The Tokyo Summer Olympics opened on Friday, July 23, to a shower of dazzling fireworks, a host of choreographed dances, and a swarm of high-tech drones that formed a moon over the 68,000-seater stadium.
Japanese star tennis player Naomi Osaka was given the honor of lighting the flame, and Japanese art and culture were showcased through kabuki theater, manga, and video game soundtracks. Notably, the ceremony’s Olympic rings were rendered in the traditional woodcraft of yosegi-zaiku, and made from trees planted by athletes in 1964, during the last Games hosted by Japan.
A moment of silence was held for those lost in the COVID-19 pandemic, and an acknowledgment for the Olympians who had to train solo in the months leading up to the Games. The masks worn by attendants and the lack of a boisterous live audience made it clear that these Games will be no ordinary Olympics.
The Long Road to Tokyo 2020
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and IOC president Thomas Bach have been determined to keep the Olympics going.
However, the Japanese public, known for Olympic enthusiasm, had expressed hesitancy, with 60-80% indicating in polls that they would like to see the Games postponed or canceled. During the opening ceremony, the voices of protestors could be heard yelling outside the stadium, bringing a solemn note to the proceedings.
Since 2013, when Japan was first chosen to host the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo has faced a series of major setbacks. The budget for hosting the games was estimated at $2.6 billion, but the expenditures have ballooned to nearly twice that amount. Then in March of 2020, the Olympics were postponed by a full year due to the pandemic.
Japan has also been slow to approve vaccines and the worsening rates of infection have placed strains on Japanese hospitals. Tokyo had planned to allow only local spectators to watch the Games, and in early July, made the decision to not allow any.
In addition, the Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori stepped down in February following controversial remarks. And just days before the opening ceremony, lead director Kentaro Kobayashi was dismissed for past anti-Semitic comments, while composer Keigo Oyamada resigned after reports of his bullying disabled classmates surfaced.
The 90,000 Olympic attendees are not expected to be vaccinated, and there is a stringent screening program for the duration of the Games. Before leaving for Japan, participants and attendees are required to submit two negative COVID-19 tests within 96 hours of their departure, with at least one of those tests taken within 72 hours. Upon their arrival, participants are tested again at the airport.
At the Olympic village, which houses coaches, support staff, and the 11,500 athletes from the 200 countries, tests are administered daily. Olympic staff and volunteers can undergo less frequent testing, depending on the degree of their contact with officials and athletes.
So far, 75 Olympic attendees, including six athletes, have tested positive, though such cases are otherwise rare and mild in severity.
Highlights So Far...
Four new sports – karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing – will be making their debut at Tokyo 2020, while baseball and softball, having previously debuted at the 2008 Olympics, will be returning this year. Sky Brown, the impressive skateboarder Youngzine covered last year, has fully recovered from a serious crash landing, and at 13 years and 11 days, will be one of the youngest Olympians on Team Great Britain.
As of this writing, the U.S is leading the total medal count at 25 and Japan is leading with 10 Gold medals. There have been a few upsets already with tennis favorite Naomi Osaka eliminated in the third round and U.S gymnast Simone Biles withdrawing due to a medical issue (the U.S gymnastic team still went on to win silver).
The U.S women's softball team lost to host Japan 0-2 in the finals. However, 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby put her small town of Seward, Alaska on the map by winning gold for the U.S in the 100-meter breaststroke swim.
Over the next 10 days, many more records will be broken. We will be back next week with an update. Let’s wish good luck to all the athletes!
Sources: NY Times, Reuters, Guardian, BBC, NPR