Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

TOKYO — Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic was upset in the men's Olympic tennis semifinal by Germany's Alexander Zverev.

Connor Fields, the U.S. defending gold medalist in BMX racing, had a brutal crash in the semifinals of his event and left the venue on a stretcher in an ambulance.

"We can confirm that Connor Fields is awake, stable, and awaiting further medical evaluation. He will remain in the hospital under observation," said Dr. Jon Finnoff, the chief medical officer for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The 28-year-old was in the third heat of the semifinal, where groups race over a bumpy course with jumps. He started with two excellent rides. Then, disaster struck.

TOKYO — When a U.S. athlete makes it onto the podium in an Olympic event, two things really catch the eye of people watching at home: the shiny medal around their neck and the unusual-looking mask on their face.

The white mask emblazoned with "USA" in red letters is strikingly voluminous, jutting about an inch in front of the face. It also has a distinctive pleat pattern.

U.S. gymnastics superstar Simone Biles says the wave of support she's received after pulling out of the two marquee events of Olympic women's gymnastics has changed the way she sees herself.

"the outpouring love & support I've received has made me realize I'm more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before," Biles said in a tweet.

Updated July 28, 2021 at 11:05 PM ET

TOKYO — U.S. swimmer Bobby Finke had his work cut out for him heading into the last lap of the men's 800 meter freestyle final.

He was in fifth place for most of the 16 lap race.

Then, he surged from behind in the final 50 meter stretch.

"I noticed 10 meters out I was catching up a little bit of ground and that was the only motivation I needed to try and pass and get my hand to the wall first," he said after the race.

TOKYO — The U.S. women's 3-on-3 team beat out the team from Russia to win the first-ever gold medal in the dizzyingly fast sport at the Olympics.

They took an early lead against the Russians and maintained it the entire game, with a final score of 18-15.

Stefanie Dolson, who is 6'5 and plays for the Chicago Sky, led the team in scoring with seven points.

Updated July 28, 2021 at 3:05 AM ET

TOKYO — U.S. superstar gymnast Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast of all time, will not compete in the individual all-around gymnastics final at the Summer Olympics on Thursday.

The Olympic individual all-around is the sport's marquee individual event, and she won by a huge margin at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

Updated July 28, 2021 at 12:01 AM ET

TOKYO — Katie Ledecky has won her first gold of the Tokyo Olympics, in the 1,500 meter freestyle race. She took silver in her first race of the Games, and then missed out on medaling in the 200 meter freestyle.

After the race, she talked about the immense pressure she feels to meet the sky-high expectations on her — and the pressure she places on herself. Other stars such as Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are opening up about the difficulties of being in the spotlight.

TOKYO — In 3-on-3 basketball, the action almost never stops.

Traditional basketball's scrappy cousin is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo, introducing the world to the dizzyingly fast, more compact play of the game of driveways and public parks.

Updated July 27, 2021 at 11:09 AM ET

TOKYO — The U.S. women's gymnastics team has taken silver in the women's team final, behind the team from Russia, after U.S. star Simone Biles suddenly pulled out of competition after the first rotation to focus on her mental health.

This marks the first time in a decade that the U.S. women's team has not come out on top in major international competition. The U.S. has won every Olympics and World Championships event since 2011.

Updated July 27, 2021 at 11:28 AM ET

TOKYO — With a population of just 63,000, Bermuda has become the smallest nation or territory to win an Olympic gold medal in the Summer Games.

On a drizzly morning in Tokyo, Flora Duffy, 33, clinched the victory for the British island territory in women's individual triathlon – a grueling race made up of open-water swimming for nearly a mile, biking almost 25 miles and running 6.2 miles.

TOKYO — If you've been tuning in to Olympic events, you might have noticed that every medal winner carries a small bouquet of yellow, green and deep-blue flowers tied with a blue bow.

But they're more than just flowers. The elements of the bouquet carry a deeper story, and they are years in the making.

They're meant to symbolize Japan rising from the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which left about 20,000 people dead or missing. Homes were swept away and whole areas were deserted.

Updated July 26, 2021 at 10:22 AM ET

TOKYO — U.S. beach volleyball player Jake Gibb was facing a nightmare scenario at the Tokyo Games.

The four-time Olympian, 45, has been paired with Taylor Crabb since 2017. They were the top U.S. men's team to make it to the Olympics, after an arduous qualification process that started nearly three years ago.

It wasn't the start to the Tokyo Games that Katie Ledecky, the biggest star of U.S. swimming, was looking for.

Australia's Ariarne Titmus narrowly edged her out of gold in the 400 meter freestyle final. Ledecky finished 0.67 seconds behind her, taking silver.

Ledecky holds the world record in this event, set at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. Titmus did not break that record today – she was 0.23 seconds off, with a time of 3:56.69.

Ledecky and Titmus are fierce rivals, especially after Titmus beat her at the World Championships in 2019.

Updated July 25, 2021 at 7:26 AM ET

TOKYO — The U.S. women's gymnastic team took the mat for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics, and a few stumbles – including from star Simone Biles – allowed Russia's team to take the lead.

Russia came out one point ahead in the total team score – 171.62 to 170.56. Biles faced multiple penalties but still posted the top score of the day so far.

TOKYO — An 18-year-old Tunisian managed to pull off a surprise upset in the 400 meter freestyle swimming event, winning the fifth gold medal ever for his country.

Ahmed Hafnaoui erupted in jubilation when he realized he won in the extremely tight race, pumping his fists and placing both hands on his brow as he took in the victory.

He seemed genuinely shocked at the result: "I just can't accept that — it is too incredible."

TOKYO — It's a stunning upset for the world's top-ranked female tennis player. Australia's Ash Barty was a favorite to win gold in women's singles tennis.

But underdog Sara Sorribes Tormo, from Spain, beat her in straight sets in the first round of Olympic competition in Tokyo.

Barty won Wimbledon just two weeks ago.

Sorribes Tormo, 24, is currently ranked 48th in the world by the WTA tour. She defeated Barty 6-4, 6-3 to go on to the next round in Tokyo.

TOKYO — The first U.S. medals of the Olympics went to U.S. swimmers, with Team USA athletes winning medals in every final swimming event on Sunday morning in Tokyo.

The very first U.S. medal — and the only gold — went to 27-year-old Chase Kalisz in the men's 400 meter individual medley race.

Kalisz was nearly a full body length ahead of his closest competitor at the end of the race, with a time of 4:09.42. Kalisz pumped both fists and yelled, "Let's go!" as the small group of U.S. athletes and representatives cheered in the stands.

A Dutch rower has become the first athlete at the Tokyo Olympics to receive a positive coronavirus test after they competed in their event.

Finn Florijn, a 21-year-old vaccinated Dutch rower, tested positive after his Olympic debut in the men's single sculls race. He finished fourth in his heat and was scheduled to row again on Saturday, but now he's out of the competition and isolated for 10 days.

"I wasn't completely satisfied with my race yet. But I was hopeful to improve in the rematch. Now it's over in an instant," the athlete said in a statement.

In men's singles tennis, no athlete has ever won a "golden slam" — meaning winning all four major tournaments and an Olympic gold medal in a single year.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic is trying to change that. If he takes gold at the Tokyo Olympics, he'll only need to win one more major tournament — the U.S. Open — to complete the historic feat.

Pictogram people become unlikely MVPs

One of the most striking sequences in the Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony revolved around pictograms. Tokyo organizers have been touting their "kinetic pictograms," which show figures bursting into motion across dozens of disciplines. For Friday's ceremony, they brought all 50 of those pictograms to life.

Updated July 23, 2021 at 4:01 PM ET

TOKYO — In some ways, the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics looks very normal. Delegations of athletes decked out in clothes representing their countries march triumphantly into the stadium, waving flags. A beautifully choreographed spectacle from the host country, Japan, celebrates its art and traditions.

TOKYO — What do speed skating and baseball have in common?

U.S. Olympian and flag bearer Eddy Alvarez. He won a silver medal in speed skating at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014, and is competing on the U.S. baseball team at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Otherwise, not much, as Alvarez joked in a recent interview: "I would say the only link is the fact that we go left. There's really nothing similar about them."

At an Olympics where journalists are largely sealed off from the host country due to strict COVID-19 protocols, a group of young Japanese volunteers is offering tiny presents that showcase an art form of their country.

In a corner of the convention center where journalists from around the world are working, the volunteers diligently fold origami paper into beautiful and elaborate designs.

TOKYO — Just a day before the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese organizers have dismissed the show's director over past comments about the Holocaust. It's yet another setback for the troubled event on the same week that the ceremony's composer was forced out.

It's not clear yet how the last-minute departure of director Kentaro Kobayashi is going to affect the ceremony, which is expected to be an elaborate production unfolding over the course of three hours on Friday morning ET.

Updated July 22, 2021 at 12:38 PM ET

The first U.S. athlete expected to compete in the Tokyo Summer Olympics has tested positive for the coronavirus while in Japan. Beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb will be replaced on the top U.S. men's team by Tri Bourne, who will now play with Jake Gibb this weekend.

Updated July 21, 2021 at 8:21 AM ET

TOKYO — It was a devastating start to the Tokyo Olympics for the U.S. women's soccer team. The U.S., ranked No. 1 and the reigning World Cup champions, played a familiar foe: Sweden. And unfortunately for the U.S., it was a familiar result. Sweden beat them 3-0.

Updated July 20, 2021 at 1:10 PM ET

TOKYO — The Tokyo Summer Olympics are here.

The start of the largest event in sports after a year postponement is a sign of hope for many. But critics view holding the Games during pandemic times as an unacceptable risk to the world's top athletes and the Japanese people.

Updated July 19, 2021 at 1:15 PM ET

TOKYO — Kara Eaker, an alternate for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, has tested positive for the coronavirus. USA Gymnastics said the rest of the team, which includes superstar Simone Biles, is continuing to prepare for the Games.

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