Welcome to the Olympic Games newsletter, where we stepped out of the boulders, through the first corner and fix our eyes on the finish line.

Hopefully we will pass the baton better than the US men’s 4×100 relay team.

I am Dan Woike, and before we talk about two little stars, let’s see what you need to know.

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Friday and Saturday TV hours

OK, so during my time here at the Saitama Super Arena – a great name – there was one clear star more than any other.

Its name is CUE5, and it’s a basketball robot that somehow looks like one of the costumes Kanye west wore during her “Donda” streaming event. Be sure to make a ‘Kawhi Leonard is already a basketball robot joke because it’s perfect.

He opened the Olympic basketball tournament by shocking the media in the building with a successful free throw, three-point shot and a midfield shot in just three attempts, a wonderfully unnecessary robotic achievement.

After a few difficult outings, CUE5 has extended its games. On Friday, in the women’s semi-final, she dribbled the court left-handed. Even though they’ve seen a LOT of the act during those Olympics (it’s either the robot or a jump rope / dance troupe), members of the US men’s team pulled out their phones to watch the robot again hit its three shots before the women completed their victory over Serbia.

As the Olympics get ready to end here in the next few days, I wonder what I will remember the most. It will be Luka Doncic and his run with Slovenia, leading them almost on their own to a bronze medal chance? This could have happened if it hadn’t been for a shot blocked by Nicolas batum just at the buzzer in the semi-finals on Thursday night. Doncic has at times seemed so unstoppable that it’s almost hard to wonder what his future might look like.

It may be breanna stewart announcing that she is the future of American women’s basketball with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi left after five Olympics. Stewart was just a formidable all-rounder and a great leader, battling an Achilles injury to win a WNBA championship and now, perhaps, another gold medal.

Or, I guess it could be Kevin Durant, America’s best player, ensuring their vulnerabilities were not fatal in a Games where defeat seemed more likely than ever.

But who am I kidding? It will be the robot.

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Athletics

Allyson Felix smiles after winning bronze in the women’s 400 meters at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.

(Francisco Seco / Associated Press)

Gary Klein in track and field: Allyson Felix, who ran the last individual race of his rich Olympic career, won bronze in the 400 meters on Friday at Olympic Stadium.

Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas won the goal medal in 48.36 seconds. Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic won silver in 49.20. Felix, a five-time Olympian, finished in 49.46.

Felix has now won 10 medals, linking her to Carl Lewis for the most part by an American track and field athlete. She also eclipsed Merlene Ottey as the Most Decorated Track Olympian.

———

Jamaica won gold in the women’s 400-meter relay and the United States took silver on Friday night at the Olympic Stadium.

Jamaica won in 41.02 seconds. The American team of Javiana Oliver, Teahna Daniels, Jenna Prandini and Gabrielle Thomas finished in 41.45 seconds.

Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah, gold medalist in the 100m and 200m, won her third gold at the Tokyo Games.

———

Gary Klein on men’s athletics in the United States: this is usually a crowning glory, a last chance to raise and celebrate a harvest of Olympic gold medals.

Not this year. Not for this American men’s track team.

As the Tokyo Games near their conclusion, Saturday’s 1,600-meter relay is shaping up to be the last best chance for US runners to avoid a gold medal shutout.

Winning any Olympic medal, of course, should be valued and celebrated. Incredible effort and sacrifice is required to reach this world stage. They are, after all, the greatest athletes in the world.

“An Olympic medal is an Olympic medal,” said Michael Cherry after placing fourth in the 400-meter final. “You want gold, but if you can pull out something good.”

But for the US men’s team, there’s no escaping the fact that they haven’t won a gold medal in the running events.

Ryan Crouser’s second straight gold in the shot put gave the American men a total of one. Katie Nageotte’s gold in the pole vault brought the US women’s total to four.

Beach volleyball

Teammates April Ross, left, and Alix Klineman celebrate a point in their gold medal.

Teammates April Ross, left, and Alix Klineman celebrate a point in their gold medal in women’s beach volleyball at the Olympics on Friday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Nathan Fenno on Beach Volleyball: Some 1,300 days ago, the veteran and newcomer cemented their budding partnership by touching water bottles that splashed together in a toast on a beach.

April Ross and Alix klineman were an unlikely duo.

Although both grew up in Southern California, Ross established herself as one of the best beach volleyball players in the world and won two Olympic medals while the long-armed Klineman continued the game indoors.

The beach brought them together, and on a scorching scorching afternoon at Shiokaze Park on Friday, the American duo won a gold medal at the Summer Games.

“I can’t imagine it worked the way it worked,” Ross said. “It’s kind of a fairytale story.”

Victory over Australia Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar 21-15, 21-16, capped an unbeaten run through beach volleyball backing for the Americans. Match after match in the temporary stadium, empty other than a scattering of officials and members of the media, the duo showed why the unexpected partnership of the early days has become the best in the world.

Women’s basketball

American center Brittney Griner spins Serbian Dragana Stankovic.

American center Brittney Griner turned Serbian Dragana Stankovic around in the second half of Friday’s game.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Dan Woike on American women’s basketball: Serbia was looking for a spark; instead, they made a dream come true.

19-year-old United States women’s basketball team Angela Dugalic signed up to make her Olympics debut, one of her last chances to make it to the Games before playing for UCLA this winter.

In her country’s previous four games, she had been engaged from the bench, encouraging the Serbs to make their way to the semi-finals. Around the village, she had been amazed at how normal so many superstars would behave.

Naomi Osaka and Luka Doncic both looked so relaxed. Novak Djokovic spoke to his Serbian teammates with so much kindness that he felt like everyone had been friends for years.

There were stars everywhere. And on Friday, Dugalic was able to see another wave of it at the same time.

There were Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Brittney Griner, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. Women’s basketball superstars. Legends of the game.

“Basically everyone on the team,” she said with a smile. “… I always imagined playing against them one day. I had no idea it would be so soon.

Women’s volleyball

The American volleyball players celebrate their victory in the Olympic semi-final against Serbia on Friday.

The American volleyball players celebrate their victory in the Olympic semi-final against Serbia on Friday.

(Gary Ambrose / For the weather)

Ben bolch on American Women’s Volleyball: The United States’ quest for its first gold in women’s volleyball may be about to end.

The Americans are one more victory from their first championship in sport after beating Serbia, 25-19, 25-15, 25-23, in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday at Ariake Arena.

Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” played during a timeout with the United States 17-12 in the second set, a soundtrack appropriate to the good vibes surrounding the team.

Handball

Spain's Alicia Fernandez, right, tries to stop Brazilian Eduarda Amorim from shooting.

Spain’s Alicia Fernandez, right, tries to stop Brazilian Eduarda Amorim from shooting in an Olympics preliminary round match.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Jorge Castillo why there are no American handball teams at the Olympics: it’s become a tradition of the Summer Olympics: Americans turn on their TVs to watch the Games and discover a sport they don’t understand everything quite, but know, just know, that the United States should easily dominate.

They are baffled once they realize that America – men and women – haven’t even qualified for a game they swear they played in gym class. They can’t understand why the United States of America – which has more elite athletes in team ball sports than any other nation on Earth – is so behind in team handball.

“I’ve been hearing it for about 50 years,” said Dennis Berkholtz with a laugh.

Berkholtz, 76, is an American handball pioneer. He was captain of the American men’s team for handball’s Olympic debut at the Munich Games in 1972, coached the men’s team four years later in Montreal and was United States Handball Team president from 1996 to 2000. At every step, Berkholtz tried to wake the supposed sleeping handball giant. Each time, the sleep continued.

Until next time…

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