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Japan Olympic legends to start Tokyo 2020 torch relay in Greece

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Japanese Olympic gold medalists Mizuki Noguchi (marathon), Tadahiro Nomura (judo) and Saori Yoshida (wrestling) will be among the torchbearers for the Tokyo 2020 torch relay’s first eight days in Greece in March.

Noguchi will be the first Japanese torchbearer and second overall, receiving the Olympic Flame from a Greek during the traditional lighting ceremony in Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, on March 12.

The Olympic Flame will spend eight days in Greece before being flown to Japan to start a 121-day trek leading to the July 24 Opening Ceremony. The Japanese part of the relay begins in the tsunami-affected prefecture of Fukushima.

Noguchi won the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon that began in Marathon and ended at the Panathenaic Stadium used for the first modern Olympics in 1896.

Nomura is the only judoka with three Olympic gold medals, winning the lightest male division (60kg or 132 pounds) in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The wrestler Yoshida is also a three-time Olympic champion, plus a 13-time world champion between 53kg and 55kg. She retired after being dethroned by American Helen Maroulis in a bid for a fourth gold in Rio.

Others to be the first host-nation athletes to carry the Olympic Flame in Olympia included South Korean soccer player Park Ji-sung, Brazilian volleyball player Giovane Gavio and Russian hockey player Alex Ovechkin.

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MORE: Olympic marathons moved from Tokyo to Sapporo

Tokyo governor accepts Olympic marathons move to Sapporo

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TOKYO (AP) — In a feud with the city of Tokyo over moving the Olympic marathon from the Japanese capital to Sapporo, the IOC had its way. The marathon and race walks will go north to what the IOC hopes will make for a cooler race.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who angrily opposed the move in a head-on feud with the IOC, said Friday she would accept it.

“We cannot agree with the final decision, but the IOC has the authority to change,” Koike said on Friday in a meeting with IOC member John Coates. “The most important thing is to assure the success of next year’s games.”

One Japanese news report quoted her saying “it was a painful decision, not an agreement.”

″(The IOC and the city) can now return to the teamwork that has characterized the Tokyo Games,” Coates said after meeting Koike.

The International Olympic Committee abruptly announced the change two weeks ago without consulting Koike or many on the local organizing committee.

An angry Koike called the decision a “shock” and has pushed back against the move since it was announced.

IOC officials, in Tokyo this week to access preparations, met on Friday with Koike, the local organizing committee, and national government officials.

The IOC was not expected to budge — and didn’t.

Coates, the head of the inspection team in Tokyo, said the decision two weeks ago was made after IOC President Thomas Bach saw television scenes of runners collapsing in extreme heat in the marathons at the world track and field championships in Doha, Qatar.

The unilateral move has created bad feelings and offers a rare glimpse of behind-the-scenes disputes between the IOC and local Olympic organizers.

It’s unclear why the IOC moved on its own, although Bach and IOC the leadership must have guessed that Tokyo officials would not readily approve such a radical change. Which was accurate.

The IOC on Friday agreed that Tokyo will not have to pay for moving the marathon and race walks, and that some expenses incurred by the city to organize the marathon could be reimbursed.

According to a national government audit report last year, Tokyo is spending about $25 billion to organize the Olympics. Organizing committee officials dispute the figure and say it is half that, raising the debate about what are — and are not —Olympic expenses.

All of it is taxpayer money except $5.6 billion from a privately financed operating budget.

MORE: Tokyo Olympic organizers test artificial snow to combat heat

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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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