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.

Updated August 8, 2021 at 7:33 AM ET

TOKYO – The Olympic flame is officially out in Tokyo.

The closing ceremony in Olympic Stadium was fairly relaxed, and perhaps most poignantly, it aimed to show the athletes a small taste of ordinary life in Japan --something they haven't been exposed to due to pandemic restrictions.

It wrapped up more than two weeks of athletic competition and the largest international gathering to take place during the pandemic.

TOKYO — They were called the "COVID Olympics." The "pandemic Olympics." The "anger Olympics." Many Japanese people were upset to host such a huge and risky event in the middle of the pandemic, and many outside observers were surprised it happened at all.

TOKYO — It wasn't even close.

The U.S. women's 4x400 meter relay team won gold, beating the closest competition, Poland, by more than three and a half seconds.

The gold medal for U.S. star Allyson Felix brings her Olympic medal total up to 11, making her the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete in history. With this medal, she surpassed the record of U.S. track legend Carl Lewis. Tokyo is her fifth Olympics.

TOKYO — The U.S. women's water polo team has won gold for the third Olympics in a row, handily beating Spain in the gold medal match thanks to aggressive offense and a goalie who made block after block.

Ashleigh Johnson, the first African American woman to make a U.S. Olympic water polo team, blocked 11 out of 15 shots from Spain during her time in goal – a rate of 73%. The main goalie for Spain blocked 19% of the shots, and the final score was 14 to 5.

TOKYO — Molly Seidel had only run two marathons before competing at the Tokyo Olympics. But the 27-year-old from Wisconsin pulled off an upset and is leaving Japan with a bronze medal around her neck.

Kenya's Peres Jepchirchir took gold, and her compatriot and world record holder Brigid Kosgei won the silver in the hot and humid 26.2 mile race in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo.

Updated August 6, 2021 at 10:50 AM ET

TOKYO – U.S. star Allyson Felix now has the most Olympic medals ever for a female track athlete, after winning a new bronze medal on Friday in the 400 meters at the Tokyo Olympics.

This is Felix's fifth Olympics and her 10th medal. She first competed in Athens in 2004 and has medaled in every Summer Games since then.

"This one is very different, and it's very special. And it just took a lot to get here," Felix said after the race.

Updated August 6, 2021 at 8:50 AM ET

TOKYO — At the Tokyo Olympics, more elite athletes than ever are speaking out about the need for more support for mothers. When the starting pistol went off at the Olympic Stadium for the women's 400-meter final on Friday, two mothers were on the starting line – Allyson Felix and Quanera Hayes.

TOKYO — In an upset, 18-year-old Spaniard Alberto Ginés López has taken the first-ever Olympic gold medal in sport climbing, edging out U.S. climber Nathaniel Coleman. Jakob Schubert of Austria won bronze.

Seven of the top male climbers in the world faced off on a wall in Tokyo on Thursday evening local time, as two announcers — a woman speaking in Japanese and a man speaking in English — gave live commentary and a DJ blasted upbeat music. Breakdancers performed — wouldn't you know it — during a break.

TOKYO — Sprinters, hurdlers and other runners at the Tokyo Olympics have been crushing their previous times and in many cases setting new records for their events.

Records, as they say, are made to be broken. But are these athletes getting a boost from the track itself?

"I would say it's a pretty fast track," said American hurdler Sydney McLaughlin, minutes after she smashed her world record.

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 he 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 in 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 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 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 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.

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