Canceled party: Scrubbed match silences Olympic beach venue

Jul 23, 2021, 9:56 AM | Updated: Jul 24, 2021, 8:11 am

TOKYO (AP) — The Olympic beach volleyball tournament got off to the quintessential coronavirus-era start.

The event’s very first scheduled match at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games was canceled on Saturday morning because a Czech player tested positive for COVID-19. That knocked Markéta Sluková, who tested positive earlier this week, and partner Barbora Hermannova out of the tournament.

Already empty because of the ban on fans, the venue at Shiokaze Park was eerily still when the match was supposed to start at 9 a.m. on Saturday, the only sound an ear-splitting drone from the cicadas in the nearby trees.

An hour later, when reigning gold medalist Alison took the court, he pointed at the empty stands to acknowledge the fans as if they were there, cheering him on.

“The feelings were different,” said the 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Brazilian who won the men’s gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. “The situation is very different in the world. (I am) very happy it is finally here.”

In a sport that thrives on its beach party vibe, with dance teams that did the samba on Rio’s Copacabana Beach or hammed it up to the Benny Hill theme in London, the venue overlooking Tokyo Bay struggled to match the mood of its predecessors.

A disc jockey pumped rock music through the speakers and called out the play-by-play. But for most of the session the only applause in the sweltering temporary arena — it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), and hotter on the sand — was from the half-dozen ball attendants who clapped their plastic-gloved hands when the teams were announced.

“It was very different,” said Ágatha, a Brazilian who won a silver medal in front of her home crowd in 2016 and opened the Tokyo Games with a straight-set victory over Argentina on Saturday.

“In Brazil, we had the biggest support. There were many, many people cheering for us, and here we had silence,” she said, drawing a flat line with her hand. “We need to put our emotion in the game, because we can’t receive emotion from them. For me, it’s very important to play with emotion so I had to bring it from inside.”

Ágatha and her new partner, Duda, won 21-19, 21-10 on Saturday over Argentine pair Ana Gallay and Fernanda Pereyra. In other matches in the opening session, Alison and his new partner, Alvaro Filho, beat Argentina 21-16, 21-17, and top-seeded Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes beat the Dutch duo of Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon 21-16, 21-14.

“I mean, I think we can all agree there’s something missing,” said Pavan, who finished fifth in 2016. “We thrive in a full stadium with all the energy. But I think a strength of our team is we are able to manufacture energy ourselves as well.”

As she left the sand, Humana-Paredes waved to the handful of Canadian support staffers who were sitting among almost 12,000 empty seats.

“Even just seeing a couple of friendly faces makes a world of difference,” she said.

In the evening session, Americans Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena lost to defending bronze medalists Robert Meeuwsen and Alexander Brouwer of the Netherlands 21-17, 21-18. Wang Fan and Xia Xinyi of China beat Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson of Canada 18-21, 21-15, 15-11, and Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sorum beat Christopher McHugh and Damien Schumann of Australia 21-18, 18-21, 15-13.

In the afternoon, 2016 gold medalist Laura Ludwig of Germany and her new partner, Margareta Kozuch, lost their opener to the Swiss team of Tanja Huberli and Nina Betschart 23-25, 22-20, 16-14. Russian men Ilya Leshukov and Konstantin Semenov beat Spain’s Pablo Herrera Allepuz and Adrian Gavira Collado 21-19, 22-20. Switzerland’s Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich beat Germany’s Julia Sude and Karla Borger 21-8, 21-23, 15-6.

In the canceled match, the Japanese team of Megumi Murakami and Miki Ishii, who were 29th on the qualifying points list for the 24-team tournament but received the entry reserved for the hosts, earned the win by default.

Officially, the Czechs were marked as “Did Not Start,” and their three round-robin opponents will be awarded victories.

Sluková is one of at least four members of the Czech team who have tested positive since their arrival in Japan, including men’s beach volleyball player Ondrej Perusic. The team has said it’s investigating if the COVID-19 outbreak is linked to its charter flight to Tokyo.

A third beach player, American competitor Taylor Crabb, tested positive for COVID-19. But his partner, Jake Gibb, will remain in the competition with alternate Tri Bourne, who was able to make it to Tokyo in time.

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior, left, in action against Mallorca's goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic durin...
Associated Press

Vinícius Júnior again targeted by racist insults in Spain

MADRID (AP) — The hate attacks against Vinícius Júnior continued in Spain over the weekend, with the Brazil forward again being targeted by racist insults in a league match. The Spanish league said Monday it will investigate the latest attacks after television images showed someone calling him a monkey during Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss at […]
1 day ago
Italy's Federica Brignone speeds down the course during the super G portion of an alpine ski, women...
Associated Press

Brignone leads combined race at worlds; Shiffrin 0.96 behind

MERIBEL, France (AP) — Italian skier Federica Brignone posted the fastest time in the super-G portion of the women’s combined event Monday on the opening day of the world championships, leading defending champion Mikaela Shiffrin by almost a second. Racing under blue skies, Brignone found the fastest line on the Roc de Fer course as […]
1 day ago
FILE - Fans welcome Manchester City players before the start of the English Premier League soccer m...
Associated Press

Man City accused of breaching Premier League financial rules

LONDON (AP) — Manchester City was accused by the Premier League on Monday of breaching a slew of financial rules from 2009-18, during which the club became a force in English and European soccer following its takeover by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family. The league released a long statement detailing a list of alleged breaches of […]
1 day ago
Field hockey players of a local club attend a training session, in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, Nov. ...
Associated Press

Sports pitch for level playing field in cricket-mad Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) — On Islamabad’s outskirts, burly men bind together in a scrum on a rugby pitch that has seen better days. The sign bearing the club’s name is worn. The floodlights are too costly to use, given high electricity prices and the paltry $135 total that the club earns in membership fees every month. […]
1 day ago
NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. (19) poses for a photo with the championship trophy after...
Associated Press

Truex wins NASCAR’s sloppy return to Los Angeles Coliseum

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. won NASCAR’s return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for its season-opening exhibition race — a sloppy Sunday night extravaganza in which the Wiz Khalifa halftime show might have been the most entertaining part of the event. Truex took the lead with 25 laps to go in the […]
1 day ago
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) reacts in the second half of an NBA basketball game against ...
Associated Press

Morant says friend banned from arena over Pacers dispute

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant tweeted Sunday that a friend of his has been banned from games at FedExForum for a year as a result of a confrontation between his supporters and members of the Indiana Pacers organization a week earlier. The NBA confirmed that unnamed individuals have been banned from […]
1 day ago
Canceled party: Scrubbed match silences Olympic beach venue