It is the Olympics
The modern Olympics is a curious beast. Every four years — in the case of this edition, five years — it rolls into the host city like a juggernaut, trailing tales of destruction, corruption, inflated budgets, development at the cost of citizens and the environment, apathy towards those suffering from natural disasters, relocation or disease. And then the Games begin. All the negativity dissolves into the background, replaced by nervous excitement and hypnotic awe at the sheer range of human endeavour, at the sight of athletes from every corner of the planet performing at the most breathtaking level possible.
The challenge this time is, however, greater. Tokyo2020 was postponed by a year because of the pandemic; its budget has breached all reasonable bounds; the greatest sporting feats in the world will unfold inside empty stadiums; the host city is in a state of emergency; and the majority of the Japanese are opposed to the idea of the Games happening at all. The first sporting action was on July 21, Japan’s softball match against Australia in Fukushima. The baseball and softball matches were given to Fukushima as a symbolic gesture, to show the world that the region has moved on, 10 years after being devastated by a tsunami and the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. The stadium stands 65km from the nuclear plant. Yet, the pandemic has ensured that the people of Fukushima have nothing to do with the Games. No spectators saw Japan’s win over Australia. Games volunteers were told to stay home too.
But if the Tokyo bubble holds, and if the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus can be kept at bay inside the Games, then a true spectacle awaits. The last chance to see arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles, in action. Novak Djokovic on his quest for a “golden slam”. Eliud Kipchoge, poised to run — officially — the first sub-2 hour marathon. Caeleb Dressel, mounting a challenge to Michael Phelps’s record of most medals in a single edition. And, most importantly for a perennially medal-starved nation such as India, a real opportunity to win at multiple events. India’s boxers, wrestlers, shooters and others are all going into Tokyo2020 ranked in the top three in the world, or, in the case of badminton player PV Sindhu, as the defending world champion. India has never had it this good.
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