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Analyzing wins, losses and what’s to come for American athletes in Tokyo

Americans athletes at the Tokyo Olympics have had great wins so far: Jade Carey's gold medal in the gymnastics floor exercise, many medals for swimmers Caleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky. Simone Biles is expected to compete in Tuesday's balance beam finals. The losses include the women's soccer team losing to Canada. USA Today's Christine Brennan joins Amna Nawaz to discuss America's prospects.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are just about at the halfway point in the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

    These are probably the strangest in modern times, given COVID and the lack of spectators. But there are amazing feats and records being broken every day. The past few days have been particularly compelling.

    Amna Nawaz has our look.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the past 72 hours have brought some smiles and tears of joy for these unusual times.

    Some of the highlights so far, Jade Carey's rebound to win the gold medal in the floor exercise in gymnastics. Simone Biles is expected to compete in the balance beam finals tomorrow. Big wins and multiple medals for swimmers Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky.

    But, of course, there are some disappointments too. And that includes the U.S. women's soccer team losing its chance for a gold medal today to Canada.

    Christine Brennan is covering these games for USA Today. She joins me now from Tokyo.

    Christine, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Always good to have you here.

    Let's talk about those swimmers. The U.S. leads in the total medal count thanks in large part to those two people, Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky.

    Tell me about the significance of their performance.

  • Christine Brennan, USA Today:

    Katie Ledecky, I will start with her first, Amna.

    And I have covered her for a long time. And we remember her as the 15-year-old water bug winning in London, and then the dominant swimmer in Rio just piling up all the gold medals.

    And this performance five years later in — here in Tokyo I think is more impressive than any I have seen of hers. And she's 24 years old now. The competitors are coming on. The young kids are coming on quick. She added the 1, 500, first time the women were doing the 1, 500, the mile. She added that. So that added to her schedule.

    And she just plowed through this, two golds, two silvers. I think it was more impressive than what I'd seen from her before, in that, in addition to, of course, winning two golds, handling the silver in the 400 meters, losing to the Australian Ariarne Titmus, with class, grace, dignity, I think Katie Ledecky comes out of these Games as the star so far, and in terms of how she's handled herself both in the pool and out, just a true role model.

    And then Caeleb Dressel, five gold medal. He did exactly what he wanted to do here. The pressure he talked about, so difficult. He wasn't eating. He wasn't sleeping. He was shaking. He says he lost 10 pounds, just how difficult it is. And yet he did it, put his name up there with Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps in terms of a man winning three golds at a single Olympic Games.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Team USA swimmers leading the way there.

    We also have the gymnasts not doing too badly themselves. Of course, a lot of focus on Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast of our time, stepping back to take care of her own mental health and well-being.

    What does her coming back for this balance being final tomorrow mean?

  • Christine Brennan:

    This is going to be the most watched event of the Olympics, Amna.

    And I imagine that heart rates will be through the roof. The balance beam is difficult anyway. It's at four inches. It's up there several feet in the air. It's difficult just to stand on it for a mere mortal. And to think that she is going to try to do what she does, fly through the air and do the jumps and the twists, and while still dealing with the twisties, losing herself in the air, it's extraordinary.

    It was a week ago now that she, of course, told us about the problem and talked about mental health and the pressures and really got us on this national conversation that's working its way towards a movement with Naomi Osaka, et cetera.

    So to see her actually come back, this is her last chance for gold or any medal at the Olympics. It's going to be as dramatic a moment as I can think of in any Olympic Games. So, it's quick. Don't blink or you will miss it. But it is one of those things that I think shows just how strong and how tough she is in the midst of so many personal issues.

    Good for her. And, of course, we will see how she does.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, of course, a lot of people are going to be cheering her on.

    Of course, I need to ask you about the women's soccer team, heartbreak in that loss to Canada. And they were really expected to do better than they had. Isn't that right?

  • Christine Brennan:

    That is correct, although, in 2016, the last Olympics in Rio, they actually lost in an earlier round. So they did better this time. They will be playing for the bronze medal. So there is a medal still on the table.

    But the U.S. women's national team, Amna, has just not looked good this entire tournament, losing 3-0 to Sweden to start the Olympics, and then looking listless throughout. The goalkeeper went out with an injury. That did not help. She had played so great against the Netherlands.

    But a 1-0 loss to Canada. On the other hand, for Canada, they have been trying to get to this point for a long time. So, good for them, beating the United States. That is a great rivalry, but a difficult time for the U.S. with an older team.

    Some of those old players that we know so well, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd, you wonder if that might have been the last time we see them on the international stage.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Christine, there is a great history at the Olympic Games of athletes using that global stage to deliver an important message.

    And we have had our first podium demonstration now. I know you wrote about. This was U.S. shot-putter Raven Saunders raising her arms in an X after winning a medal in her event.

    Tell us what was behind that.

  • Christine Brennan:

    Yes, she says that's for oppressed people everywhere.

    And what — of course, it's the first demonstration we have seen at these Games, Amna. And we expect more. It's been a topic of conversation because the International Olympic Committee relaxed the rules just a bit to allow athletes to, say, kneel before games, as the women's soccer players have.

    The difference here is, she did not do this — the Chinese woman won the gold. She — Saunders did not do anything to disrupt the medal ceremony itself and also the national anthem. No disrespect at all. She did it afterwards, when they take — they ask the athletes, take off your mask for a minutes for the — for a quick photo. That's when she did it.

    So the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has said it's OK. The International Olympic Committee might say something different. We could see everyone at loggerheads if, in fact, the International Olympic Committee disagrees that the — with the U.S., the U.S. saying that it was OK what she did, and she was not disrespectful.

    So, we will see how that plays out in the next few hours.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A lot of Games behind us already, and still a lot of competition ahead.

    That's Christine Brennan from USA Today joining us from Tokyo, covering these Olympic Games.

    Christine, thank you so much for making the time.

  • Christine Brennan:

    My pleasure, Amna. Thank you.

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