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Tokyo governor to IOC: Keep Olympic marathon, race walks in Tokyo

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TOKYO (AP) — The IOC has a full-blown fight on its hands trying to move next year’s Olympic marathon from steamy Tokyo to the cooler northern city of Sapporo.

The powerful Olympic body is up against Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who was once viewed as a possible Japanese prime minister candidate and is one of the country’s most astute politicians.

She’s now casting herself as the champion of the 35 million people who live in greater Tokyo, who want their metropolis showcased as runners wind over streets lined by shrines, temples and skyscrapers.

The marathons and race walks are also some of the few events that allow free admission, a precious commodity with Olympic tickets hard to find in Japan.

At the opening Wednesday of three days of meetings with the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo officials, Koike lashed out at the proposed change announced suddenly two weeks ago by the IOC.

“It is my wish for the marathon and race walk to be held in Tokyo,” Koike said, speaking both in English and Japanese.

Sitting at a front table with top IOC officials John Coates and Christophe Dubi — and facing hundreds of sponsors and Olympic officials — Koike said the announcement “came as a tremendous shock.”

“We consider it an unprecedented turn of events for the IOC to make such an abrupt proposal with no consultation or discussion whatsoever with the host city Tokyo,” Koike said.

The IOC said it made the move after seeing runners collapse in extreme heat at marathons at the world track and field championships earlier this month in Doha, Qatar.

IOC President Thomas Bach saw the television scenes and doesn’t want them repeated to billions of Olympic viewers.

“This was a decision that was taken quickly,” Coates acknowledged. “It was a decision that was taken as a consequence of what we saw in Doha.”

At one point Koike looked down the front table at Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, and reminded him that earlier this year he had lauded Tokyo’s measures to beat the summer heat: running early, providing shade for fans, and installing heat-resistant pavement.

“They were highly evaluated by you Mr. Dubi. Right?” she asked.

He nodded in agreement with Koike.

Koike said in the next several days she wanted a “detailed explanation … that can be understood by the people of Tokyo.”

Coates, a powerful IOC member and lawyer from Australia who oversees frequent inspections of Tokyo’s progress, has repeatedly said the IOC will go ahead with its plans.

He said he had already told Koike this. But he said the IOC, Koike, representatives from the national government, and local organizers would meet Friday in a working group.

But again, he suggested it was a done deal.

“I see this very much as using that political working group to set the framework as to how we implement these changes in a way that is acceptable to everyone,” Coates said.

On Tuesday, political allies of Koike in the municipal legislature told a news conference that moving the marathon would cost at least $310 million. Maybe more.

They also raised questions about who will pay for any changes — or reimburse Tokyo — and did not rule out a lawsuit.

Tokyo city officials acknowledge the city is hot in the summer. But so were Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004. City officials have offered to start the marathon at 5 a.m., which is at sunrise in the Tokyo summer.

Estimates suggest the temperature would be 81 degrees at 5 a.m., and would be 78 degrees in Sapporo for a 7 a.m. start.

The starting temperature in Doha for the women’s marathon was 91 degrees.

Tokyo’s soaring costs are also a major issue with the Olympics opening on July 24, 2020.

A government audit report last year said Tokyo was spending about $25 billion to organize the Olympics, all of which is public money except for $5.6 billion from a privately financed operating budget.

Tokyo said in its bid in 2013 that the Olympics would cost $7.3 billion.

Toshiro Mori, the head of the organizing committee and a former Japanese prime minister, acknowledge a few days ago that change could be costly.

“Our overall cost has become a humongous amount, so it would cause us pain if the cost is added to our bill,” Mori said. “So I mentioned that to Mr. Coates, and he said he will look into it. We won’t be able to pay if it’s a significant damage to our finances. I have reminded him of that.”

MORE: Tokyo Olympic organizers test artificial snow to combat heat

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Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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