Olympics-Biles retakes spotlight as world records fall, IOC probes Belarus


Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya enters the Polish embassy in Tokyo, Japan, August 2, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) -Simone Biles retook the gymnastics stage on Tuesday after a week's absence, electrifying the Tokyo Olympics on a day that saw world records smashed and organisers probe Belarus's treatment of an athlete now in diplomatic protection.

The return of the American, considered by many the greatest gymnast ever, ensured a blockbuster finale Olympics-Gymnastics-Biles return set to bring gymnastics to dramatic end for the sport as Biles scored 14.000 on the balance beam to finish third.

She had abruptly dropped out of the team event earlier in the Games citing mental health issues and increasing the global spotlight on the pressures elite athletes face.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it expected a report https://www.reuters.com/article/olympics-2020-ioc/update-1-olympics-ioc-awaiting-report-from-belarusian-olympic-committee-idUSL8N2PA0F4 later in the day from the Belarusian team on the case of sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who sought protection https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/belarus-athlete-in-hands-authorities-ioc-2021-08-02 in the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday after refusing her team's orders to fly home.

She was expected to fly on Wednesday to Poland, which has offered her a humanitarian visa. The IOC spoke twice on Monday to Tsimanouskaya, who was in a safe and secure place, spokesman Mark Adams said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused https://www.reuters.com/world/blinken-says-belarus-treatment-athlete-intolerable-transnational-repression-2021-08-03 Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's regime of intolerable "transnational repression" in the matter.

On the track, Norway's Karsten Warholm shattered his own world record in the men's 400 metres hurdles final with a blistering 45.94-second run, besting American Rai Benjamin, who also beat last month's record of 46.70 seconds.

"Man, it's so crazy. It's by far the biggest moment of my life," Warholm said after carving his name among the greats of athletics history and crouching in apparent disbelief on the track. "You know the cliche that it hasn't sunk in yet? I don't think it has, but I feel ecstatic."

In women's cycling, Germany won the gold medal in team pursuit at the Izu Velodrome, beating Britain in a thrilling final after both teams traded world records in the heats. The United States took the bronze.

Outdoor athletes were once again battling the Tokyo summer weather as well as their competitors, with highs around 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) and rain-forest humidity.

Athletes also lacked the cheers of fans, as organisers have banned spectators from almost all events due to COVID-19, which had already delayed the Games by a year.

The lack of fans, however, is not depressing viewership https://www.reuters.com/article/olympcis-2020-audience/olympics-surfing-skating-boosts-viewership-lack-of-fans-has-zero-impact-ioc-idUSL1N2PA059, the IOC said, as debut events such as surfing and skateboarding attract a global buzz.

Host city Tokyo is enduring its fourth coronavirus state of emergency with infections spiking https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-limits-hospitalisation-covid-19-patients-most-serious-cases-surge-2021-08-03 to record highs and hospitals under increasing strain.

Tokyo Olympics organisers have reported 294 Games-related COVID-19 cases since July 1 even as strict testing and monitoring measures continue inside the Olympic "bubble".

Positive COVID-19 tests have forced Greece to pull out of the artistic swimming competitions.

MAKING HISTORY

Biles, her hopes of six gold medals shattered, has been battling the "twisties", a condition in which gymnasts lose their orientation while doing twists and gravity-defying mid-air tumbles, that forced her to pull out of events.

Japan's Naomi Osaka, who had cited depression in taking a break from tennis in recent months, lost to the world No. 42 in the third round last week, one of many shocking results in this year's Games.

Also making history, the first openly transgender Olympian, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, said she does not consider herself a trailblazer and just wanted to be seen as any other athlete on sport's biggest stage.

Hubbard made an unexpected early exit on Monday, eliminated just 10 minutes into her +87 kg contest, ending an appearance that provoked controversy.

Transgender rights advocates applauded her being allowed to compete, while some former athletes and activists believe her background gives her an unfair physiological advantage and undermines efforts for women's equality in sport.

Away from the competition, some Australian athletes caused damage to their rooms in the athletes' village before departing while the team's mascots - an emu and a kangaroo - went missing but have since returned, team chief Ian Chesterman said.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Mitch Phillips; Additional reporting by Mari Saito, Steve Keating, Elaine Lies, Martin Petty; Writing by William Mallard; Editng by Lincoln Feast and Himani Sarkar)

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