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Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

It's not the start that organizers had once imagined, but the delayed 2020 Olympics are underway with softball and women's soccer beginning competition Wednesday ahead of Friday's opening ceremonies.

Why it matters: Originally scheduled to take place in 2020, the Olympics remain in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Games are being played without spectators and a number of athletes have already had to withdraw from competition after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Driving the news: In the first event to take place in host city Tokyo, the U.S. women's soccer team is playing Sweden in a match that kicked off moments ago.

On the ground: As a credentialed reporter, I am one of only a couple dozen reporters in a nearly empty Tokyo Stadium designed to hold tens of thousands. It's an utterly surreal experience.

  • There was pre-game music and an announcer introducing the starting lineups, but little else of the fanfare that normally accompanies the global sports gathering.
  • Both teams took a knee before the game began in what is expected to be the first of many political statements by Olympic athletes.
  • A recording counted down from 10 and, with that — and the referee's whistle — the game was underway.
  • You can hear the players talking to one another without amplification as it is basically the only sound during play, save for a little noise being pumped in that sounds like something between white noise and a real crowd.
  • You won't find concessions or souvenirs, though maps placed around the stadium offer directions for the spectators who were originally expected to fill the stands.

Between the lines: The match itself has added meaning for the U.S. team, which was ousted by Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2016 games in Rio.

"It seems kind of rich that we get to play them first game of this Olympics," U.S. captain Becky Saurerbrunn told reporters this week. "I'm really excited about that."

The big picture: Softball also began Wednesday, 175 miles away in Fukushima, with host Japan defeating Australia 8-1 and the U.S. defeating Italy 2-0, as American pitcher Cat Osterman returned to international competition by pitching six scoreless innings. Monica Abbott pitched the 7th inning for the U.S. squad, earning the save.

  • Five other women's soccer matches are taking place elsewhere in Japan Wednesday.

Update ... 4:55am ET: Sweden, which have dominated the opening minutes of play, scored in the 25th minute to take a 1-0 lead.

5:17am ET: Sweden have continued to dominate, but at the half it remains 1-0.

5:42am ET: Still outplaying the U.S., Sweden have scored another goal in the 54th minute to take a 2-0 lead.

6am ET: The score now matches the play — a blowout — as Sweden notches a third goal in the 72nd minute.

6:30am ET: And it’s final, Sweden tops the U.S. 3-0, putting pressure on the team to excel throughout the rest of the group stage to advance to the medal round.

For the full wrap up on the stunning loss, click here.

Go deeper

Updated 23 hours ago - Sports

U.S. women's soccer team seeks redemption on Olympic stage

Megan Rapinoe, 15, of the United States reacts during her team's 3-0 loss on July 21. Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

The U.S. women's national soccer team boasts back-to-back World Cup champion status, has ranked first or second in the world every year since 2003 and until Wednesday's opener against Sweden, had not lost a game in 44 matches.

The big picture: But after a disappointing performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the women failed to reach the gold medal game for the first time in history, the team is looking for redemption on the Olympic stage in Tokyo.

Updated Jul 23, 2021 - Axios Denver

Colorado athletes to watch at the Tokyo Olympics

Expand chart
Data: Team USA; Cartogram: Connor Rothschild/Axios

Colorado counts 34 athletes in the Olympic Games in more than 14 sports and 23 disciplines, according to Team USA.

Why it matters: We love to cheer for our hometown heroes as they go for the gold!

By the numbers: Colorado's athlete count is the third most in the nation — behind California's 126 and Florida's 51, according to an Axios analysis.

  • The athletes self-report their hometowns.
  • In reality, dozens more Olympians live in Colorado because they train here — and the same goes for athletes from other countries, too.

Meet the athletes here:

Ina Fried, author of Login
Updated Jul 20, 2021 - Sports

Axios at the Olympics: What it's like traveling to Tokyo

Tokyo skyline and the white-rimmed Olympic Stadium, the main venue. Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

A dispatch from the plane on the way from San Francisco to Tokyo.

Of course, there was a fresh hurdle at the airport. Overnight, the Tokyo Olympics organizers sent what was supposed to be a reassuring note. But I missed that part. It was another new form to fill out — a web questionnaire that generated a QR code.

When I went to check in at United, Japanese authorities wanted a written pledge that I hadn't filled out. So I went from the check-in line to an airport vendor charging $5 for computer rental, plus $1 per page. I printed out the necessary page, did the Web questionnaire and printed out the resulting QR code.

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