Lighted drones form the shape of a spinning earth at the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony at Olympic Stadium. Nearly all the seats in the stadium were empty. (Robert Gauthier / L.A. Times pic)

Shouldn’t be happening, but the performances are great

By Roger Childs

With Tokyo in a covid panic, it’s surprising that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are underway. Postponed for a year because of the virus situation, the pandemic is actually worse now in Japan that it was a year ago. As journalist Michael Osterholm commented recently: “It’s like you cancelled because of a grass fire and now you’re going to hold them in a forest fire.” 

However, for the arrogant, imperious International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, cancellation was never an option. He does not want to be remembered as the only IOC boss in history who scrubbed an Olympic Games in peacetime.

Politics aside, now that they are underway one can view awestruck the best athletes in the world performing to an amazing standard.

A muted open ceremony, but then the action

The Games were opened on Friday, but the Emperor refused to use the word “celebrate”. He spoke for a few seconds while Bach prattled on for 13 minutes as if all was well with the world. 

Teams marched in with their flags as usual, the torch was lit, the Olympic flag was raised, the Olympic oath was taken and there were spectacular musical and dramatic performances on the stadium floor, All this in front of Bach and the invited rich and famous guests, but no other spectators.

With the tiresome formalities over, the serious competition began. New Zealand’s biggest medal haul will come from rowing where we are one of the strongest countries in the world with a proud record in Olympic history and a large haul of medals. In the early heats expected medal winners like single sculler Emma Twigg and the world champion women’s eights duly won to qualify for later rounds.

Superb cinematography

Last night’s viewing demonstrated the sort of outstanding coverage you would expect from a technological powerhouse like Japan — superb views from different angles and focus on the power, accuracy and speed of the athletes. 

One example was in the mixed pairs archery competition where among many angles there was slow motion of the arrows in the air on their way to the targets. For the record South Korea beat the Netherlands to take the gold medal with a perfect 10 10 10 10 score in the final set.

There was equally impressive coverage of the rowing, gymnastics and the men’s road cycling race.

The cyclists on the road

In the bike race the expected Tour de France stars took the medals – gold to Ecuadorian Richard Carrepaz who made a break with about 20km to go, silver to Belgian Wout van Aert,and Tour de France winner Slovenian Tadej Pogacar took the bronze. Only the width of a tyre separated second and third.

The coverage of the bike race was excellent as expected and it was great to see thousands of spectators, forbidden in indoor stadia, lining the route and many rows deep at the finish.

The only sour note was the New Zealand woman sharing the commentary with a male colleague mispronouncing the name of the most famous cyclist in the world Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (po – gacha). She also made silly predictions about possible medalists late in the race, seemingly unaware of how positions in such races can change quickly. A lot of money has been spent on getting these people to Tokyo, so they should know their stuff about the sports they are commenting on. 

That aside, one can predict with the certainty that there will be plenty of excellent competition over the next two weeks in a huge range of sports, and all superbly presented for viewers at home.