By the end of the September deadline, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games had received a total of 535,717 applications from people hoping to participate as torchbearers in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay.
One would think of it as a miniscule figure considering the current world population stands at a staggering 7.7 billion. But to put this in the right perspective, the Olympic Torch Relay will feature around 10,000 torchbearers, including men, women and children from a wide range of nationalities, ages and abilities. This is when the magnitude and generosity of Japan steps to the forefront.
Getting such a massive response is a reflection of the willingness of Tokyo and its residents to welcome the return of the Olympics to Asia since Beijing last played host in 2008. Ever since Japan bagged the right to stage the 2020 Olympics, the city has more than shown its willingness to make a success out of it.
First on its latest list of measures is the ban on drones from flying over venues being used for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Next is the start of test events — at least 56 of these in total between June 2019 and June next year — to ensure the city is at its sharpest best to host a truly enjoyable event. Held under the banner Ready, Steady, Tokyo, the Tokyo Organising Committee is responsible for 22 of these test events that will conclude with the Tokyo Challenge Track Meet in May 2020.
There will be a lot of novelty in the sporting arena with the introduction of new disciplines, including 3x3 basketball, freestyle BMX and Madison cycling. Under the new International Olympic Committee (IOC) policies that allows the hosts to add disciplines of sports to the Olympic programme to augment the permanent ‘core’ Olympic events, the 2020 Games will witness karate, sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding make their debuts. There will also be a return for baseball and softball — both removed from the summer programme after 2008.
Volunteering is another big area of attraction at the 2020 Games. By the start of 2019, more than 200,000 applications had been received by the organising committee. The required number of volunteers were selected and they have already started training since early October. The volunteers at the venues will be known as Field Cast, while the volunteers in the city will be called City Cast.
Japanese companies have jumped in to show their support for the cause with Sony and Panasonic partnering with NHK to develop broadcasting standards for 8K resolution television. In the US, the 2020 Games will be broadcast by NBCUniversal properties as part of a $4.38 billion (Dh16 billion) agreement that began at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
In Europe, this will be the first Summer Olympics under the IOC’s exclusive pan-European rights deal with Eurosport that began with the 2018 Winter Olympics and runs through 2024. The rights for the 2020 Summer Games cover almost all of Europe, excluding France due to an existing rights deal that will expire following the conclusion of these Games in favour of Eurosport.
So when the 11,000-plus athletes representing 206 nations from across the globe descend on Tokyo to participate in one of the greatest sporting spectacles at the New National Stadium from July 24 next year, there will be very little doubt that these Games will be truly etched in the collective memory of mankind.
The Big 8
With the Japanese Olympic Committee working hard to whip their athletes into shape, the country has plans to win at least 30 gold medals. Here are the top medal prospects
NAOMI OSAKA (Tennis)
Osaka shot into prominence when she stunned hot favourite Serena Williams at the 2018 US Open final, to become Japan’s first tennis Grand Slam champion. Within a few months, Osaka had won the Australian Open to become the first Asian player to lead the world rankings for women. Extremely talented, but clinging on to humility, Osaka embodies Japan’s ideal image of a professional athlete. She has time and again expressed her desire to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
KIYO SHIMIZU (Karate)
She is simply called the Queen of Kata in Japan. A two-time world champion, Shimizu is perhaps seen as the far-eastern nation’s most renowned exponent. The 25-year-old enjoys a fierce rivalry with Spanish reigning world champion Sandra Sanchez. Much can be expected from Shimizu if she can get her mindset into believing she is the best.
MIMA ITO (Table Tennis)
Historically, China has been dominant in table tennis. But that seems to have come under threat recently mainly due to the rise of Japanese sensation Mima Ito. She won the doubles bronze at Rio 2016 to become the youngest female Olympic medallist in table tennis at the tender age of 16. Two years later, Ito won the singles at the Swedish Open and in January this year, Ito became the first table tennis player to win three titles in two successive years at Japan’s national championships.
KEI NISHIKORI (Tennis)
Since his rise in 2008, Kei Nishikori has gone on to win eleven singles titles while also ending runner-up at the 2014 US Open — the first Asian male player to reach a Grand Slam singles final. In Rio 2016, Nishikori defeated Rafael Nadal to win the men’s singles bronze. After an injury-plagued few seasons, he is back to full fitness with Tokyo on his mind.
TOMOKAZU HARIMOTO (Table tennis)
Japan’s threat to China in table tennis also extends to the men’s game with the emergence of Tomokazu Harimoto. He first raised eyebrows in 2018 when he shocked Chinese two-time Olympic champion Ma Long in the quarter-finals of the Japan Open. And then at the age of 14 years and 61 days, he became the youngest-ever winner of an ITTF World Tour men’s singles title, while clinching the Czech Open.
KENTO MOMOTA (Badminton)
There were high medal expectations from Momota heading into Rio 2016. But after being caught gambling illegally, he was suspended and he missed the Games. After a one-year ban, the 24-year-old has exploded back onto the scene with victory at the 2018 Badminton Asia Championship defeating Rio Olympic gold medallist Chen Long in the final. Last year, he also clinched the World Championship in Nanjing making him the firm favourite in Tokyo next year.
KAORI ICHO (Wrestling)
Icho’s medal record speaks for itself. A four-time Olympic champion and a ten-time world champion, the 34-year-old holds the record for going unbeaten between 2003 and 2016. She is the first female in any sport to win individual gold medals in four consecutive Olympics. She took a two-year break from the sport after Rio 2016, but since then has won the All Japan Women’s Open Championships late last year, to signal her return to form.
KOSUKE HAGINO (Swimming)
He started off with a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics and followed this up with a solid performance that included a gold in Rio four years later. He’s got loads of experience on the international stage, and yet, he will be only 25 years old heading into Tokyo. Hagino specialises in the individual medley and 200m freestyle, assuring the hosts of at least a couple of medals.