Boats cruise the Seine river in a rehearsal for the Paris Olympics’ opening ceremony

Boats cruise the Seine river in a rehearsal for the Paris Olympics’ opening ceremony
Barges cruise on the Seine river during a rehearsal for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games opening ceremony Monday in Paris. The river will host the Olympic Games opening ceremony on July 26 with boats for each national delegation. (AP)
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Updated 18 June 2024
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Boats cruise the Seine river in a rehearsal for the Paris Olympics’ opening ceremony

Boats cruise the Seine river in a rehearsal for the Paris Olympics’ opening ceremony
  • Officials are confident that the near four-hour ceremony will run like clockwork on July 26
  • On the day of the eagerly-awaited event, around 200 Olympic delegations will join the parade on more than 80 boats

PARIS: Curious onlookers gathered on bridges as dozens of boats snaked along the Seine river on Monday in a rehearsal for the Paris Olympics’ unique opening ceremony next month.

A total of 55 boats made the journey from Pont d’Austerlitz, named after a French military victory in 1805, to Pont d’Iena, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, the nation’s most striking and best-known landmark.

Officials are confident that the near four-hour ceremony will run like clockwork on July 26.

“Six months ago we had like 10 minutes delay on the timing and today we are very close, almost to the second to our targets,” Thierry Reboul, the executive director for ceremonies said. “So it is very satisfying. We’ve respected an extremely precise level of timing.”

On the day of the eagerly-awaited event, around 200 Olympic delegations will join the parade on more than 80 boats. They will make the journey from east to west, along a six-kilometer (3.7-mile) route which has become a major talking point — for its audacity as a unique open-air event and for its exposure to potential danger.

Security concerns led French President Emmanuel Macron to say in mid-April that the ceremony could shift to Stade de France if the threat level was too high. But Reboul said Monday that authorities are preparing for the big day as originally planned, with no alternatives being prepared at this stage.

There will be a final rehearsal, involving the full armada of boats, before the opening ceremony — one which is expected to bring 100 world leaders to the city’s embankments, where more than 300,000 people will watch.

“We will give our heart and souls to make it a great success for the French people,” France’s Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said Monday. “They deserve it.”

The rehearsal saw 10 police speedboats shadowing the convoy, as well as speedboats equipped with television cameras. There were armed police officers stationed at various points along the way. The boats crossed 16 bridges, passing by iconic landmarks such as the green-tinged Grand Palais — where fencing and Taekwondo events will be held.

On each bridge, a few dozen people watched attentively.

“Fifty-five? That’s a lot of boats,” said 49-year-old Rosa Gabriel. Taking a break between walking from the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral, she watched it from the Pont des Arts bridge — fondly known as Love Lock Bridge, with its thousands of personalized locks attached to the railings.

One tourist even mistook the scene for something else.

“Maybe they are making a movie,” said Driss El Kaoutari, a 42-year-old from Morocco who was on vacation in Paris with his daughter.

What people actually saw were empty vessels bobbing slowly by. But they will be full of life, color, sound and movement next month.

“You will have many delegation members on the boats with their uniforms and their flags,” Reboul said. “Around them there will be many other things, as you can imagine.”

The water itself has become a sensitive and thorny topic for the organizers and politicians heading into the July 26-Aug. 11 Paris Games. A whopping $1.5 billion investment has already been made to improve the Seine’s water quality, with Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo both promising to take a dip.

This time, it was Oudea-Castera’s turn to give assurances about the river — where marathon swimmers and triathletes are set to compete during the Olympics.

She bristled a little when answering.

“Regarding the quality of the Seine’s water, we are confident. You shouldn’t ask us to be ready ahead of time,” Oudea-Castera said, adding that a new center for collecting waste will be opened next week.


LeBron James sees ‘much to improve’ before Olympics despite Serbia win in Abu Dhabi

LeBron James sees ‘much to improve’ before Olympics despite Serbia win in Abu Dhabi
Updated 52 min 36 sec ago
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LeBron James sees ‘much to improve’ before Olympics despite Serbia win in Abu Dhabi

LeBron James sees ‘much to improve’ before Olympics despite Serbia win in Abu Dhabi
  • After a narrow win over Australia on Monday, the stars and stripes were in commanding form against a Nikola Jokic-led Serbia
  • Lakers star: ‘We’ve still got so much room to improve but we want to continue to get better and not waste the opportunities’

ABU DHABI: LeBron James was pleased with the progress made by the USA in their 105-79 victory over Serbia in a friendly in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, but insists there is “so much room to improve” in the hunt for Olympic gold.
After a narrow win over Australia on Monday, that saw the United States nearly blow a 20-point lead toward the end of the clash, the stars and stripes were in commanding form against a Nikola Jokic-led Serbia.
Stephen Curry, who scored just three points in the USA’s 98-92 win over the Boomers, caught fire on Wednesday, opening the scoring with a signature three on the very first play and finishing the game with a team-high 24 points, shooting six for nine from beyond the arc.
“We drew it (the opening play) up for that particular reason, to get him going,” said James of Curry.
“He sees one go through the hoop, you see what it opens up for the rest of his game, for the rest of the game for all of us. He set the tone and we just tried to continue to keep finding him.”
Bam Adebayo also had a successful evening, coming off the bench to tally up 17 points, eight rebounds and a pair of assists.
The Miami Heat center combined seamlessly on defense with Anthony Davis, who had six blocks, six rebounds and seven points.
“Bam and AD together are really something,” US head coach Steve Kerr said.
“Just the switching, but they can also protect the rim and be in a drop if we go to that coverage.
“They’ll combine with the ball pressure that Book was putting on their point guard, I thought that really set a tone for us.”
Serbia, who lost to Australia on Tuesday, were once again without Atlanta Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was on the bench but did not play.
Reigning NBA MVP Jokic had a double-double 16 points and 11 rebounds but it was not enough to halt the formidable Americans, whom they will face again in their Olympics opener in Lille, France on July 28.
“We’ve still got so much room to improve but we want to continue to get better and not waste the opportunities. I felt like tonight we got better,” said James, who is gunning for his third Olympic gold medal this summer.
Kerr made one change to the starting lineup he deployed against Australia two days ago, keeping Jayson Tatum, James, Joel Embiid and Curry on the floor but opting for Jrue Holiday instead of Anthony Edwards.
Curry scored nine points within the first two minutes before Serbia picked up the pace with back-to-back threes from Aleksa Avramovic giving them an early 12-9 lead.
Kerr continued with his hockey subs pattern during these exhibition games, taking off all five starters midway through the quarter to bring in Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Davis, Adebayo, and Devin Booker.
It was Edwards who reclaimed the lead for USA, going four for four from the free throw line with 38 seconds left on the clock. Vanja Marinkovic had other ideas though, his buzzer-beating layup making sure the first quarter ended with both teams on level terms.
Curry, Edwards and Adebayo helped the USA pull ahead, and the Americans were never in trouble again beyond that first quarter.
Kerr is happy with the strategy he’s been applying so far, of subbing all five starters with an entirely new second unit and alternating those two groups every five minutes in the game.
“I think the identity of the team is our depth, the strength of the team is the depth,” said Kerr.
“And so, if we can play in four, five-minute bursts of just playing intense defense, hitting bodies, rebounding, being physical, then it makes sense to play that way.
“We’ll see if we keep doing it but for now, it’s allowed groups to get together, AD and Bam for example, Steph and LeBron, kind of learn how to play together, having a better feel for each other.
“The strength of our team is just the depth and so if we have to play that way, we’ll play that way.”
The USA head to London next, where they have two final exhibition games scheduled, against South Sudan on Saturday and reigning world champions Germany on Monday.


Carapaz ticks off Tour victory as Evenepoel edges Pogacar, Vingegaard

Carapaz ticks off Tour victory as Evenepoel edges Pogacar, Vingegaard
Updated 18 July 2024
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Carapaz ticks off Tour victory as Evenepoel edges Pogacar, Vingegaard

Carapaz ticks off Tour victory as Evenepoel edges Pogacar, Vingegaard
  • EF rider Carapaz dropped Simon Yates and soloed the final 10km to win his first ever Tour de France stage after finishing third overall in 2021
  • Stage 18 on Thursday is billed as one of the prettiest, with lakes and mountains in Haute Provence and an opportunity for the one-day specialists during a 179km ride from Gap to Barcelonnette

SUPERDEVOLUY, France: Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz won stage 17 of the Tour de France after the remnants of a breakaway finished ahead of the main pretenders in the High Alps on Wednesday.

EF rider Carapaz dropped Simon Yates and soloed the final 10km to win his first ever Tour de France stage after finishing third overall in 2021.

The former Giro d’Italia champion, who won the Tokyo Olympics road race, also wore the overall leader’s yellow jersey after his efforts in the second stage to Bologna.

“That was a big day for me,” Carapaz said. “I suffered but I put a cross on an objective.”

“How special it feels, I owe so much to my team,” he said of the American Education First team who will be delighted with their two million euros a year new signing.

Overall leader Tadej Pogacar, defending champion Jonas Vingegaard and Remco Evenepoel kept their powder dry until late in the medium mountain run.

The trio then produced an entertaining scrap with third-placed Evenepoel finishing 12 seconds ahead of Pogacar, with Vingegaard losing two seconds to the leader.

The relentless Slovenian said his attack was off the cuff.

“I enjoyed it, I don’t know what to say, I tested my legs and theirs. I thought I might be able to get away, so I had a go,” said the 25-year-old Pogacar.

Pogacar had been the first to try his luck and Vingegaard was unable to follow.

Evenepoel however closed the gap while Denmark’s Vingegaard then caught them both on a daredevil descent after picking up the wheel of a teammate who had been in the early attack.

“Well done to Visma for their tactics,” Pogacar said.

Belgian Evenepoel then broke again, and finished strongly to consolidate his third place overall.

A group of over 30 riders broke away early on a balmy day in the south as they climbed to the ski resort of Superdevoluy.

Nursing knee and elbow injuries, Biniam Girmay retained the green jersey for best sprinter with 387 points to Jasper Philipsen’s 354.

“It’s never easy a day after a fall, but I felt okay today,” said the Eritrean who will race at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Girmay spoke excitedly about the reaction back home where he said “from two in the afternoon until the end of the race everyone goes out onto the streets to watch the race or listen to it together.”

Stage 18 on Thursday is billed as one of the prettiest, with lakes and mountains in Haute Provence and an opportunity for the one-day specialists during a 179km ride from Gap to Barcelonnette.

The final three stages are all potential game changers, with Friday’s run taking the peloton to 2,800m altitude before a huge descent.

Saturday is also mountainous and features another downhill finale.

But the final stage could shake up the standings even more with a 34km individual time trial from Monaco to Nice.


Paris: The ultimate challenge for marathon legend Kipchoge

Paris: The ultimate challenge for marathon legend Kipchoge
Updated 18 July 2024
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Paris: The ultimate challenge for marathon legend Kipchoge

Paris: The ultimate challenge for marathon legend Kipchoge
  • At 39, Kipchoge says he is hoping to make history on Aug. 11 by becoming the “first human being” to win the Olympic marathon three times in succession
  • He has won 16 of the 20 official marathons he has run since 2013, including 11 victories in the majors (five in Berlin, four in London, one each in Tokyo and Chicago), alongside Olympic golds in 2016 and 2021

KAPTAGAT, Kenya: When he started out running in the early 2000s, a young Eliud Kipchoge simply wanted to get on a plane and go to Europe.

Two decades later, the Kenyan marathon legend is heading to Paris for what could be his final challenge at the 2024 Olympics.

At 39, he says he is hoping to make history on Aug. 11 by becoming the “first human being” to win the Olympic marathon three times in succession, overtaking Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila (1960, 1964) and Waldemar Cierpinski of Germany (1976, 1980).

It was in Paris in 2003 that the then 18-year-old made a thunderous international debut, snatching the 5,000 meters world championship gold ahead of favorites Hicham El Gerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele.

But Kipchoge’s first major prize ended up being his only one on the track.

It was on the road, which he turned to after failing to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, that he would achieve glory.

With his long, metronomic stride, he has twice broken the marathon world record — streaking to 2:01:39 in 2018 and 2:01:09 in 2022.

He is the only man to have covered the 42.195 kilometer (26.2 mile) marathon distance in under two hours, albeit during a specially organized, unofficial race in Vienna in 2019.

He has won 16 of the 20 official marathons he has run since 2013, including 11 victories in the majors (five in Berlin, four in London, one each in Tokyo and Chicago), alongside Olympic golds in 2016 and 2021.

The youngest of four children, Kipchoge was raised by his mother, a kindergarten teacher, in the village of Kapsisiywa in the foothills of Kenya’s Rift Valley.

His father died when he was a baby.

Young Eliud loved running but didn’t dream of glory.

“Running is normal in our village, in our community, you run up and down to school, to the shopping center,” he told AFP in an interview.

He decided to take a chance in athletics, “but it was not about aiming to become a big runner... I just wanted to get into a plane and fly to Europe,” he said.

“I didn’t know that being an athlete can put more food on my table for my family and my siblings.”

As a teenager, he often spotted a neighbor during his training sessions, someone he had watched on television winning silver at the 1992 Olympics: 3,000 meter steeplechaser Patrick Sang.

In 2001, Kipchoge approached him to ask for a training program and Sang scribbled one on his arm.

“Then he kept coming for more,” said Sang.

“At that moment, I could not say that there is something special about this guy. But in retrospect... I can say that this is somebody who knew where he wanted to go. He was really determined.”

Since then, the two men have barely left each other’s side, developing a quasi-filial relationship.

Kipchoge devotes his life to running, carefully recording each of his training sessions in notebooks.

Since 2002, he has lived nine months a year at an elite camp run by management agency Global Sports Communications in Kaptagat, a village in western Kenya at an altitude of 2,500 meters.

He rises early, with eating, shopping and rest punctuating his monastic existence. He meets his wife and three children on weekends at the family home in the neighboring town of Eldoret.

His spartan lifestyle contrasts with his income estimated at several million dollars, the fruit of his victories and world records but also sponsorship deals with companies such as Nike, INEOS and Isuzu.

True to his origins, Kipchoge also owns a dairy and maize farm, and a tea plantation.

His taste for reading (favorites include Paulo Coelho and Stephen Covey) and love of mottos, as well his cool composure, earned him the nickname “philosopher.”

He is an enthusiastic sports fan — a supporter of Tottenham football club, keen on motor sports, boxing and ultimate fighting, two sports in which he sees a parallel with the marathon.

“These people train for six months and fight for 15 minutes. And you can be knocked out in a few seconds.”

As a marathon runner, Kipchoge has known little failure but in Boston in 2023 he came sixth and was 10th in Tokyo in March this year — his worst ever finish.

“In Tokyo, I spent three days without sleeping,” he told the BBC in May after experiencing months of online harassment and even death threats.

Trolls accused him of being involved in the death of Kenyan marathon prodigy Kelvin Kiptum who was killed in a car crash in Kaptagat in February, just months after beating Kipchoge’s world record.

“I received a lot of bad things: that they will burn my investments in town, they will burn my house, they will burn my family,” Kipchoge said, adding that he lost “about 90 percent” of his friends.

Kipchoge was deeply affected by the ordeal but said he had to bounce back.

“Marathon is life, you find ups and downs, you become tired, you hit the rock, you come back,” he said.

Of his protege’s hopes in Paris, Sang said: “That’s his dream, to make history, to win a third Olympic title.

“Look at the span of years he has been at the top. More than 20 years. That is history in itself.”


Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Updated 17 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
  • Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season
  • Midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad have signed French-born Algerian international midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract.

Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season.

The 26-year-old midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons.

The signing ceremony took place at the team’s training camp in Alicante, Spain on Tuesday.

The event was officiated by the club’s CEO, Domingos Oliveira, and witnessed by sporting director Ramon Planes, following Aouar’s successful medical examination this morning.

Domingos Oliveira expressed his warm welcome to Aouar, noting that this move marks a significant new chapter in Aouar’s career. He emphasized that Aouar will contribute significantly alongside his teammates to achieving the high standards and results anticipated by the club’s fans and supporters.

Oliveira highlighted that Aouar’s signing aligns with the team’s technical requirements for a player possessing specific qualities that enhance the squad. This strategy is based on the technical needs identified by the sports committee and reviewed by the coach.

Houssem Aouar shared his enthusiasm about joining Al-Ittihad Club, recognizing its rich history, passionate fan base, distinguished players, and experienced coaching staff. He is motivated to deliver his best performance to represent the club and bring joy to its supporters.


FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants
Updated 17 July 2024
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FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants
  • The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults

PARIS: FIFA said on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into racist chants by Argentina players after they won the Copa America.
“FIFA is aware of a video circulating on social media and the incident is being looked into,” a spokesperson for world football’s governing body said.
They added: “FIFA strongly condemns any form of discrimination by anyone including players, fans and officials.”
The chants were heard during a live video posted on social media by Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
Some players, including 23-year-old Fernandez, sing a chant dating back to the 2022 World Cup final in which Argentina beat France.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Chelsea had earlier announced they had launched an internal disciplinary procedure against Fernandez over the incident.
Fernandez has apologized and the club said in a statement it had launched an “internal disciplinary procedure.”
“Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behavior completely unacceptable,” it added.
“We acknowledge and appreciate our player’s public apology and will use this as an opportunity to educate.”
Fernandez, who joined Chelsea from Benfica for a Premier League record fee of £105 million ($136.8 million) in 2023, said in his apology: “The song includes highly offensive language and there is absolutely no excuse for these words.
“I stand against discrimination in all forms and apologize for getting caught up in the euphoria of our Copa America celebrations.”
The French Football Federation (FFF) complained to FIFA about the chants on Monday.
FFF president Philippe Diallo “condemned with the greatest firmness the unacceptable racist and discriminatory remarks made against players of the France team.”
France beat Argentina in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.