Olympics: How to watch Gabby Thomas, Michael Hixon & other Valley athletes in Tokyo

  • Gabby Thomas celebrates after winning the final in the women’s 200-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Eugene, Oregon. AP PHOTO/CHRIS CARLSON

  • Amherst’s Michael Hixon finished fourth in men’s synchronized 3-meter diving at the 2021 FINA World Cup in Tokyo. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2021 5:09:41 PM

The world’s eyes will be on Pioneer Valley athletes at the Olympics in Tokyo. Here’s what to watch for and how to watch them:

Gabby Thomas

The Florence native and Williston Northampton product posted the fastest women’s 200-meter dash time in the world this year at the Olympic Trials. In fact, her 21.61-second sprint is the second-quickest in history behind Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 1988 gold-medal run in Seoul.

Thomas – a Harvard graduate – made her professional debut in 2019 and recently moved to Austin, Texas, to pursue her sprinting career and attend graduate school at the University of Texas. She’s studying epidemiology and public health.

Now she’s a gold medal favorite. No other woman has run faster than 21.7 this year. Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (21.79) and Shericka Jackson (19.82) have the next two fastest times in the world right now.

Thomas will compete in two events in Tokyo: the 200 and the women’s 4x100 relay. She won the 200 at the trials to qualify and was named to the relay team after finishing fifth in the 100 final. Normally the top four are named to the team, while Nos. 5 and 6 become part of the relay pool that can compete. This year, Sha'Carri Richardson was the fastest 100 runner in Eugene, Oreg., at the trials but was disqualified for testing positive for marijuana. That moved up every other finisher in the 100 and put Thomas in position to win two medals.

No Northampton native has won a gold medal since Bill Yorzyk in 1956.

Both the 200 and 4x100 relay are divided into preliminary rounds and finals. The 200 has a first round, semifinal and final, while the relay goes from the first round to the final. 

Thomas’ live events schedule with the broadcast channel where applicable (NBC will likely broadcast many of the races during its nightly time-delayed primetime shows, and every event can be streamed on nbcolympics.com):

■200 first round: 9:30 p.m. Aug. 1

■200 semifinal: 6:25 a.m. Aug. 2

■200 final: 8:50 a.m. a.m. Aug. 3

■4x100 first round: 9 p.m. Aug 4

■4x100 final: 9:30 a.m. Aug. 6

Michael Hixon

The University of Indiana product only gets one shot at bringing another medal back to Amherst. After winning silver at the Rio De Janeiro games in the synchronized men’s three-meter springboard, Hixon’s partner Sam Dorman retired in 2018. He linked up with fellow Hoosier Andrew Capobianco shortly after and is back in the Olympics.

The synchronized event features just an eight-team final. Seven teams qualified for their country’s spot at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships and 2020 FINA World Cup, while Japan automatically earned a spot as the host.

Hixon and Capobianco placed fourth at the World Cup a month ago in this same pool and were eighth in the 2019 world championships. All three teams that finished above them (Great Britain’s Jack Laugher – who won gold in the event in Rio – and Daniel Goodfellow, Germany’s Patrick Hausding and Lars Rudiger and Russia’s Nikita Shelikher and Evgenii Kuznetsov) will be in the field along with the defending world champions Wang Zongyuan and Xie Siyi of China.

Meixco’s Yahel Castillo and Juan Celaya (World Championships bronze medalists), Itlay’s Lorenzo Marsaglia and Giovanni Tocci and Sho Sakai and Ken Terauchi round out the field.

In the final, each team will perform six dives. One will come from each of the five groups – forward, back, reverse, inward, and twisting. Each team’s first two dives will be given a degree of difficulty of 2.0 regardless of the dive, so teams will typically go with easy dives to stack points. The remaining four are assigned a fixed degree of difficulty based on the number of somersaults, twists, the position, approach and entry. Divers are judged by a panel of 11. Five will evaluate synchronization, and three score each individual diver.

The men’s synchro springboard final will begin Wednesday, July 28, at 2 a.m. and go quickly. With only eight teams competing it will likely take less than an hour, if that long.

Heather McLean

The UMass product shocked everyone but herself in qualifying for her first Olympic team. She had to fight through each round of the 1500 to even get to the final. MacLean, of Peabody, reached the semifinal after placing second in her heat. Then she didn’t make it out of her semifinal, placing sixth when the top five from each heat plus the next two fastest advanced. But she protested that she was tripped during the semifinal and won, making the final via the referee’s decision.

All she needed was a chance. MacLean, running for New Balance Boston, placed third behind Ellie Purrier St. Pierre and Cory McGee in 4 minutes, 2.09 seconds, barely edging Shannon Oskia (4:02.18).

It was the 19th fastest time in the world this year.

■1,500 first round: 8:35 p.m. Aug. 1 

■1,500 semifinals: 6 a.m. Aug. 4

■1,500 final: 8:50 a.m. Aug 6

Sarah Hawkshaw & Marlise van Tonder

They’re the 11th and 12th UMass field hockey players to make Olympic rosters. Hawkshaw, a 2018 graduate, is on Ireland’s roster, while van Tonder, a rising senior still with the Minutewomen, made South Africa’s squad as a traveling reserve.

Both nations are in Pool A and begin their tournament by playing each other at 8:15 a.m. Saturday.

The quarterfinals begin Aug. 1, while the semifinals start Aug. 3. The bronze medal game will take place Aug. 5, while the gold medal game is Aug. 6.

Ireland is ranked No. 9 in the world and reached the 2018 World Cup final. South Africa is the No. 16 team in the world.

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