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Olympic flame goes on limited display in Fukushima

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TOKYO (AP) — The Olympic flame will be on display until the end of April in Japan’s northeastern prefecture of Fukushima.

Tokyo Olympic and prefecture officials held an official “handover ceremony” on Wednesday at the J-Village National Training Center in Fukushima.

The public will have limited access to view the flame, and organizers hope to limit the crowd size because of restrictions in place for the coronavirus.

The flame arrived in Japan from Greece on March 20 and the torch relay was to have started last week from Fukushima. The flame has remained in the prefecture with Wednesday’s event merely ceremonial.

“After this, nothing has been decided yet,” said Yukihiko Nunomura, the chief operating officer of the Tokyo organizing committee. “We have to consider the coronavirus situation and such, but I think for now the basic assumption is that it will return to the host city of Tokyo.”

The Fukushima prefecture is the region of Japan that was devastated in 2011 by an earthquake, tsunami, and the subsequent meltdown of three nuclear reactors.

Olympic officials have postponed the Tokyo Games until next year with the opening now set for July 23, 2021.

The flame was to help put a focus on the region’s struggle to recover from the events nine years ago. However, the emphasis of the Olympics next year is likely to shift to the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement

Mariel Zagunis
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For the 76 U.S. athletes who had already qualified for the 2020 Olympics, a new waiting game has begun, and many of them are talking through their mixed emotions on social media.

Shooter Kayle Browning‘s thoughts played out in real time. She gave a glimpse of her new routine on YouTube (after tending to her dog, who had to go out) but didn’t know whether she would keep her spot on the team. She learned afterwards that USA Shooting intends to keep its qualified athletes on the team despite the postponement.

Fellow shooter Phillip Jungman also went from sadness to relief: “When I saw the news that the Olympics was postponed, my heart dropped a little. A few hours later @usashooting put out an official statement backing all of their athletes that had earned Olympic berths. I just wanted to take this moment to thank them for supporting us all in this time of so much uncertainty.”

LIST: U.S. athletes qualified for 2020 Olympics

Other athletes were relieved that the uncertainty of knowing whether they would have time to train was no longer a problem.

Modern pentathlete Samantha Achterberg: “Lots of mixed emotions, but a sense of relief in some ways.”

Fencer Mariel Zagunis, who has qualified for her fifth Olympics, quipped that she’s throwing herself a “pity party” but was “glad a decision was made sooner rather than later.”

“Disappointed that I won’t be able to go out and fence in the Olympics in 2020, but I’m relieved that the IOC is putting global health first,” said fellow fencer Alexander Massialias.

Several athletes sounded as determined as ever.

“News of the postponement of the Olympic Games means its time to adjust the goggles and refocus,” said triathlete Summer Rappaport.

“Let’s roll,” said sailor Paige Railey. “One more year to become stronger and healthier!”

“I’ve waited my whole life for this moment,” said marathoner Molly Seidel. “To make the @olympics safer for everyone I’m willing to wait a bit longer.”

“If these past years have taught me anything it is that I am capable of going through hell and high water for the sake of achieving the Olympic Dream!” said taekwondo athlete Paige McPherson.

Sailor Charlie Buckingham spared a thought for Olympic organizers:

” I can’t help but think of Japan and what they’ve endured to host the games this summer, only to be faced with the current global situation. To have responded the way they did so quickly is impressive and knowing their culture, next summer’s show will be even better.”

The U.S. softball team is adding one year to a 12-year wait since the sport was last contested at the Olympics in 2008.

“(N)othing has changed as far as the mindset, the work ethic or the goal that we have as a team,” said Valerie Arioto.

Swimmer Ashley Twichell, who had locked down a spot on the open-water team, supported the decision but expressed disappointment and urged “everyone right now to acknowledge whatever feelings they’re having – anxious, sad, confused, lonely, scared, isolated, stressed, frustrated, just to name a few – and know that they are validated.”

But Twichell also drew inspiration looking ahead: “The Olympics can wait, and they’ll continue to be the beacon of hope that they’ve always been, perhaps now more than ever.”

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IOC president: Tokyo organizers inspired confidence, but global spread forced hand

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International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Tuesday and Wednesday that the changing situation of the international coronavirus outbreak forced the IOC to postpone the 2020 Olympics despite his confidence that Tokyo organizers could put on the Olympics safely.

“We see the beginning of an outbreak in Africa, which is very dangerous,” Bach told NBC’s Mike Tirico on Tuesday. “We see an outbreak on some of the islands in Oceania. We see rapidly growing figures in South America, and we’ve heard the World Health Organization speaking about an acceleration of the virus. This was very alarming news on Sunday and Monday, and we also saw more travel restrictions all across the globe.”

READ: Tokyo Olympics postponed until 2021

News of the virus’ spread on Sunday prompted Bach to call an emergency meeting of the IOC executive board. At that point, Bach said, the question of holding the Games was no longer centered on Japan.

“The focus shifted very much,” Bach said. “At the beginning the question was, ‘Can our Japanese partners and friends offer safe conditions for safe Games for the athletes and everybody involved?’ There we saw good progress with the numbers in Japan. We saw measures being taken which made us confident that indeed Japan, in four and a half months, could offer safe Games.

“Then we had this wave of the spreading of the virus all over the world, so now the question was a very different one: ‘Can Japan receive all these people together from all over the world? Can the athletes, can everybody travel safely? What are the restrictions in the different countries?’ When we saw this shift, we reacted quickly.”

Bach reiterated this shift in focus Wednesday in a teleconference with international journalists:

“We could see, on the one hand, the progress being made in Japan fighting the virus and the efficiency of the measures being taken. But we had to see, on the other side, the virus was spreading so rapidly that it became more and more a question of whether the world could travel to Japan and whether Japan could afford, in the spirit of containing the virus, to invite the world.”

ATHLETES: Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel relieved by decision

Even while the board was meeting on Sunday, new information came in about the virus spreading on islands in Oceania. The World Health Organization provided more alarming information on Monday.

“We were in line always with the advice of the World Health Organization,” Bach said Wednesday.

The IOC then accelerated a discussion of all of its options.

“Cancellation was discussed, like all of the options on the table, but it was clear cancellation should not be something the IOC would in any way favor because our mission is to organize Olympic Games and make the dreams of Olympic athletes come true,” Bach said Wednesday.

Bach struck an optimistic note in looking forward one year and noted that the Olympic flame will remain in Japan.

“We can really celebrate these Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020, together, and it will hopefully be a celebration of humanity after having overcome this unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus,” Bach told Tirico on Tuesday.

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