of a startup in some ways," says SVP of marketing and communications Katie Townsend. So they've been split between five buildings this week, with multiple "war rooms."

  • Hockey operations: GM Ron Francis, head coach Dave Hakstol, scouts, data analysts and others have been holed up for 10 days building a team from scratch. The room has a giant U-shaped table, with digital screens displaying spreadsheets and other information.
  • Marketing/communications: One can imagine how much content the Kraken have needed to produce since introducing the roster on Wednesday. "We're producing videos, pushing out social and digital content, and taking our new players to see Seattle sites," says Townsend. "I would say frenetic is probably the best word to use."
Boaters drift on Lake Union during the Kraken expansion draft at Gas Works Park on Wednesday. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The backdrop: Thanks to Seattle's high vaccination rate, Kraken employees have been able to work in person this week.

  • "If we had still been in a place where numbers weren't good and guidance from the governor was that we couldn't be in person, we would have had to do this virtually, which would have been very difficult," says Townsend.
  • "Seeing all the collaboration β€” reviewing the unprotected players list, looking over each other's shoulders, approving visuals β€” it does make you realize what we missed during the pandemic. So we feel very fortunate that the timing seems to have aligned."

Go deeper: NHL mock draft (NHL.com)

4. 🏈 NFL raises vaccine pressure

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

In the latest attempt to encourage players to get vaccinated, the NFL is threatening forfeits and the loss of game checks if an outbreak occurs.

Driving the news: If a game can't be played due to an outbreak among unvaccinated players/staff this upcoming season β€” and the NFL can't find "a suitable date to reschedule" β€” the team responsible will forfeit and both teams will lose their game checks.

  • The NFL was able to reschedule all of the games it postponed in 2020, but it seems the league might not be willing to go to the same extremes β€” like playing on a Tuesday β€” this time around.
  • If a forfeit occurs, the forfeiting team will be responsible for any shortfall in the league's revenue-sharing pool, and will also be subject to additional sanctions from the commissioner.

Where it stands: As of Thursday, more than 75% of NFL players were at least partially vaccinated and more than half of the league's teams have player vaccination rates above 80%.

  • The NFL effectively mandated vaccinations for coaches, trainers and support staff in April, saying they should all be vaccinated "unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so."
  • Unvaccinated players were already going to be tested daily and not permitted to leave team hotels or eat with their teammates. Now, they could be responsible for the losses of games and paychecks.

The bottom line: The NFL can't force players to get vaccinated, so it's doing the next best thing in an attempt to avoid outbreaks: making the lives of unvaccinated players very uncomfortable.

5. πŸ† Photos: Bucks championship parade
Photo: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Thousands of fans lined downtown Milwaukee streets on Thursday to celebrate the city's first NBA championship in 50 years.

Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

"Milwaukee, we did it baby!" Giannis Antetokounmpo said to a cheering crowd outside the Bucks' Fiserv Forum. "This is our city, this is our city, man, we did it! Unbelievable."

Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

In a city known for chugging beer, P.J. Tucker displayed a mastery of chugging champagne.

Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Go deeper: Parade highlights (B/R)

6. 🏈 SEC reimagined: 4-team divisions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The SEC Network on Thursday proposed a potential football alignment amid speculation that Texas and Oklahoma could join the conference.

Pods/divisions:

  • Pod A: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina
  • Pod B: Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
  • Pod C: LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
  • Pod D: Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas

How it works: Nine-game conference schedule. Teams play the other three teams in their pod every season, plus two games against each of the other pods. Teams would host every team at least once every four years.

Go deeper: Big 12 officials hold meeting about OU, Texas (ESPN)

7. ⚑️ Lightning round

Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

πŸ€ NIL hits high school: 17-year-old hoops star Mikey Williams, a top prospect in the Class of 2023, has signed a historic NIL deal with Excel Sports management that could generate millions of dollars.

⚾️ Cruz to Tampa: The Rays have acquired All-Star DH Nelson Cruz from the Twins. Cruz, 41, has 19 HR and 50 RBIs in 85 games this season and is third among active players in career dingers (436).

πŸ“š Good read: Dale Hansen is signing off, taking the anchorman era with him (Bryan Curtis, The Ringer)

"The Dallas sportscaster will end a 41-year run delivering the local news when he retires in September. His style ... harkens back to a bygone era of broadcast television."
8. πŸ“† July 23, 1996: Strug's iconic vault
Kerri Strug. Photo: David Madison/Getty Images

25 years ago today, Kerri Strug cemented her legacy as an Olympic hero with "the vault," helping push the U.S. women to their first team gold.

What happened: The U.S. was in the lead during the final rotation of the team competition, but after the first four Americans landed imperfect vaults, the door was opened for a Russian comeback.

  • On Strug's first attempt (gymnasts got two vaults, with the higher score counting), she landed awkwardly and injured her ankle.
  • Clearly in pain, she asked coach BΓ©la KΓ‘rolyi, "Do we need this?" He replied, "We need you one more time for the gold. You can do it."
  • Strug's second vault made her an icon, sticking the landing before saluting the judges and crumpling to the floor in pain.

The aftermath: Though her vault clinched gold, it ended up not mattering, as the final Russian competitor's score wouldn't have been enough for the comeback anyway.

  • Strug's injury β€” a sprained ankle with tendon damage β€” kept her from the rest of the gymnastics program. That vault was the final event of her Olympic career.

The big picture: The popularity and success of that year's team, dubbed "the Magnificent Seven," inspired a generation and gave rise to a gymnastics powerhouse.

  • Prior to 1996, U.S. gymnastics had medaled just three times (one silver, two bronze) in the team all-around competition.
  • Since then, the U.S. has medaled in the team all-around at five straight Olympics, including golds in each of the last two Games.

Go deeper: Where is Kerri Strug now? (USA Today)

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Ezekiel Elliott has 8,341 career NFL scrimmage yards, the third-most by a player before his 26th birthday (Elliott turned 26 on Thursday).

  • Question: Who are the only two players ahead of him?
  • Hint: 1977 and 1993 NFL MVPs.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ⚽️ 1 delicious thing: Ted's shortbread

Source: Giphy

Happy "Ted Lasso" Day! In honor of the Season 2 premiere, here's Ted's secret shortbread recipe, courtesy of some expert internet sleuthing.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Β½ cups/340 grams cold unsalted butter (3 sticks), cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3 cups/385 grams all-purpose flour
  • ΒΎ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 ΒΌ teaspoons fine sea salt

Preparation:

  • Step 1: Heat oven to 350Β°F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, and line with parchment paper so that there is a 2-inch overhang on the two long sides.
  • Step 2: Prepare the shortbread: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or beaters, mix together flour, sugar and salt. Beat in butter on low speed until dough just comes together but is still a little crumbly. (Or pulse together ingredients in a food processor.)
  • Step 3: Press dough into prepared pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven.

Go deeper: What lies beneath Ted Lasso (The Ringer)

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Song of the day" Baker

Trivia answer: Emmitt Smith (8,759 scrimmage yards) and Walter Payton (8,350)

πŸ™ Thanks for reading. Don't forget to refer friends (axios.com/referral) and follow us on Twitter: @thekendallbaker and @jeffreytracy.