Jamaica will be represented in several sports at the first-ever Junior Pan-American Games which is scheduled to take place in the city of Cali in Colombia between November 25 and December 5, 2021.

Responding to the call made by the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) earlier this year, several juniors from the so-called "smaller sports" dedicated their efforts in qualifying and have now earned a coveted place at the historic games.

Among those sports, whose athletes will don the black green and gold national colours in Cali, are Taekwondo, Weightlifting, Artistic Gymnastics, Fencing, Badminton Triathlon, Tennis, Cycling (Track), Skateboarding and Squash.

In commending the commitment of member associations and the nation's juniors, President of the Jamaica Olympic Association, Christopher Samuda, said: "Our associations and federations and their juniors have responded positively and with national pride to the JOA's Cali call to action for it will be for us, 'business unusual' in Cali and for them, it will be 'signed, sealed and delivered."

The JOA boss, in expressing a well-known policy of the national governing body, further stated "the JOA is giving our young sportsmen and women every opportunity to transition and be more than gold medalists - to be standard-bearers. The JOA subscribes to this ideal and Cali is certainly embracing it."

The number of local sports that will feature at the multi-sport junior games is indeed a record for the JOA and is being interpreted by its Secretary-General and CEO, Ryan Foster, as "a clear signal that the JOA's strategy of diversification is working well and that our members are inspiring their junior athletes to be history-makers and to strive for excellence."

With the Santiago 2023 Senior Pan-American Games and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games only two and three years away respectively, the JOA views the Cali games as a critical milestone. Secretary-General Foster, in giving the context, was unequivocal. "Cali is a dress rehearsal for our juniors. If you want to be at the senior shows, you have to, from now, dress for the shows, study the scripts and be able to deliver yourself on the big stages."

The stage lights in Cali will soon be turned on to spotlight over 3,800 athletes from the Caribbean and Americas - north, central and south -who will compete across 315 events in 28 sports and "Jamaica will be their centre stage and the objective is to have a leading role in this historic event," President Samuda said.

Afghan athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli arrived at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Village on Saturday after being evacuated from their homeland.

Khudadadi and Rasou had initially been unable to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban took control, but the pair managed to board a plane last weekend.

They spent the week at the National Institute of Sport Expertise and Performance in Paris prior to flying to the Japanese capital on Friday.

Khudadadi will become the first female athlete to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics since the Athens 2004 Games when she competes in the K44 -49kg weight category in taekwondo next Thursday.

Rasouli was due to participate in the men's 100 metres T47 on Saturday, but will instead take his place in the heats of the 400m T47 athletics event next Friday.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons said: "Twelve days ago we were informed that the Afghan Paralympic Team could not travel to Tokyo, a move that broke the hearts of all involved in the Paralympic Movement and left both athletes devastated. 

"That announcement kickstarted a major global operation that led to their safe evacuation from Afghanistan, their recuperation by France, and now their safe arrival in Tokyo.

"We always knew there was a remote chance both athletes could participate at Tokyo 2020 which is why the Afghan flag was paraded at Tuesday's Opening Ceremony. Like all the athletes here at Tokyo 2020, we never gave up hope and to now have Zakia and Hossain in the Paralympic Village alongside 4,403 other Paralympians shows the remarkable power of sport to bring people together in peace.

"Our number one priority has and always will be the health and well-being of both athletes.  Over the last 12 days, Zakia and Hossain have continued to express their absolute desire to come and compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

"Thanks to the outstanding efforts of several Governments, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, Human Rights for All, the French Paralympic Committee, the British Paralympic Association, World Taekwondo, Zakia and Hossain are now in Tokyo to fulfil their dreams, sending out a strong message of hope to many others around the world.

"We will continue to work closely with Zakia, Hossain and the team’s Chef de Mission to ensure they receive all the care and support they need both during and after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games."

Afghan Paralympic athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli are in a "safe place" after being evacuated from their homeland.

The two Para-taekwondo athletes were due to represent their country in the Tokyo Games, but could not leave Afghanistan after the Taliban took control.

Khudadadi and Rasouli were among thousands trying to flee their country, so the Afghan flag was carried by a volunteer at Tuesday's opening ceremony in the Japanese capital.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on Wednesday confirmed the two athletes had left Afghanistan.

"Efforts have been made to remove them from Afghanistan, they are now in a safe place," IPC spokesman Craig Spence said during a news conference.

"I'm not going to tell you where they are because this isn't about sport, this is about human life and keeping people safe.

"Obviously they've been through a very traumatic process, they're undergoing counselling and psychological help.

"We are being kept in the loop about their whereabouts and their well-being."

United States men's basketball coach Gregg Popovich insists his side's defeat to France in their first outing at Tokyo 2020 should not be considered a surprise result.

Team USA have won gold in the last three Games, but they saw a 25-game winning streak in the tournament come to an end on Sunday against an inspired France side.

Les Blues, who also beat a much-fancied USA in the World Cup quarter-finals in 2019, are ranked seventh in the FIBA rankings but proved too strong for the world's top team with an 83-76 win at the Saitama Super Arena.

Despite his side's long unbeaten run in the competition coming to an end, Popovich – taking charge at his first Games – was quick to put the loss into some perspective.

"People shouldn't be surprised that we lost to the French team or the Australian team or the Spanish team or the Lithuanian team," he told reporters. 

"It doesn't matter who it is – the gap in talent shrinks every year, as there are more and more great players all over the world. 

"And you need to give the French team credit for playing well. They were more consistent than we were at both ends of the court. It's as simple as that."

 

STARS ALIGN FOR HISTORY-MAKING ZOLOTIC

Sunday was a positive day on the whole for Team USA – especially compared to Saturday, when they failed to win a medal on the opening day of a Games for the first time since Munich 1972 – as they picked up four gold, two silver and four bronze.

That haul includes a maiden gold in the women's taekwondo thanks to teenager Anastasija Zolotic, who beat Tatiana Minina of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the final of the -57kg weight category event. 

"My eight-year-old self was running around the schoolyard saying I was going to be Olympic champion but she could never have imagined what this moment is like," Zolotic said. 

"It's unbelievable. It really hasn't sunk in yet. I can't believe it. I'm in a bit of shock. I'm just trying to wrap my head around it. It feels wonderful. I came here confident and ready to take the gold. The stars were aligned."

Zolotic's win came on the back of two-time Olympic champion Jade Jones suffering a shock elimination to Refugee Olympic Team member Kimia Alizadeh in the last 16, denying the Team GB athlete a shot of winning a historic third gold.

 

BILES BOUNCES BACK, CHUSOVITINA WAVES GOODBYE

A lot of focus has been on Simone Biles heading into the Games, though she had a rare off day as the USA finished behind ROC in the women's gymnastics qualifying.

Biles, who won four golds and a bronze in Rio, was penalised on both floor and vault but still scored a respectable 14.166 to book a spot in the final.

While Biles still has time on her side, both in Tokyo and in the long term, the 2020 Games will be the last for Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, who bowed out on Sunday after a record-setting eighth appearance at the Olympics.

Chusovitina, at the age of 46, just missed out on qualifying for the vault event and was given a standing ovation by the small number of people inside the arena.

To put Chusovitina's remarkable run of appearances into perspective, she made her debut at the Games in 1992, some five years before Biles was born.

"It was really nice. I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time," she said. "I didn't look at the results, but I feel very proud and happy. I'm saying goodbye to sports. It's kind of mixed feelings.

"I'm alive, I'm happy, I'm here without any injuries, and I can stand on my own."

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

Japanese pair Uta and Hifumi Abe made Olympic history as they became the first siblings to win gold medals on the same day of a Games in an individual sport, both enjoying success in judo on day two in Tokyo.

Uta won the women’s 52kg competition, defeating France's Amandine Buchard. A closely contested bout went to a golden score, with Abe crucially claiming ippon to settle the final in her favour.

The two-time world champion cried tears of joy in the aftermath, admitting: "I don't know, maybe it may not have been appropriate but I couldn't hold myself back."

Older brother Hifumi made it a family double, overcoming Vazha Margvelashvili of Georgia to triumph in the men's 66kg final.

"This has turned out to be the greatest day ever," he said. "I don't think we, as brother and sister, could shine any brighter on this stage known as the Tokyo Olympics. I'm so happy."

 

Jade Jones is in the hunt for an historic third successive gold medal in taekwondo at the Tokyo Olympics, and she is doing all she can to ensure coronavirus does not derail her hopes.

The Tokyo Games are set to start next week, though no fans will be allowed to attend as Japan deals with another spike in COVID-19 cases.

Jones tested positive for the illness earlier this year, and the 28-year-old has since had both doses of a vaccine, though that does not mean she cannot still contract the virus.

She won gold at London 2012 and Rio 2016, with no taekwondo athlete having ever won three straight gold medals in the discipline. Jones is also hoping to become the first British female Olympian to claim the top prize at three consecutive Games.

However, her participation would be ended if she tests positive for coronavirus, and Jones explained the lengths which she and her team are going to in order to avoid such a situation.

"The hardest bit is being petrified you're going to test positive," Jones, who is based at the Keio University in Minato City, told the Evening Standard. "I've had the vaccines and I've had COVID so it's highly unlikely.

"But I still don't want to get a positive test because that means game over, you're out. To have your Olympic dreams pending on that is scary. I constantly wear the mask.

 

"My hands are raw from the amount of hand gel I've been putting on, we walk in single file to training, literally a little traffic system so no-one comes near us and we stay in that same bubble.

"To be fair, I'm quite anti-social anyway, so it works well for me. I've got an excuse now. Got to keep my distance. Where we have our meal there's a sticker on the table saying 'keep conversation to a minimum'."

Indeed, on Saturday, Jones' fears might only have been heightened by a positive COVID-19 case being discovered in the athletes' village.

Jones, though, is still enjoying the atmosphere in Tokyo, despite the strict restrictions.

"I thought because of COVID it's not going to be the same, it's going to be rubbish, it's not going to compare to London and Rio," Jones said.

"I got here and it seems the same. Obviously, you have to wear the mask but I still feel like that little kid walking around saying 'this is amazing'. Just wearing the kit, I just feel proud to be here again."

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