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People take pictures of an Omega clock, which was previously used as a countdown clock for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and currently displaying the current time and date, near Tokyo Station on Wednesday. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
2020 tokyo olympics

Stop the clock: Japan wakes up to reality of Olympics postponement

By Jack Tarrant and Ju-min Park

Japan awoke on Wednesday to the deflating reality that the Olympics they had hoped to host in Tokyo this summer were now probably 16 months away after the coronavirus crisis forced organizers into an unprecedented postponement.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government finally succumbed to intense pressure from athletes and sporting bodies around the world on Tuesday when they agreed to put back the Games until 2021.

It was a huge blow to Japan, which has invested $12 billion in preparations, but also for the prestige of the Olympic movement and its leader Thomas Bach, who had come under fire for not reacting sooner in the face of the global health crisis.

Tuesday's decision came 122 days before the planned opening ceremony at Japan's newly built National Stadium, which was to usher in the 16-day event featuring 11,000 athletes from 206 nations and territories.

The countdown clock in front of Tokyo Station which had been displaying the number of days until the Games halted and reverted to Wednesday's date and time.

Athletes around the world, many struggling to train because of restrictions put in place to contain a virus which has killed more than 17,200 people, expressed disappointment but largely welcomed the decision.

The rapidity of the move from the position that the Games would go ahead as planned to postponement meant it came out of the blue for some, however.

"When I learned the Olympics were being postponed, I was honestly surprised," Japanese sport climber Tomoa Narasaki said in an Instagram post. "However, no matter when the Olympics are held there is no change in the things I'm aiming for."

Many other questions remain about the re-arranged Games, not least when they will happen after the IOC announcement stated only that they would take place "not before the end of summer 2021".

Somewhere around the original 2020 dates of July 24-Aug 9 looks most likely, especially after organizers confirmed the marathon and race walks would remain in Hokkaido where they were moved because of the sweltering Tokyo summer heat.

Those dates would require the shifting of other major events scheduled next year, in particular the athletics world championships in the United States and the swimming equivalent in the Japanese city of Fukuoka.

World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe has suggested its championships in Eugene, Oregon could be moved to 2022, while swimming's FINA said they would discuss a rescheduling of their event with Tokyo organizers and the IOC.

The Olympic flame, already lit at Olympia in Greece and taken to Japan for a now-cancelled torch relay, will stay in the host nation as a symbol of hope and the Games will retain the title Tokyo 2020.

"This Olympic flame will be the light at the end of this tunnel," IOC chief Bach said on Tuesday.

For some athletes, an extra 12 months might be too long a wait and 38-year-old Swiss Nicola Spirig, who won triathlon gold at the 2012 London Olympics, said she would be considering her options.

"For the past months, I have been working daily towards my goal of competing at my fifth Olympic Summer Games," she posted on Instagram.

"I am ... glad to have clarity now and fully support the IOC’s decision (but) as far as my sporting future is concerned, the decision obviously has an impact."

The 57 percent of athletes who had already booked spots in Tokyo face a wait to discover whether they will have to qualify again, although Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) chief executive Matt Carroll said they would not.

"That is our understanding at this time," Carroll told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

U.S. athletes in the major Olympic sports of athletics, swimming and gymnastics had more clarity with their national federations announcing Olympic trials would now be held in 2021.

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief Travis Tygart warned the postponement could open the door for convicted drug cheats to compete for medals, and the issue would need to be tackled.

"Tokyo 2020's becoming Tokyo 2021?" Japanese judoka Naohisa Takato, a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, tweeted. "Either way, I'm always ready to fight."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Really?? Didn't didn't polls show over 70% of Japanese were calling for postponement?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

"When I learned the Olympics were being postponed, I was honestly surprised,"

This would not have come as a suprise to anyone who didn't have thier head up thier you-know-what.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

And very interesting timing that suddenly Tokyo now has many new cases of coronavirus after Olympics officially postponed. My wife is in crisis mode. I hope there will be toilet paper!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

It's about time. Get the hospitals ready. And test, test, test.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's about time. Get the hospitals ready. And test, test, test.

The hosipitals have been ready. They have been testing testing testing..

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

See, the truth abt the corona virus is not out yet. Thank god the olympics is postphoned. Can u imagine the spread ???.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

THIS IS EERIE! In 1988, Otomo released an anime film AKIRA that shows a scene where a billboard shows there are 147 days left until the beginning of the 2020 Olympics. At the bottom right there is graffiti on the wall that says in Japanese [CHUUSHI] a word meaning to cancel something. There are also several pieces of paper with the words HANTAI written on them which translates to a word meaning to be opposed to something. The 2020 Olympics were just canceled today exactly 147 days before they were to begin.


0 ( +1 / -1 )

Omega isn't going to like a stopped stopwatch... will look broken.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Now all hidden cases will gradually appear, who would've guessed..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Now they gonna have to spend yet more money to keep the Olympics going next year. It's good that Japan so happened to be hosting this years Olympics. No other nation would've had the financial resources to pull off the postponement like Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well I’m sure that once they decide on the specific date at the Olympics will start next year, they will restart the clock for that date. Nice to know that life people now get to see that it’s postponed, and then it’s finally sinking in.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Turn off the lights, the party over Tokyo

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I feel sympathy for Japan but this postponement was necessary.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No surprise here.

And no, the hospitals are not testing.

I know of medical staff with severe respiratory infections that cause chronic coughing 24/7 that have NOT been tested!

Japan’s cases have not peaked yet...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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