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 — Erriyon Knighton may be one of the youngest people in decades to represent the U.S. in men's track at the Olympics, but sailed through to the final of the 200 meter to compete with the fastest men in the world.

"I don't really try to put my age in it, I just go out there and run like I'm an adult just like they is," he said earlier this week.

The 17-year-old from Tampa, Fla., has made a dramatic rise in track, including knocking down an under-18 world record set by Jamaican track legend Usain Bolt that stood untouched since 2003.

Updated August 3, 2021 at 8:32 AM ET

TOKYO — After pulling out of multiple events to focus on her mental health, U.S. star gymnast Simone Biles was back on the mat for Tuesday's balance beam final at the Tokyo Olympics. And she won a bronze medal.

"I wasn't expecting to walk away with a medal. I was just going out there to do this for me and whatever happens, happens," Biles said after competition, adding that it "just meant the world to be back out there."

TOKYO — U.S. long jumper Brittney Reese has been racking up individual championship titles for more than a decade.

Three Olympic medals, including a new silver one on Tuesday. Eight world championship medals.

Is she the best long jumper of all time? "I am," she said. "Point-blank."

Reese, 34, doesn't hold the world record, but she has established herself as an extraordinary athlete over an astonishing number of years.

Now, as she ends her fourth and final Olympics, she thinks it's high time she gets the recognition she deserves.

TOKYO — We'll be talking about this race for years to come.

Two of the three fastest competitors ever in the event were on the starting line of the men's 400-meter hurdles final at the Tokyo Olympics — and both beat the previous world record time by a wide margin.

Norway's Karsten Warholm took gold, breaking his own world record with a time of 45.94. He smashed it by about three-quarters of a second.

"I just ran with my life. I would die for that gold medal today," Warholm said.

Behind him was Rai Benjamin of the U.S. with a blazing fast 46.17.

TOKYO — We're in the home stretch of the most dramatic Olympics in recent memory, held against great odds amid a global pandemic in a country where many Japanese residents didn't want it to happen at all.

Updated August 2, 2021 at 5:57 AM ET

TOKYO — In an upset, the top-ranked U.S. women's soccer team lost its semifinal game to Canada 1-0 at the Tokyo Olympics, pushing it out of contention for a gold medal.

The World Cup champs could still take bronze if they win their next game against Australia on Thursday.

Updated August 2, 2021 at 7:04 AM ET

TOKYO — U.S. gymnast Jade Carey has won gold — her first Olympic medal — in the individual floor exercise final at the Tokyo Olympics.

Carey, a 21-year-old from Arizona, became the sole U.S. competitor in this event after Simone Biles withdrew to focus on her mental health. Carey pulled off a complicated tumbling routine with a high degree of difficulty, scoring a 14.366.

Updated August 2, 2021 at 9:19 AM ET

U.S. star gymnast Simone Biles will return for the final women's artistic gymnastic event of the Tokyo Olympics, after multiple withdrawals to focus on her mental health.

"We are so excited to confirm that you will see two U.S. athletes in the balance beam final tomorrow - Suni Lee AND Simone Biles!!" USA Gymnastics said. "Can't wait to watch you both!"

TOKYO — Marcell Jacobs of Italy is the surprise victor of the fastest track race at the Tokyo Olympics, the men's 100 meter.

Jacobs beat his personal best time and put his star solidly on the map in the blazing fast race.

He was not well-known in the track world before today, making it to the semi-finals of this event in the 2019 World Athletics Championships.

After his victory, he gleefully hugged his teammate, high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi.

TOKYO — U.S. gymnast Sunisa Lee has taken bronze in the uneven bars event final at the Tokyo Olympics, adding another medal to her hugely successful Games.

Belgium's Nina Derwael took gold and Anastasiia Iliankova with the team from Russia took silver.

Lee, an 18-year-old from Minnesota, became the U.S.'s best hope for gold in the individual all-around competition when Simone Biles withdrew to focus on her mental health. Lee delivered strong routines in every apparatus, snagging the top award in individual gymnastics.

The uneven bars is her best event.

TOKYO — U.S. gymnast MyKayla Skinner has won a silver medal in the individual gymnastics final for the vault – a competition she wasn't expecting to take part in at the Tokyo Olympics.

Skinner, 24, was tapped to compete in the vault after Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast in the world, withdrew from the competition to focus on her mental health.

"I dedicate this medal to Simone. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for her," she said. "I told her I would be doing this one for her. She said, 'don't do it for me, do it for yourself', so technically it's for all of us."

When U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders is competing, she calls herself the "Hulk." It's the alter ego that bursts onto the field to fight for championships.

Saunders — with the help of her "Hulk" persona — took silver in the women's shot put final at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. She hurled the heavy ball 19.79 meters, or nearly 65 feet. It's the third medal ever for the U.S. in the women's event and it's Saunders' first.

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.

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