SportOlympics Updates: Opening Ceremony Set for Near-Empty Stadium

Olympics Updates: Opening Ceremony Set for Near-Empty Stadium

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During the opening ceremony, the stands will be virtually empty and the athletes of the world will be waving to television cameras rather than a stadium full of fans and dignitaries.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

TOKYO — Friday brings what is usually a celebratory highlight of any Olympic Games, the opening ceremony. The pageantry, speeches and the athlete parade will play out as usual, but very likely without the zest and excitement of a typical Olympics.

Most notably, the stands will be virtually empty, and the athletes of the world will be waving to television cameras rather than a stadium full of fans and dignitaries.

To top it off, whatever spectacle is planned will be undercut because Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the ceremony, was dismissed Thursday after video emerged of him making fun of the Holocaust.

In the United States, NBC has typically held the broadcast of the ceremony until the evening, but this year it can be seen live at 6:55 a.m. Eastern. The traditional tape-delayed prime time showing is at 7:30 p.m., and there’s a third chance to see it for night owls at 1:38 a.m. Saturday.

Friday is officially Day 0 of the Olympic Games, and while there isn’t a lot of athletic competition to go with the opening ceremony, there is a little more than zero.

Archers will have their qualifying day to determine the seedings when the competition proper begins. And there will be preliminary heats in some rowing events.

Take a breath. A deluge of sports, from table tennis to yachting, is coming for 18 straight days starting on Saturday.

Vanderlei de Lima on his way to light the caldron at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

TOKYO — Lighting the Olympic cauldron, even at a Games somewhat deflated by the coronavirus pandemic, is one of the highest honors in sport.

Names as big as Wayne Gretzky and Muhammad Ali have done it, but so have an obscure archer and a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

So predicting who will do it at this year’s opening ceremony on Friday must be a near impossible task, right? Well, consider that The New York Times correctly predicted in 2016 that Vanderlei de Lima, a marathon bronze medalist, would get the honor. In 2012, a group of unknown teenagers were chosen to light the cauldron, but our pick of the rower Steven Redgrave was the last prominent athlete to hold the torch, so we are taking partial credit.

For this year, our ranked list of candidates includes a baseball superstar, back-to-back marathon winners, one of the biggest names in tennis, a three-time gold-medalist judoka, any of several veteran gymnasts and one of only five athletes who have won the same event four times in any Olympic sport.

Archery began on Friday with individual elimination rounds.
Credit…Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

TOKYO — A handful of athletes competed in heats hours before the opening ceremony on Friday.

Rowing got underway at The Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo, with 22 preliminary heats in single sculls, double sculls and quadruple sculls for men and women. Medal events for rowing begin July 27 and run through July 30.

Archery began on Friday with individual elimination rounds. On the women’s side, South Korean athletes finished in the top three, with San An setting an Olympic record with a score of 680. Minhee Jang finished second with 677, and Chaeyoung Kang finished third with 675.

Mixed gender archery events will make their debut on Saturday. A gold and a bronze medal will be awarded by the end of the day.

Thousands of athletes are set to begin their Olympic journeys tomorrow, when events in beach volleyball, skateboarding, swimming and others begin.

At least 110 people connected to the Olympics have tested positive so far in Japan.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Tokyo 2020 organizers reported an additional 19 coronavirus cases on Friday among people connected to the Games, including three athletes.

The organizing committee did not name those who were infected. But one of the athletes, who resides in the seaside Olympic Village, was identified as a close contact of a beach volleyball player from the Czech Republic who had also tested positive this week.

At least 110 people connected to the Olympics have tested positive so far in Japan, which has instituted strict controls aimed at preventing the spread of the virus during the Games, including barring spectators from nearly all events.

Infections have been rising across Japan, which reported more than 5,300 new cases on Thursday, the most in two months, according to New York Times data. The surge comes despite a weekslong state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas that restricts the sale of alcohol and requires bars and restaurants to close early.

On Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan met with the chief executive of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, who is in Tokyo for the Games, and asked the company to speed up shipments of its Covid vaccine that are planned for the fall, Kyodo News reported. About 23 percent of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to New York Times data.



Athletes who have tested positive for the coronavirus

Scientists say that positive tests are expected with daily testing programs, even among the vaccinated. Little information on severity has been released, though public reports suggest that cases among athletes have generally been mild or asymptomatic. Some athletes who have tested positive have not been publicly identified.


July 23

Jelle Geens

Triathlon

Belgium

Simon Geschke

Road cycling

Germany

Frederico Morais

Surfing

Portugal

July 22

Taylor Crabb

Beach volleyball

United States

Reshmie Oogink

Taekwondo

Netherlands

Michal Schlegel

Road cycling

Czech Republic

Marketa Slukova

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

July 21

Fernanda Aguirre

Taekwondo

Chile

Ilya Borodin

Russian Olympic Committee

Swimming

Russian Olympic Committee

Amber Hill

Shooting

Britain

Candy Jacobs

Skateboarding

Netherlands

Pavel Sirucek

Table tennis

Czech Republic

July 20

Sammy Solis

Baseball

Mexico

Sonja Vasic

Basketball

Serbia

Hector Velazquez

Baseball

Mexico

July 19

Kara Eaker

Gymnastics

United States

Ondrej Perusic

Beach volleyball

Czech Republic

Katie Lou Samuelson

Three-on-three basketball

United States

July 18

Coco Gauff

Tennis

United States

Kamohelo Mahlatsi

Soccer

South Africa

Thabiso Monyane

Soccer

South Africa

July 16

Dan Craven

Road cycling

Namibia

Alex de Minaur

Tennis

Australia

July 14

Dan Evans

Tennis

Britain

July 13

Johanna Konta

Tennis

Britain

July 3

Milos Vasic

Rowing

Serbia


Matthew Centrowitz, right, at the Track and Field trials last month.
Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times

The day after Friday’s opening ceremony, Matthew Centrowitz, the reigning Olympic champion in the men’s 1,500 meters, will toe the starting line to chase the American record in the men’s mile — at home in Portland, Ore.

The pandemic has altered countless athletes’ pre-Olympic routines, and many, like Centrowitz, are delaying their departures to Japan. Athletes competing at the Tokyo Games cannot move into Olympic housing until five days before their competitions start. In Centrowitz’s case, the opening heats of the men’s 1,500 meters are not until Aug. 3, so he has decided to cram in one final stateside tuneup before he makes the trip.

“First time in my career I’ve publicly broadcasted a record attempt,” Centrowitz wrote in an Instagram post, adding that it had come together “last second.”

Track and field occupies the second half of the Olympic schedule, which means that American athletes have been watching the run-up to the Games from a distance. Many are improvising — and hoping for the best — amid an onslaught of pandemic-related protocols put in place by the Japanese government and Olympic officials.

In a conference call with reporters on Thursday morning, Sydney McLaughlin, the newly minted world-record holder in the women’s 400-meter hurdles, said she would be leaving for Tokyo on Saturday. McLaughlin, who has said she is vaccinated, confirmed that she would be staying in the athletes’ village, where there have already been positive cases.

“I think for all of us, it’s taking the precautions and doing the things that we know are going to keep us and our teammates and everybody safe,” she said. “I can’t control everything. But I can control mentally how I deal with it and how I handle it, and I guess for me that’s knowing that I’m doing everything that I can and trusting that God’s going to take care of the rest.”

Will Claye, a triple jumper and three-time Olympic medalist, said it was unfortunate that a number of first-time Olympians would be missing the opportunity to march in the opening ceremony. He recalled his experience in 2012 at the London Games.

“I walked and was able to meet and take pictures with some of my idols,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, because you never know if you’ll get back to this stage.”

Of course, nothing about these Olympics is normal, and the Games will already be underway by the time Centrowitz steps onto a high school track in Portland on Saturday night. Alan Webb set the American record for the mile when he ran it in 3 minutes 46.91 seconds in 2007.

Centrowitz will take a crack at it in an event that will be live-streamed, and he will do so with the help of people who will be absent from the Olympics: fans.

Simone Biles has five Olympic medals and 25 world championship medals and has several moves named for her.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Simone Biles now has an emoji befitting her status.

Twitter hashtags of Biles’s full name or even just her first name will be accompanied by a leaping cartoon goat wearing a sparkling red gymnastics leotard with a gold medal draped around its neck. The social media platform’s sports account unveiled the emoji on Wednesday.

Biles, 24, the most decorated gymnast in history, has often worn leotards bedazzled with a goat, a nod to the designation “Greatest of All Time.” Biles has five Olympic medals and 25 world championship medals and has several moves named after her.

She headlines a United States squad that is looking to win the team gold medal for a third consecutive Games. The women’s gymnastics qualifying competition starts on Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Sailors practicing Thursday on the waters off Enoshima, southwest of Tokyo, where the sailing competition will be held.
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

There is less than a day to the opening ceremony, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are abuzz. Athletes are at training venues working to get in any last-minute tweaks before the start of their competitions, officials are checking to make sure everything is safe and secure, and volunteers are running around to make sure things go smoothly. Our photographers bring you an inside look at what it has been like to be on the ground.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…James Hill for The New York Times
Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Athletes will parade through a largely empty Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, as spectators have been barred from most of the Games. Performers at this year’s lineup have not yet been announced.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

After a yearlong delay, the opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is almost here. But with social distancing and no fans, the ceremony, much like the Games, will look a lot different.

The opening ceremony for the Olympics is scheduled for Friday night in Tokyo. But the 13-hour time difference with Tokyo means it will be Friday morning in the Eastern time zone of the United States.

NBC will have a live morning broadcast of the ceremony starting at 6:55 a.m Eastern time, marking the first time the network has ever had a live morning broadcast of the event. Savannah Guthrie, the anchor for “Today,” and NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico will host NBC’s coverage. The ceremony can also be streamed on the NBC Sports App and on NBCOlympics.com

Afterward, NBC will also broadcast a special edition of “Today” that includes athlete interviews, followed by an Olympic daytime show.

Similar to years past, the network will air a packaged prime time version of the ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday. Coverage will also be replayed again overnight for viewers who missed earlier broadcasts.

One of the highlights of the opening ceremony is the Parade of Nations. U.S. women’s basketball player Sue Bird, who has won gold four times, and baseball player Eddy Alvarez, a 2014 silver medalist in speedskating, will be the flag bearers for the United States and will lead the delegation of more than 230 U.S. players. (There are 613 athletes total on Team U.S.A.)

“It’s an incredible honor to be selected the flag bearer for Team USA,” Bird said in a statement.

Alvarez, too, said he was humbled by the selection. “It is an honor and a privilege to be named as one of the flag bearers by my fellow Team U.S.A. athletes for the opening ceremony. Being a first-generation Cuban-American, my story represents the American dream,” Alvarez said.

Athletes will parade through a largely empty Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, as spectators have been barred from most of the Games. Performers at this year’s lineup have not yet been announced. And NBC has no plans to add background noise that mimics the fans in the stands throughout the Games, NBC Olympics executive producer Molly Solomon said during a call last week. That’s a departure from last year, when most broadcasters would pipe in recorded fans for games during the pandemic.

The opening ceremony comes at a time when games have already been underway in Tokyo, and anxieties about the virus are high. Tokyo’s infection rate hit a six-month high. Adding to that anxiety is the flurry of announcements about Olympic participants testing positive, including those inside the Olympic Village.

Other news has also overshadowed the event in recent days.

On Thursday, organizers of the Games dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the ceremony, after video footage emerged of him making fun of the Holocaust in a comedic act in the 1990s.

Mr. Kobayashi’s dismissal followed the resignation of the composer who had written music for the opening ceremony, after excerpts from interviews he had given in the 1990s confessing to severe bullying and abuse of disabled classmates surfaced on social media.

Taylor Crabb in 2019. He will be replaced by Tri Bourne.
Credit…Martin Rose/Getty Images

United States men’s beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb will miss the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for the coronavirus upon his arrival to Japan.

Crabb, 29, almost didn’t make it to the Olympics at all.

Crabb was the “subject of a code of conduct review” that led to requirements being put in place that he needed to meet in order to compete, U.S.A. Volleyball said in an email. They declined to provide more details but said he was in “good standing” with the organization.

The Southern California News Group reported, citing documents it saw, that Crabb had violated a previous ban for misconduct involving a minor age girl and was suspended through September 2021. An arbitrator shortened his suspension, allowing him to qualify for the Games.

“I’ve faced adversity before, and I will face it again, but it doesn’t take the sting out of the situation,” Crabb said in a post on his Instagram account.

Crabb, who said he was vaccinated, was set to compete with his partner, Jake Gibb, on Sunday. He will be replaced by Tri Bourne. Bourne, 32, has partnered with Crabb’s brother, Trevor, for the past three years.

So far, at least 91 people with Olympic credentials, including 10 athletes, have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Crabb joins a growing list of members of Team U.S.A. who will be left out of the Games. On July 19, Katie Lou Samuelson, a 3×3 basketball player, tested positive. And on July 20, Kara Eaker, an alternate on the U.S. gymnastics team, tested positive.

Jill Biden, the U.S. first lady, arrived at Yokota Air Base on Thursday to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games.
Credit…Kyodo/via Reuters

Jill Biden arrived in Japan on Thursday for the opening of the Tokyo Olympics on her first international trip alone as first lady, a two-day mission geared at generating enthusiasm for an event shadowed and shackled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Biden flew into the Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, where she was met by a Japanese diplomatic delegation before heading in a motorcade to the Akasaka Palace for a scheduled dinner with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife, Mariko Suga.

Her trip came as the single-day tally of new virus cases in Tokyo, fueled by the contagious Delta variant, hit a six-month high on Wednesday, according to the city government.

Dr. Biden, leading a scaled-back U.S. delegation, was scheduled to meet Ms. Suga at the palace on Friday morning, followed by a “virtual get-together” with members of the U.S. Olympic team and culminating with her attendance at the opening ceremony at Olympic Stadium.

Dr. Biden’s role in Tokyo is a familiar one for a political spouse who was often expected to project warmth and enthusiasm on behalf of her husband during a 2020 campaign in which public events, if staged at all, were sanitized and socially distanced.

The organizers of this year’s games have banned alcohol in the venues, strictly limited attendance at most events and imposed other restrictions on the behavior of fans to limit the spread of the virus.

Late Wednesday, during a refueling stopover in Anchorage en route to Japan, Dr. Biden made an impassioned plea for Alaskans to get vaccinated to save lives and speed the return to normality.

“Even as we celebrate the progress we’ve made, we know that this last push is the hardest of all,” Dr. Biden said.

“Recently, a woman came up to me to thank me for the work our administration has done to get shots in arms,” she added. “She fought back tears when she told me that she lost four family members to Covid last year. Four.”

Kentaro Kobayashi is the second creative director of the opening ceremony to step down.
Credit…Kimimasa Mayama/EPA, via Shutterstock

TOKYO — Just a day before the opening ceremony of the delayed Tokyo Olympics, organizers of the Games dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the ceremony, after video footage emerged of him making fun of the Holocaust in a comedic act in the 1990s.

At a press briefing on Thursday, Japan’s Olympics minister, Seiko Hashimoto, sounding beleaguered after a run of scandals that have plagued the Games and the creative staff of the opening ceremony in particular, said she had learned about the routine on Wednesday. In the skit, Kobayashi joked about “massacring Jews” while miming the act of cutting up human figures made of paper. The organizing committee, she said, decided to dismiss him “immediately.”

In a statement, Kobayashi said that he had regretted the routine after he made it and “started aiming to create comedies that don’t hurt others.”

“I understand that my choice of words was wrong, and regret it,” his statement said. “I apologize to those who felt displeasure.”

The organizing committee, in a statement, said Kobayashi had “made a mockery of a painful historic fact in the past” and apologized “for having caused troubles and concerns to many stakeholders, and residents of Tokyo and Japan.”

The swift decision to dismiss Kobayashi was in contrast to the resignation this week of Keigo Oyamada, a composer who had written music for the opening ceremony, after excerpts from interviews he had given in the 1990s confessing to severe bullying and abuse of disabled classmates surfaced on social media.

Oyamada at first apologized, and it appeared he would keep his job before a widespread campaign on social media prompted him to resign. “We should have dismissed Mr. Oyamada sooner,” Hashimoto said.

Kobayashi is the second creative director of the opening ceremony to step down. In March, Hiroshi Sasaki resigned after a magazine revealed that he had compared a popular comedian and plus-size fashion designer to a pig when proposing her participation in the ceremony. Sasaki’s resignation came just weeks after Yoshiro Mori, the former president of the Tokyo organizing committee, also resigned after making sexist comments about women.

On Twitter, some people questioned why Kobayashi was being fired for an old routine, but others said his dismissal was not sufficient. “Kentaro Kobayashi’s dismissal after the discovery of the Holocaust skit in the past is a quick measure,” wrote one poster. “But are they going to perform what this guy directed at tomorrow’s opening ceremony? Is the problem solved just because he was dismissed?”

Asked if she regretted going forward with the Games amid the unfurling scandals and rising coronavirus cases in the Olympic Village, Hashimoto acknowledged that the Tokyo organizers are “facing every single possible problem.” But, she said, “we want you to remember Tokyo for overcoming a lot of issues and having success.”

Nippon Budokan in Chiyoda ward in Tokyo on Sunday.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The discovery of isolated coronavirus cases, even in vaccinated athletes at the Olympics in Tokyo, is entirely expected, scientists say, and not necessarily a cause for alarm.

“This isn’t really that much of a surprise,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan.

Still, these cases do raise thorny questions about how to design testing programs — and respond to test results — at this phase of the pandemic, in which the patchy rollout of vaccines means that some people and communities are well protected from the virus while others remain at risk.

As Dr. Rasmussen put it: “When does a positive test really indicate that there’s a problem?”

Covid-19 tests, which were once profoundly limited, are now widely available in most of the developed world, making it possible for organizations — including private employers, schools, professional sports leagues and the Olympics organizers — to routinely screen people for the virus.

Vaccination is not required for Olympic participants, and officials are relying heavily on testing to keep the virus at bay in Tokyo. Those headed to the Games must submit two negative tests taken on separate days within 96 hours of leaving for Japan regardless of vaccination status, according to the Olympic playbooks, or manuals.

At least one of the two tests must be taken within 72 hours of departure. Participants are again tested upon arrival at the airport.

Athletes, coaches and officials are also required to take daily antigen tests, which are less sensitive than P.C.R. tests but are generally quicker and cheaper. (Olympic staff and volunteers may be tested less frequently, depending on their level of interaction with athletes and officials.) If a test comes back unclear or positive, a P.C.R. test is administered.

“Each layer of filtering is a reduction in the risk for everybody else,” Brian McCloskey, the chair of the Independent Expert Panel of the International Olympic Committee, told reporters this week, adding that the number of confirmed infections so far are “lower than we expected.”

Questions about transmission remain unsettled. Vaccinated people with asymptomatic or breakthrough infections may still be able to pass the virus on to others, but it is not yet clear how often that happens. Until that science is more definitive, or until vaccination rates rise, it is best to err on the side of safety and regular testing, many experts said.

But when you look that hard for infections — especially in a group of people who have recently flown in from all over the globe and have had varying levels of access to vaccines — you’re all but destined to find some.



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