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From powerhouses to parity: More nations winning Olympic medals than ever before

Tokyo has been home to a record-setting Olympic Games in a number of ways — from the debut of new events, to gender equality in competitions, to the 1,000-plus medals handed out to winning athletes and teams.

While the top of the medal table is occupied by perennial powerhouses (like USA, China, Great Britain, and Japan) it’s the length of the medal table that is making news at the 2020 Games.

As Day 14 draws to a close, 88 different Olympic Committees have already earned a podium finish — the largest list of medal-winning countries at any Olympic Games in history.

The same can be said for gold medal winners too. With the number already at 63, the number of gold medal nations in a single year has shattered the previous record of 59 set at the 2016 Rio Games.

Here’s a look at some of the contributing factors that have led to an Olympics that is “United By Emotion” … and also by winning.

Christine Mboma of Namibia poses with her silver medal at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Wednesday.Lindsey Wasson / Reuters

Returns to greatness

Men’s field hockey used to be owned by India, but the last four decades have seen other countries such as Germany, Australia and Spain dominate the discipline. At the 2020 Games, India returned to the field hockey podium for the first time since 1980, adding to their handful of medals taken home in Tokyo. So far, Ghana’s sole medal in the 2020 Games was earned by Samuel Takyi, who earned his nation’s first podium finish in boxing since 1972 (and first medal of any kind since 1992). Similarly, Namibia’s Christine Mboma brought her nation its first track and field medal since the 1996 Atlanta Games. Performances like these have re-established some nations as forces to be reckoned with in their historically strong sports.

Creative coaching

It was an exceptional year for The Philippines this year, as Hidilyn Diaz won her nation’s first-ever gold medal when she set a new Olympic record in the women’s weightlifting 55 kg category. She accomplished the feat with the help of her coaches, Gao Kaiwen of China and Julius Naranjo of Guam. Fiji stayed golden in the men’s rugby seven tournament thanks to their coach, Gareth Baber of Wales. The women’s field hockey team of India hopes to replicate their male counterparts as they compete in the bronze medal game, with Dutch-born Sjoerd Marijne serving as head coach. With many international icons crossing borders to cultivate talent, it’s no surprise that unexpected competitors are rising to new levels of success.

Breakthrough nations

You’ve seen the articles, tweets and announcements; San Marino, Turkmenistan and Burkina Faso won medals this year for the first time in their nations’ histories. This matches the newcomer tally from 2016, when Jordan, Kosovo and Fiji joined the medal table for the very first time. As for golden nations, the newest on that list are Qatar, Bermuda and (as previously mentioned) the Philippines. Along with the nine different nations that won their first gold medal in Rio, more than 100 Olympic Committees have now stood at the top of a podium. It’s exciting to see a nation win its first-ever prize on the Olympic stage, and a gripping game to see which country will be the next to do it.

Dynamic debuts

One of Venezuela’s four medals earned in Tokyo comes from Daniel Dhers, who won the bronze in his Olympic debut and the premiere of his event, the men’s BMX freestyle competition. South Africa snagged a silver during surfing’s long-awaited Olympic debut, thanks to the skills of Bianca Buitendag. The first-ever climbing competition on the Olympic stage allowed Jakob Schubert of Austria to bring a bronze to his nation. With new sports brings both new athletes, and plenty of new opportunities for countries to add some precious hardware to their medal collections.

Long-awaited success

Spanish canoeist Teresa Portela Rivas has competed at every Olympic Games since 2000, but had never taken home a medal – until now. Finishing second to Olympic legend Lisa Carrington, Portela won the silver medal in the women’s K-1 200m at Tokyo at her sixth Olympic appearance. In 2016, Kuwaiti shooter Abdullah Al-Rashidi won a bronze medal as an Independent Olympic Athlete at age 52. Five years later, the 57-year-old won another bronze medal – this time for his home country. If the old adage to ‘try, try again’ is any indication, it’s only a matter of time until other longtime competitors finally get their moment on the podium.

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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