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TOKYO, July 5 (Reuters) – Japan selected basketball player Rui Hachimura and wrestler Yui Susaki as the common flag bearers for the Tokyo Olympics, organizers said on Monday, placing representatives of a younger generation of Japanese and more diverse at the head of its national team. .

Hachimura, 23, grew up in Japan as the child of a Japanese mother and Beninese father and plays for the NBA Washington Wizards.

He joins women’s wrestling medal hopeful Susaki, 22, as the flag bearer for the host country’s team during the opening ceremony on July 23, the Japanese Olympic Committee said.

The role of joint flag bearer for Japan and other teams is a break with tradition after the International Olympic Committee changed the rules to send a message of gender parity.

Hachimura, one of the more mixed race Japanese as international marriages increase, has publicly commented on his experience of racist abuse.

In May, his younger brother Allen, who plays basketball in college, posted a screenshot of a racist message he received.

“People say Japan is not a racist country,” Allen said on Twitter. “I want everyone to care about the problem of racism,” he added.

“I get messages like this almost every day,” wrote Rui Hachimura in a response to his brother’s message.

Tokyo 2020’s efforts to showcase Japan as a modern and open nation – the Games use the slogan ‘unity in diversity’ in its messages – have been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with organizers scrambling to organize the event without increasing the cases.

Already delayed by a year due to the pandemic, the Games are taking place amid fears that the influx of thousands from around the world could trigger a new wave of infections in the country.

Japan has yet to set the level of virus countermeasures to be put in place during the Games and holding the event without any domestic spectators remains a possibility.

Czechs clinch a spot in Tokyo basketball

The Czech Republic became the latest team to land a berth in the men’s basketball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics after beating Greece 97-72 in their qualifying final on Sunday.

Patrik Auda led the charge with 20 points as the Czechs, who upset Canada 103-101 in Saturday’s thrilling semi-final, join holders USA, France and Iran in the group A at the Olympic Games from July 23 to August 8.

Italy, European champions, Slovenia and Germany sealed their own places in Tokyo earlier on Sunday.

The Italians surprised 2016 silver medalists Serbia 102-95, Slovenia beat Lithuania 96-85 and Germany outscored Brazil 75-64 in contested tournaments across Europe.

Italy and Germany will join Australia and Nigeria in Group B at the Games while Slovenia, which qualified for the Olympics for the first time as an independent nation, will head to Group C alongside the world champions, Spain, Argentina and hosts Japan.

Serbia were deprived of NBA regular season MVP Nikola Jokic, who withdrew from the qualifying tournament due to fatigue, and the home side sorely missed the Denver Nuggets’ center against the ‘Italy.

The Italians carved out a 25-point lead midway through the third quarter after scoring nine three-pointers in the first half, then delayed a late rally in Serbia to reach their first Olympics since Athens 2004, when ‘they won the silver medal.

Goalkeeper Nicolo Mannion led the Italians with 24 points, Achille Polonara added 22 and Simone Fontecchio added 21 points as Serbia’s porous defense failed to cope with long-range shots and offensive rebounds of their rivals.

After winning the European title in 2017, Slovenia advanced thanks to an effervescent performance from Dallas Mavericks goalkeeper Luka Doncic, who recorded 31 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds against the Lithuanians.

After a balanced first half, Slovenia escaped in the second and silenced loud home fans in Kaunas as 22-year-old Doncic pulled all the strings to win the tournament’s MVP award .

“I don’t care about the MVP award because what matters is that we won the tournament and reached the Olympics for the first time,” said Doncic, delighted in an interview on the pitch.

“Like all children in Slovenia, I too have dreamed of participating in the Olympics all my life. We are a small nation but we have a lot of potential and we have made history here.”

Germany eliminated the Croatian hosts in Split on Saturday and followed with a superb defensive performance against Brazil as they led throughout the low-scoring competition.

Australia to bring 472 athletes to Tokyo

Australia will take 472 athletes to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), the country’s second-largest team for overseas Summer Games, said on Monday.

Some of the 254 women and 218 men who will compete in 33 sports are already in Japan for their final preparations for the Games, which have been postponed for a year due to the global health crisis.

The new coronavirus severely disrupted the qualifications and the contingent of Australian travelers – second in size only after the 482 who traveled to Athens in 2004 – could have been larger without the opportunities denied by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would like to pay tribute to those athletes for whom the postponement and the global environment have prevented them from being part of this team,” said Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman.

“Whether it was due to injury and retirement, a lack of secure access to qualifying events or difficult personal circumstances, many were forced to make this difficult decision.

“I can promise these athletes that this team will carry their legacy and contribution in their hearts all the way to Tokyo and into the heat of Olympic competition.”

Baker wins 100m in Stockholm, setting standard for Tokyo

American Ronnie Baker won a tight 100-meter race at the Stockholm Diamond League meeting on Sunday and heads to his first Olympics in Tokyo as the main medal contender.

Baker, 27, clocked 10.03 seconds, edging Italy’s Marcell Jacobs by 0.02 seconds and Briton CJ Ujah third in 10.10.

“I’m happy to be able to run and compete and beat these guys,” Baker told reporters. “There are a lot of guys who run fast and some of the best guys are from America, but at the end of the day I try not to focus on my competition and focus on what I’m doing.”

World record holder Armand Duplantis did not disappoint his home fans as the Swede won the pole vault with a jump of 6.02 meters.

He beat American Sam Kendricks who clocked the best 5.92m of the season and Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie who also clocked 5.92.

“It was really important for me to come out here and try to get over the six yards, and then maybe take some better shots at the world record, but overall 6.02 was a good jump so I can’t complain, ”says Duplantis.

“Stockholm is a special place for me, I’ve had really good results here over the last few years, so it’s like every time I come here something good happens.”

With the Tokyo Olympics due to start in just over three weeks, world long jump champion Tajay Gayle of Jamaica posted the season’s best jump of 8.55 meters to claim the victory.

“I am surprised to have jumped this far because my feet did not really react and I was tired after the gold competition in Brussels. But I am very, very, happy and very happy with the result”, a- he declared.

Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria was second at 8.29 meters and Swedish Thobias Montler third at 8.23.

Kenyan Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich had the best performance of the season over 800 meters, coming from behind to win in 1:43:84. Canadian Marco Arop was second in 1:44:00 and Briton Elliot Giles third in 1:44:05.

Former world champion Hyvin Kiyeng of Kenya dominated the women’s 3000m steeplechase, winning in 9: 04.34 ahead of compatriot and world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech who could only finish third. Germany’s Gesa Felicitas Krause finished second.

“I feel good and finishing a race is a good thing on the way to the Olympics,” said Kiyeng.

Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot, the 1,500-meter world champion, comfortably won a time of 3: 32.30 in his first race since failing to qualify for Tokyo.

Two-time Olympic champion Valerie Adams from New Zealand won the women’s shot put with a throw of 19.26 meters.