Welcome to the most unusual Olympics of all time: your guide to Tokyo 2021


Really, the Euros were just the warm-up. Last week’s post-football downhill may have looked like the end of sports days – at least for this year – but the truth is, the great sporting summer of 2021 has only just begun. Do you think two weeks of tennis and seven nights of football was a source of adrenaline? Try 17 days to watch 339 medals won across 33 sports and 42 venues – but only from your couch, of course.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are (finally) hitting TV screens this week, 12 months later than expected (see: officials’ new smart 2020NE logo). It promises to be the weirdest games yet. A total of 11,500 athletes and 79,000 foreign officials, journalists and support staff are expected to travel to the Japanese capital for this month’s Games. The number of spectators? Zero, according to officials from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who have called on the public to “support the athletes at home” given the current state of emergency in Tokyo due to the increase in cases.

Lack of crowds will be an obvious hurdle for this year’s athletes – the BBC is reportedly considering playing artificial crowd noises to create a buzz – and Covid won’t just affect the number of spectators. Athletes will undergo daily Covid testing, will have to place their own medals around their necks while wearing a mask, and a growing number of sports stars from Serena Williams to the Australian baseball team have been forced to step down due to security concerns. Tennis ace and 2021 Wimbledon winner Novak Djokovic said he was still “50-50” as to whether he would compete.

But it’s not just dropouts and reduced celebrations. Highlights from the 2021 Games include Team GB with more women than men for the first time, five new sports and Tokyo’s pledge to host the greenest Olympics ever – search medals made from cellphones and podiums made from recycled materials. ocean plastic. Organizers hope this year’s Games will emit 2.93 million tonnes of CO2 from the 3.3 million emitted in London 2012.

BBC / Nick Eagle

So how will the Covid protocols work and which stars can we expect to see at the opening ceremony on Friday? From new sports and sportsmen to watch out for to the (surprising) reason why condoms are distributed in the Athletes’ Village, here is a guide to the most unusual Olympic Games in its 125-year history.

Enter the area

Obviously, the jewel in any Olympic crown is the Opening Ceremony. This year will take place on Friday at the new national stadium in Tokyo, the Japanese equivalent of Wembley. Tokyo is eight hours early, which means Friday’s 8 p.m. ceremony will begin at civilized British time from noon until 3 p.m. The BBC will broadcast the event so you can catch up on iPlayer if you can’t see it during your lunch break.


So what does this imply? The stadium may not be able to promise the atmosphere of the English crowds at Wembley, but athletes should still parade for the ceremony as usual and keep their eyes peeled for some VIPs. French President Emmanuel Macron (host of the 2024 Games in Paris) and US first lady Jill Biden are both expected to attend. Will Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe disguise himself as Mario, a video game icon, as he did for the Rio closing ceremony? Reports last summer suggested Mario could feature in the ceremony alongside flying cars and new technology, but organizers have now suggested the display could be simplified due to Covid.

Whatever happens, there will be a lot of tradition. The Tokyo Olympic torch was designed in the form of the Japanese Sakura flower and made from recycled aluminum from Fukushima, the site of the earthquake that triggered the 2011 nuclear accident. There will also be two mascots. robotics, Miraitowa and Someity, chosen by local children. Familiarize yourself with Japanese anime culture to enter the area.


Speaking of areas, this year’s Games will be divided into three main ones: the downtown heritage area with the new national stadium, where ceremonies and athletics events will take place (it was built with wood from each of Japan’s 47 districts); the Tokyo Bay area for swimming and gymnastics; and the “other” area or Outer Tokyo, also including the northern city of Sapporo, which will host the marathons. Only 26 sessions out of 339 will take place in front of a (small) audience.

british watch

First, the bad news: Tennis star Johanna Konta, Manchester goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and running champion Mo Farah are all missing from this year’s Games for a variety of reasons, including Konta missing training after having caught Covid and Farah missing his British Athletics qualifying time. trial in Manchester.


The good news is that this year’s GB squad includes more women than men for the first time in 125 years (largely because there is no GB men’s football team) and it There are plenty of big names to watch out for among the 376 athletes – including eight sets of siblings.

Stars include heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, back in the long jump after breaking her achilles in December; tennis ace Andy Murray fresh out of his return to Wimbledon; diving champion Tom Daley aims for gold in his fourth appearance at the Games; and skateboarder Sky Brown, the world’s youngest professional skateboarder, who would become Team GB’s youngest summer Olympian at the age of 12.


Key UK dates to add to the diary include Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke final on July 26, Dina Asher-Smith in the 100m final on July 31 and Laura Kenny in the pursuit final by teams on August 3. Kenny has won every discipline she’s competed in at London 2012 and Rio 2016 and is expected to make British Olympic history if she wins her seventh gold medal in Tokyo.

World watch

We will also miss many key players on the world stage. Tennis stars Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Simona Halep and Dennis Shapovalov have all retired from the 2021 Games, as have Australian swimming silver medalist Maddie Groves, US NFL player Nate Ebner, the Australian basketball player Ben Simmons and French football defender William Saliba.

Fortunately, this is always going to be fierce competition. China has confirmed it will send 431 athletes to Tokyo, fearing last-minute withdrawal, and Wimbledon winner Australia’s Ashleigh Barty will be back on the pitch, hoping to add a medal gold to her 2021 trophy collection. Against it will be Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from Wimbledon following her controversial decision to skip press conferences at Roland Garros for mental health reasons. She called for “confidentiality and empathy” when she returns to court in Japan.


Outside of tennis, keep an eye out for American footballers Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, who fans will remember from the 2019 World Cup summer; American Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history; Danish brothers Niklas and Magnus Jacobsen in the handball team; Polish “Cristiano Ronaldo of volleyball” Wilfredo Leon; and Syrian Hend Zara, who is expected to be the youngest athlete to compete in Tokyo at the age of 12. Tokyo will also host the first-ever transgender athlete of the Olympics, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard.

A question of sport

Football normally kicks off the Summer Olympics, but Tokyo does things differently. This year, softball – a return sport for 2020/1 alongside baseball – will kick off the Games, which take place in Fukushima on the north coast of Japan, famous for recovering from the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.


There will be several additional new sports for fans. Karate, freestyle BMX, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing are all present for the first time. Others include new events, such as basketball, which will now include a branch called 3-on-3, which involves shorter games played on a half court.

Another anecdote from Tokyo to bring to the pub: This is the first time that Japan has hosted the Olympics since 1964, 49% of this year’s athletes are women, and this year’s oldest athlete is Ni Xia Lian. , of Chinese origin, who will be 50 years old. Luxembourg in table tennis.

AFP via Getty Images

If none of this sticks together, don’t panic. The BBC will be on hand with 350 hours of TV coverage from a virtual reality studio, with a team of experts including Clare Balding and former Olympians Michael Johnson, Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Katherine Grainger, Nicola Adams, Rebecca Adlington and Victoria Pendleton.

The social dilemma

After a private year of live sports, the prospect of more nights glued to TV screens has been welcomed by sports fans around the world. But what about those who live in the host country itself? Japan has shelled out at least $ 15.4 billion for the postponed 2020 Olympics so far and the country could lose billions if it does not move forward. Yet a recent poll found that more than 80% of Japanese would like the Games to be canceled or postponed – it is unlikely to have been helped by IOC President Thomas Bach’s Jeremy Hunt blunder last week when ‘he promised a safe and secure Games “most important. for the Chinese people,” later clarifying that he meant Japanese. Doh.

Getty Images

Experts in the field are also concerned. More than 6,000 doctors from the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association have also called for the Games to be canceled, saying there was “no available capacity” at the city’s hospitals, a concern for anyone traveling to Tokyo. as well as for the inhabitants. As of last week, only 17.9% of the country’s population had been fully immunized, compared to 51.21% in the UK, and eight members of the GB team’s track team are self-isolating after coming into contact with a positive case (two members of Southern African footballers are the first competitors to test positive in the Athletes’ Village so far).

As for the Olympic Village, fans should expect fewer athlete antics stories than at previous Olympics. Alcohol can only be drunk when they are alone in their room, and Japanese organizers were recently embarrassed when asked about the fate of the 160,000 condoms produced for distribution in the village. Despite the 11,500 sportsmen living in cramped conditions this year as usual, officials have said that sexual relations between competitors – safe or not – are banned to reduce the spread of Covid, with violators threatened with penalties ranging from eviction fines. The real reason for condoms, they now claim? Take home as a farewell gift.

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