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Softball set to return to Olympics as first event on Tokyo 2020 schedule

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Softball, returning to the Olympics after a 12-year absence, is scheduled to kick off the 2020 Tokyo Games, two days before the Opening Ceremony.

The preliminary master schedule for the Tokyo Olympics was published Wednesday, with the first softball game scheduled for 10 a.m. local time on the Wednesday before the Opening Ceremony.

The first game is scheduled to be held in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers have been eager to use the Games as a symbol of recovery from the 2011 disaster

Traditionally, soccer has been the first sport to have action at a Summer Olympics, one or two days before the Opening Ceremony. While soccer is again scheduled to have matches that same Wednesday, they start later than 10 a.m.

The Tokyo 2020 schedule is subject to change and certainly not a final version — swimming, diving and synchronized swimming schedules are still to be determined, but those sports do not typically start before the Opening Ceremony.

Softball was added in 1991 to the Olympic program to debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won the first three gold medals before softball and baseball were narrowly voted off the Olympic program in 2005/06 (a 52-52 IOC vote for softball, with a majority needed to stay in the Olympics), with the 2008 Beijing Games being the last edition. Japan won the last Olympic softball gold medal 10 years ago.

Then on Aug. 3, 2016, baseball and softball were among five sports added for the 2020 Tokyo Games only, at the request of Tokyo Olympic organizers. Baseball and softball are not guaranteed to remain on the Olympic program in Paris in 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tokyo Olympic organizers explore options for extreme temperatures

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TOKYO (AP) — The head of an IOC inspection team says organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will explore all options to combat the extreme summer heat that will likely prevail in the Japanese capital during the Games.

John Coates was in Tokyo for a two-day inspection of the city’s preparations for the Games which are just two years away.

The 2020 Olympics will run from July 24 to Aug. 9 when temperatures in central Tokyo can exceed 95 degrees. It’s common to see thousands of people rushed to hospitals with heatstroke during those months.

Experts have warned the risk of heatstroke in Tokyo has escalated in recent years, while noting the Olympics are expected to take place in conditions when sports activities should normally be halted.

“We are mindful that we do have to prepare for extreme heat,” Coates said at a news conference on Thursday. “You’re not the first country to host the Games in extreme heat. It’s a natural consequence of being in July and August.”

Coates said each venue will have to be prepared to combat the heat.

“The effect of this is something that I was addressing when I went out and saw the rowing course,” Coates said. “It’s always the case with rowing that, because of winds, you might have a delay during the day and therefore we need to assure there is a large space for the athletes to rest in an air-conditioned area and that will happen.”

The Japanese government and the Tokyo metropolitan government are planning to lay pavements that emit less surface heat and plant taller roadside trees.

“The spectators as well as the athletes have to be taken care of,” Coates said. “The timing of the marathon and road walks will be as early as possible as they have been in previous Games to beat the heat.”

Coates visited several venues during this visit and said work is largely on track.

He toured several venues and described them as “very impressive.” Among the venues visited were the new National Stadium in central Tokyo, as well as the badminton and equestrian venues.

Coates also visited the Sea Forest facilities, including the rowing and canoe sprint courses, calling progress “very good.”

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Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay schedule unveiled

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The Tokyo Olympic torch relay will start March 26, 2020, in the tsunami-affected prefecture of Fukushima, after the Olympic flame arrives from its ceremonial lighting in Olympia, Greece.

The torch relay will spend 121 days in Japan before ending at the Opening Ceremony on July 24, the earliest Opening Ceremony since the 1996 Atlanta Games (July 19).

As previously announced, the torch relay will visit all 47 prefectures of Japan with emphasis on the area affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

With the motto “Hope Lights Our Way,” it will visit the three prefectures most affected by the tsunami and earthquake (Fukushima (March 26-28), Iwate (June 17-19) and Miyagi (June 20-22)) for three days each.

More than 18,000 people died or went missing after a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers have been eager to use the Games as a symbol of recovery from the 2011 disaster that hit Japan’s northeastern region including Fukushima, 150 miles north of Tokyo, where entire communities fled after meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.

In March 2017, Tokyo 2020 confirmed that some baseball and softball games will be held in Fukushima.

The torch relay will also spend 15 days in the Tokyo metropolitan area, plus three days each in the four prefectures hosting multiple Olympic events (Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Shizuoka).

More torch relay details, including regarding the specific route and start date in Olympia, will be announced later.

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