After ‘Difficult’ Year, Top Athletes Resume Chase For Gold

The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

 

While Christian Taylor said the past year had been “disheartening” and Joshua Cheptegei lamented a lost Olympic opportunity, they, and other top athletes, tried to find pandemic plusses on Tuesday, ahead of the Golden Spike meet.

Talking to reporters in the eastern Czech steel hub of Ostrava ahead of Wednesday’s competition, some athletes said 2020, when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed, had been a year of opportunities while others bemoaned the wasted time.

“In the beginning I had the mind of going to the Olympic Games in 2020 with the mind of winning the gold,” said Cheptegei.

“From the look of things, I was really the favourite,” said the Ugandan.

But Cheptegei went on to break long-standing world records in the 5,000 metres in August and the 10,000 in October.

“Positively, I would say that it is because of the pandemic that I was able to rediscover my potential.”

“That’s why I was able to run the 5,000 metres in Monaco and then the 10,000 metres again in Valencia, and those are two world records,” he added.

Taylor, a two-time Olympic triple jump champion and four-time world champion, said the one-year delay to the Tokyo Olympics was “disheartening”.

“The postponement from an athlete’s standpoint was very difficult because I was very excited going to my third Olympic games,” said the 30-year-old American.

“I felt like the momentum was really towards our back,” he said, adding that he would have liked to compete more against Hugues Fabrice Zango who set the indoor world record of 18.07 metres earlier this year.

“We really feed off of each other and so keeping this energy going into the following year I think would have been very special, I think the marks would have been very, very high,” Taylor said.

– ‘A whole ton of fun’ –
Taylor used his time off the sport, forced out by the pandemic, to found the Athletic Association, an independent body intended to protect athletes’ interests.

“This has been the blessing of 2020,” Taylor said.

Pole vault prodigy Armand Duplantis, who set the outdoor world record of 6.15 metres last September, complained about a lack of crowds.

“I think that was the worst thing for me really, the competitions with no spectators, because it just wasn’t as fun,” he said but added the pandemic had also allowed him to look for other pastimes.

“When the pandemic first hit last March, I started playing a ton of golf and I still play a lot of golf so that’s what I picked up during the pandemic for sure,” he said.

Two-time world pole vault champion Sam Kendricks has opted for a very different hobby.

“I picked up a new puppy from my papa’s litter when I got home from the indoor season so I’ve been puppy-training for the last two months and that’s been a whole ton of fun,” he said.

“It’s funny when the puppy seems smarter than you are a lot of times.”

The Golden Spike signals the acceleration of the European outdoor season and allows many top athletes to compete ahead of the start of the Diamond League in Gateshead Gateshead, England on Sunday, and the delayed Olympic Games, which are due to start on July 23.

Over 80 Percent In Japan Oppose Olympics This Year: Poll

This picture taken on May 14, 2021 shows Kenji Utsunomiya, a Japanese lawyer and former Tokyo gubernatorial candidate, displaying a campaign poster calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo .
Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP

 

More than 80 per cent of Japanese polled oppose hosting the virus-postponed Olympics this year, a new survey showed on Monday, underlining public antipathy less than 10 weeks before the Tokyo Games.

The latest downbeat poll comes after Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency Friday as the nation battles a fourth wave of infections.

The surge in cases has put pressure on the country’s healthcare system, with medical professionals repeatedly warning about shortages and burnout.

The weekend poll by the Asahi Shimbun daily found 43 percent of respondents want the 2020 Games cancelled, with 40 percent wanting a further postponement.

Those figures are up from the 35 percent who backed cancellation in a survey by the paper a month ago and the 34 percent who wanted a further delay.

“I am one of those in the 80 percent. I think the Olympics should be postponed. Is it that difficult to postpone it?” passer-by Sumiko Usui, 74, told AFP in Tokyo.

Takahiro Yoshida, 53, also expressed doubts over the event.

“In my honest opinion, it will be difficult to hold the Games… Athletes from overseas must be worried as well, because Japan’s coronavirus situation is bad,” he said.

Only 14 percent support holding the Games this summer as scheduled, down from 28 percent, according to the Asahi poll of 1,527 replies from 3,191 telephone calls.

If the Games go ahead, 59 percent of respondents said they want no spectators, with a third backing lower fan numbers and only three percent a regular-capacity Games.

 

This picture taken on May 14, 2021 shows Kenji Utsunomiya, a Japanese lawyer and former Tokyo gubernatorial candidate, displaying posters of the petition calling for the cancellation of the .
Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP

 ‘Cancel the Olympics’

For months, polling has found a majority in Japan oppose holding the Games this summer.

A separate poll by Kyodo News published Sunday showed 59.7 percent back cancellation, though further postponement was not listed as an option.

Olympic organisers say tough anti-virus measures, including regular testing of athletes and a ban on overseas fans, will keep the Games safe.

But the Kyodo poll found 87.7 percent of respondents worry that an influx of athletes and staff members from abroad may spread the virus.

Amid mounting public opposition to the games, several dozen protesters rallied in central Tokyo against the Olympics.

“It’s obvious to everyone that we should cancel the Games, but nobody — the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, the Tokyo government nor Prime Minister (Yoshihide) Suga — none of them are making the decision,” Toshio Miyazaki, 60, who organised the demonstration, told AFP.

“We cannot afford to host the Olympics when we have to defeat the coronavirus.”

Another demonstrator slammed government policy as “contradictory”.

“If authorities put priority on the economy, I want them to lift the restrictions on restaurants and bars,” Yusuke Kawai, a 40-year-old match-making party organiser, said.

“If they prioritise the anti-virus measures, I want them to cancel the Olympics.”

Asked about the state of public opinion Monday, government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said the administration would “make efforts so that the Japanese people understand the Tokyo Games will be held in a safe and secure manner”.

“We need to give explanations on details of the concrete (coronavirus) measures,” he said, insisting that the Games would not put further pressure on medical services.

 Mass vaccinations

Japan has seen a smaller Covid-19 outbreak than many countries, with fewer than 11,500 deaths so far. But the government has come under pressure for its vaccine rollout.

The Kyodo poll found 85 percent of respondents considered the rollout slow, with 71.5 percent unhappy with the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Thousands of slots were snapped up on Monday as online bookings opened for two mass vaccination centres which will deliver up to 10,000 shots a day in Tokyo and 5,000 in Osaka, initially to the elderly.

All 25,000 available slots were already booked up in Osaka, the centre said, while around 21,000 reservations were made in Tokyo.

-AFP

Nigeria Makes History In Mixed Relay, Moves Closer To Olympics Qualification

Nigerian athletes and officials pose for a photograph in Texas, the United States.

 

Nigeria’s 4x400m Mixed Relay team got off to a good start at the PVAMU track meet in Texas, running a new 3 minutes 18.53 seconds Nigerian record to win the event and moved within five places of sealing a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

The quartet of Nse Imaobong, Patience Okon-George, Nathaniel Samson, and Sikiru Adeyemi made history as the first quartet to represent the country in the mixed relay event.

According to the latest ranking released by World Athletics, the team are now 21st behind Germany who presently occupy the 16th qualifying spot, Kenya, France, Czech Republic, and Colombia.

In his reaction, the acting President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Olamide George, was confident that the team would secure qualification in the mixed relay event and the men and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m events.

“We are delighted with the performance of the team at the PVAMU meet here in Texas and believe we can do much better in our next race.

“We now know what we need to do to secure one of the four available slots on offer,” George said.

Nigeria will need to improve on the time ran by Germany (3:16.85) to become one of the 16 finalists for the event in Tokyo and the AFN official believes it can be done.

“Remember this is the first time ever that we are competing as a nation in this event. When we get the full complement of our team, I believe we will run faster than 3:16,” said George who thanked the Minister for Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, for his support.

He added, “The honourable minister has been our pillar of strength in this COVID-19 pandemic era and we have keyed into his dream of returning Nigeria to the podium in track and field at the Olympics after 13 long years.”

Veteran athletics coach, Gabriel Okon, was also appreciative of the minister’s support, especially with his adopt-a-talent initiative.

Speaking of the initiative, he stated, “It has worked wonders. For example, we have, for the first time in recent memory qualify for the Olympics in a track event in Nigeria.

“Grace Nwokocha is one of the athletes on the programme and she ran 11.09 seconds in the 100m, which is about the fastest time by a home-based athlete on Nigerian soil in over two decades and 22.79 seconds in the 200m.”

“Both times are better than the Olympics qualification standard set by World Athletics,” Coach Okon said.

Tokyo Olympics: ‘Give This Country The Best,’ Sports Minister Tells Team Nigeria

The Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, having a chat with some of the athletes at the Moshood National Stadium in Abuja on May 3, 2021.

 

The Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, has challenged athletes representing Nigeria at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to give their best to the country.

He made the call on Monday when he visited the athletes who have been training at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

“Your job is to run and give this country the best,” the minister told the athletes ahead of their departure for the United States on Thursday to participate in relay qualifiers.

He added, “Focus on your training and the goal ahead and leave the administration to us. The world is waiting to see what you can do, you must meet their expectations.”

Dare, who asked the athletes not to be distracted, showered encomium on some of the team members for their recent performance.

According to him, the future is bright for Nigeria to have podium performances at the Olympics.

The minister commended the performance of Tobi Amusan who got adopted a few weeks ago and now has the second world best time.

He also praised Grace Nwokocha and Adegoke Enoch who got adopted by the minister under the Adopt an Athlete Initiative.

Dare stressed the importance of providing good welfare for the athletes, noting that revealed that the ministry had put in place a detailed programme for them such that every trip and accommodation were monitored.

He gave an assurance that welfare would not be a problem for the athletes, saying it was important for them to remain focused in unity.

“I have been monitoring your preparations and I have met most of you personally. Whether you are home-based or foreign-based, Team Nigeria is one.

“Hence, we decided to take you to the US to join others so that you can blend as a team,” the minister said.

Tokyo 2020 Boss Resigns Over Sexism Row, But Successor Unclear

 

(FILES) Mori resigns over sexist comments on February 12, 2021. (Photo by KIM KYUNG-HOON / POOL / AFP)

 

Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori bowed to mounting pressure and resigned Friday over sexist remarks, but his replacement was not immediately clear after opposition emerged to his favoured successor.

The resignation and the leadership vacuum left by the controversy add to the woes of organisers struggling to win over a sceptical public less than six months before the virus-delayed Games.

Mori, 83, sparked outrage by claiming last week that women speak too much in meetings, with officials, sports stars and Olympic sponsors slamming the remarks as inappropriate.

On Friday he announced he would step down, effective immediately.

“My inappropriate statement has caused a lot of chaos. I would like to express my sincere apologies,” he told a meeting of Tokyo 2020’s executive board and council called to discuss his remarks.

“What is important is to hold the Olympics from July. It must not be the case that my presence becomes an obstacle to that.”

There was confusion about who would succeed Mori, who had initially selected well-known sports administrator Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, to replace him.

The transition had appeared a done deal, with the former footballer granting interviews to local media describing his planned priorities in the new job.

But opposition to the selection of another octogenarian, and Mori’s control over the process, quickly mounted.

Hashtags opposing Kawabuchi’s appointment trended on Twitter in Japan, and the country’s Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto insisted “nothing has been decided”.

By Friday afternoon, local media reported Tokyo 2020 was under pressure to reverse the appointment and that Kawabuchi had decided to turn down the job.

 

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori arrives at a meeting with council and executive board members to announce his resignation over sexist remarks, at the committee headquarters in Tokyo on February 12, 2021. (Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / POOL / AFP)

 

Leadership vacuum

Mori’s resignation caps over a week of uproar after he told members of Japan’s Olympic Committee that women have difficulty speaking concisely, “which is annoying.”

He apologised but then defended his remarks and told reporters: “I don’t speak to women much.”

The comments drew fire at home and abroad. Several hundred Olympic volunteers have since withdrawn and a petition calling for action against him gathered nearly 150,000 signatures.

On Friday Mori said he does not “look down on women”, and had tried to amplify their voice, including the seven women on the 35-member Tokyo 2020 board.

“They hesitated to raise their hand to speak up. I even called out their name to encourage them,” he said.

Tokyo city governor Yuriko Koike, who had condemned Mori’s remarks, offered tribute after his resignation “to all the work president Mori has done”.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons also thanked Mori and said he hoped the reaction to the comments would “be harnessed so that society places greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion.”

The race to fill Mori’s former post is now wide open, with reports suggesting Hashimoto — a former Winter and Summer Olympian and one of just two women in the cabinet — was a leading candidate.

The fallout comes with organisers already battling public doubt about holding the huge international event this summer.

Around 80 percent of Japanese polled in recent surveys back either further postponement or an outright cancellation.

 

A lone protester (L) holds up a sign in reference to recent comments made by Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, next to a display of the Olympic Rings outside the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo on February 11, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

 

Organisers have tried to quell the disquiet by releasing virus rulebooks for athletes, officials and media, including restrictions on movement and regular testing.

But with Tokyo and other regions under a virus state of emergency, doubts persist about the event’s viability.

The first Olympic test event of 2021 has already been postponed because of Japan’s strict entry rules.

Japan’s first vaccine approval is expected over the weekend, with thousands of medical workers first in line to be inoculated, likely by the end of February.

But the broader rollout will move slowly, with vaccination of the elderly not set to start until April.

Japan’s Boxing Nurse, Fighting Coronavirus While Dreaming Of Olympics

This photo taken on June 18, 2020 shows Japanese boxer and nurse Arisa Tsubata exercising at her apartment in Saitama. - Olympic boxing hopeful Arisa Tsubata is used to taking a barrage of blows in the ring but she faces her toughest opponent as a nurse every day: coronavirus. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)
This photo taken on June 18, 2020 shows Japanese boxer and nurse Arisa Tsubata exercising at her apartment in Saitama. – Olympic boxing hopeful Arisa Tsubata is used to taking a barrage of blows in the ring but she faces her toughest opponent as a nurse every day: coronavirus. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)

 

 

Olympic boxing hopeful Arisa Tsubata is used to taking blows in the ring but it is during her work as a nurse that she faces her toughest opponent: coronavirus.

The 27-year-old juggles a brutal training regime in boxing gloves with long, irregular hours in surgical gloves at a hospital near Tokyo.

Tsubata mainly treats cancer patients but she said the virus was a constant threat, with medical experts warning at the peak of the pandemic that Japan’s health system was close to collapse.

“We always face the risk of infection at medical facilities,” she told AFP.

“My colleagues and I have all worked under the stress of possibly getting infected.”

Like most elite athletes, the virus played havoc with Tsubata’s training schedules, meaning she welcomed the postponement of this year’s Tokyo Olympics until 2021.

“It was a plus for me, giving me more time for training, although I wasn’t sure if I should be so happy because the reason for the postponement was the spread of the infectious disease,” she said.

Tsubata took up boxing only two years ago as a way to lose weight but quickly rose through the ranks.

“In a few years after becoming a nurse, I gained more than 10 kilos (22 pounds),” she laughed.

“I planned to go to Hawaii with my friends one summer, and I thought I wouldn’t have much fun in a body like that. That is how I started boxing.”

– ‘I was scared’ –
She quickly discovered a knack for the ring, winning the Japan national championship and a place on the national team.

But juggling her medical and sporting career has not always been easy and the first time she fought a foreign boxer came only in January, at an intensive training camp in Kazakhstan.

“That made me realise how inexperienced I am in my short boxing career. I was scared,” she admitted.

Japanese boxing authorities decided she was not experienced enough to send her to the final qualifying tournament in Paris, which would have shattered her Tokyo 2020 dreams — if coronavirus had not given her an extra year.

Now she is determined to gain the experience needed to qualify for the rescheduled Games, which will open on July 23, 2021.

“I want to train much more and convince the federation that I could fight in the final qualifiers,” she said.

– ‘Defence!’ –
Her coach Masataka Kuroki told AFP she is a subtle boxer and a quick learner, as he put her through her paces at a training session.

She now needs to add more defensive technique and better core strength to her fighting spirit and attacking flair, said Kuroki.

“Defence! She needs more technique for defence. She needs to have a more agile, stronger lower body to fend off punches from below,” he said.

Her father Joji raised Arisa and her three siblings single-handedly after separating from his Tahitian wife and encouraged his daughter into nursing to learn life-long skills.

He never expected his daughter to be fighting for a place in the Olympics but proudly keeps all her clippings from media coverage.

“She tried not to see us family directly after the coronavirus broke out,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “She was worried.”

Tsubata now want to compete in the Games for all her colleagues who have supported her and the patients that have cheered her on in her Olympic ambitions.

“I want to be the sort of boxer who keeps coming back no matter how many punches I take,” she said.

“I want to show the people who cheer for me that I can work hard and compete in the Olympics, because of them.”

 

 

-AFP

2020 Olympics: Top Japan Canoeist Banned For ‘Evil’ Drink Spiking

(FILE PHOTO: AFP) In this file picture taken on November 25, 2010, joint bronze medalist Yasuhiro Suzuki of Japan attends the medal ceremony for the men’s kayak single 1000m final at the International Rowing Centre in Guangzhou during the 16th Asian Games.

Japan’s anti-doping body has banned a top canoeist for eight years after he spiked a rival’s drink with a banned substance to boost his own chances of selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The Japan Anti-Doping Agency slapped sprint canoeist Yasuhiro Suzuki, 32, with the eight-year ban, the Japan Canoe Federation announced Tuesday, slamming his offence as “extremely evil”.

According to the federation, Suzuki confessed to putting a banned muscle-boosting substance into the drink bottle of rival Seiji Komatsu, 25, during a domestic competition in September.

“Suzuki’s conduct is totally contrary to the spirit of sporting fair play,” the Japan Canoe Federation said in a statement.

The canoe body said it will consider expelling Suzuki permanently as he has a history of sabotaging competitors, including by stealing their equipment.

Suzuki admitted spiking the drink after receiving an intensive anti-doping lecture during a training camp, according to the federation.

“I was fretting. I did it as I thought he would overwhelm me. I didn’t expect he’d actually test positive,” public broadcaster NHK quoted Suzuki as telling the federation.

Komatsu won the race but was later provisionally suspended after he tested positive to the drug, which he strenuously denied using. His suspension has now been lifted.

Both Suzuki and Komatsu were among the top candidates to represent Japan at the forthcoming 2020 Olympics.

AFP