Tokyo Gives a Taste of What Covid Era Olympic Games Will Be Like

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    “It’s going to be hard to adapt but the caution is definitely needed.”

    American Olympic medalist Justin Gatlin and about 1,600 athletes, organizers and media got an early look Sunday at what the games will be like when they kick off on July 23. There was a full day of 100-meter heats, hammer throws and pole vaulting to make sure the Omega clocks, jumbo displays and robots on the field were working as they should.

    A key focus, however, was how such a large-scale event can be pulled safely off in the middle of a pandemic. Already delayed once, the Tokyo Olympics will be one of the most unusual in the 125-year history of the modern games. While international athletes will come this summer, overseas spectators will not. Hotel rooms will mostly be empty, while restaurants and department stores won’t get a boost from the usual flood of visitors.

    “It’s important to have this simulation so that we are prepared for any circumstance,” Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympics chief, said at a briefing Friday.

    The National Stadium, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, is ready. Completed at the end of 2019, the 68,000-seat venue is in pristine condition. Thick wooden rafters hold up the roof, and the plants adorning the exterior have been properly watered. The concession stands weren’t open, and there was plenty of room to walk around and take in the space.

    It’s a place that most people will only see on television. Although the white and green seats will be limited to those who obtain tickets in Japan, it’s not clear yet whether the number of spectators will be reduced further, or eliminated altogether, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections during the 16 days of the quadrennial games.

    Anti-infection protocols were, for the most part, normal. Media attendees on Sunday were required to track their temperatures and self-monitor health conditions for a week before, as well as after. Temperatures were checked again at the entrance, and face masks were mandatory.

    Overseas attendees — there were about 20 from the World Athletics organization overseeing track and field events — were tested and quarantined for four days. The only people without masks were the 420 athletes who competed, including nine overseas competitors who traveled to Japan and 11 already in the country.

    “I’d never been more nervous in my life entering the stadium,” said Sarasa Tanaka, who competed in the women’s 100 meter sprint on Sunday. “But once I ran, I discovered it was easy to run. I want the games to go ahead.”

    Hovering nearby was Yannis Nikolaou, senior communications manager for World Athletics, telling local staff to make sure there was more space in the athletes interview area to ensure that there will be at least 2 meters of separation between them, as well as from cameramen and journalists. The current setup didn’t allow enough space, he told them, for the athletes and press that will be packed into the area in July.

    The area for post-competition interviews is located alongside an indoor circular road deep underneath the stands for the movement of people and equipment. It’s a key corridor, with staff on bicycles and Toyota Motor Corp. forklifts. Two fire trucks and two ambulances were also on standby, part of emergency drills being held at the same time.

    There’s a simmering debate whether there will be enough medical staff and facilities in Tokyo to handle any large outbreaks. More than 60,000 athletes, coaches, national team staff, media and other essential workers will converge on the metropolis from more than 200 countries.

    Japan’s government is determined to go ahead with the event, despite rising infection numbers and parts of the world still struggling to get the pandemic under control. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has staked his administration on pulling off a successful Tokyo Olympics, even though opinion polls have shown the majority of Japanese voters want the games postponed or canceled.

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    Japan is an island country in East Asia located in the northwest Pacific Ocean. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan comprises an archipelago of 6,852 islands covering 377,975 square kilometers (145,937 sq mi); the country’s five main islands, from north to south, are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. Tokyo is Japan’s capital and largest city.

    Japan is divided into 47 administrative prefectures and eight traditional regions. The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with more than 37.4 million residents.

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