The Tokyo Olympic Games are upon us. They look and feel different to any other Games of times gone by, but they are here. At last.
With an unexpected additional year of preparation under their belts, more than 11,300 athletes from 207 nations will compete over the next couple of weeks, all vying to get their hands on the medal they’ve worked so long for.
When the Games were postponed in March 2020, organisers said the Olympic flame “could become the light at the end of the tunnel”. With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging worldwide, that metaphorical tunnel is still being traversed, but Friday’s opening ceremony offers a glimmer of that light.
“I think it will be a moment of joy and relief when entering the stadium, a moment of joy in particular for the athletes because I know how much they are longing for this moment,” said International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.
“Then they can finally be there, they can enjoy this moment under very special circumstances.”
An Olympics in a pandemic
Masks, quarantine, saliva tests. Make no mistake, these are an Olympics like no other.
With Tokyo in a state of emergency throughout the Olympics after a spike in Covid-19 infections, the Games have come under huge criticism from the Japanese public, the majority of whom have said they want the Olympics to be cancelled or postponed again.
But safety is paramount for the organisers, and huge precautions are being taken, including holding the Games behind closed doors with no fans, from either Japan or overseas, being permitted inside venues.
As for the athletes, they are under strict restrictions too. They must wear a face mask at all times – except when eating, drinking, training, competing or sleeping – and minimise physical interaction with others, and are being tested for Covid-19 every day.
But unfortunately the virus has affected the Games already, before they have officially started.
On Friday, 19 new cases of Covid-19 were reported, bringing the total of cases related to Games personnel to 106. There have been 11 positive cases among athletes in Tokyo.
Six Team GB athletes have had to isolate in their rooms after being identified as close contacts of someone on their flight who later tested positive for Covid-19.
US tennis player Coco Gauff had to pull out of her debut Games after testing positive before arriving in Tokyo, while Team GB’s Dan Evans and Johanna Konta and world number one shooter Amber Hill withdrew for the same reason.