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.

Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica is officially the fastest woman in the world — again — after winning the 100 meters at the Tokyo Games in Olympic record time. She was the defending gold medalist in this event.

"I knew I had it in me but obviously I've had my ups and downs with injuries," she said Saturday, referring to a persistent ailment in 2018 and 2019. "I've been keeping faith all this time. It is amazing."

TOKYO — Judo fighter Teddy Riner lost in the Olympic quarterfinal to the top-ranked judo athlete in their class in the world – and it was considered one of the biggest upsets in the history of his sport.

That says a lot about the legacy that the French athlete, a 6-foot-8-inch, two-time gold medalist known as "Big Ted," has built over his decade of absolute domination.

A loss in 2020 – to a Japanese fighter now nicknamed the "King Slayer" – ended Riner's 154-straight-fight winning streak.

Updated July 30, 2021 at 9:46 AM ET

TOKYO — The U.S. won a grueling match against The Netherlands at the Olympics that went to extra time and penalty kicks. This means they'll head to the semifinal.

The score remained even after 30 minutes of extra time in the tough game. In a thrilling round of penalty kicks, four U.S. players all scored, ending with team leader Megan Rapinoe. U.S. goalie Alyssa Naeher blocked two of the four attempts from the Dutch.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

TOKYO — U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff will no longer lead the U.S. tennis team at the Tokyo Olympics. She has announced that she tested positive for the coronavirus, dashing her hopes of competing in the Games.

"It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future," the 17-year-old said in a statement on her Twitter account.

TOKYO — When anyone traveling to Japan for the Olympics touches down in Tokyo, they are immediately separated from everyone else on their plane and whisked away to complete hours of COVID-19 testing and other entry procedures.

Then, at least for journalists, three days of strict quarantine begins. The hotel that NPR journalists are staying in has barely enough floor space to open a suitcase.

Updated June 30, 2021 at 5:36 PM ET

Comedian Bill Cosby has been released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday vacated the indecent assault conviction against him.

The court's decision upends the long-running legal battle against the once-beloved actor, whose conviction marked a major milestone in the #MeToo movement after he was accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women stretching back decades.

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