Truly, the dregs of summer have arrived.
Why does late July need to exist? There's no high school sports. All-Star baseball tournaments have wrapped, at least at the local level, and unfortunately none of our teams advanced out of states. Golfers will play a competitive tournament here and there, same with tennis players, but nothing the average sports fan cares about. Even when looking at professional sports, there's not much to watch now that the NBA Finals have ended, just regular season baseball. High school football practice starts one week from Monday; now, that's something we can all get excited about. Until then, we're just watching the clock.
At least, we would be normally. But in 2021, a special savoir has arrived: The still-oddly-named 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will hold its Friday but, in another bizarre move have already begun; softball started things on Tuesday, which is being referred to as "day negative three" of the games. (If any readers can provide a sensible reason for that designation, I'll give them a prize.) Wednesday morning, the U.S. women's soccer team was stunned by rival Sweden, 3-0, in its first group stage game. It was disappointing to wake up at 5 a.m. and groggily watch that performance, but I have faith that Rose Lavelle and company will turn it around.
At this point, you all know about the four Olympians (and one Olympic manager) representing Sarasota at the games. We're all excited to watch them — the Payne Park watch party for Ilardi should be a blast — but they are not the only athletes I'm looking forward to watching at the games. So, for people tuning into the games for more than local support, here's what's on my must-watch list for Tokyo.
I want to see Simone Biles dominate again. She's the greatest gymnast ever and there's nothing like watching the way she's able to contort her body in the air. Because gymnasts typically have a short shelf life, there's a chance this will be the last time we see Biles, 24, on the Olympic stage, or at least at the peak of her abilities. It would be a mistake to miss it.
Out of sheer curiosity, I will be watching every U.S. men's basketball game. The results from the team's tune-up exhibition games have been less than stellar. The team lost to Nigeria 90-87 on July 11 — Team USA's first-ever loss to an African nation. For context, when the two countries last met in 2016, the U.S. won by 44 points, so something went abysmally wrong here. The second exhibition game didn't go any better; the U.S. lost 91-83 to Australia. The team has recorded wins over Argentina and Spain since then, so I'm hoping their woes are behind them. How bad could a team led by Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard be, right?
In addition to skateboarding, there's three other new events this year: karate, surfing and sport climbing. I'll be watching all three, but sport climbing is the one that has hooked me the most. If anyone has not seen video of sport climbing yet, I urge them to check it out. It is essentially people climbing indoor rock walls as fast as they can and it is incredible. They look like lemurs scaling trees in Madagascar.
I'm also interested in watching the U.S. softball team. I got a glimpse at the Team Mexico when they played exhibition games in the Florida Gulf Coast League last month at the Miss Sarasota Softball Complex. They were going against American college players — talented college players — and looked dominant, especially on the mound. We'll see how good they look when they run into our national team. That game will be Saturday at 1:30 a.m. on NBC Sports Network, by the way, if you feel like staying up late.