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Home-grown gold puts a new shine on troubled host city

Olympics

Japan’s strong start into the Tokyo Olympics with five golds on the opening weekend is good news for beleaguered organisers and politicians because it gives them a breather.

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Three golds in their own sport of judo in the iconic Budokan arena, one in swimming, and boasting the first gold medallist in the new sport of skateboarding have the nation counting medals rather than coronavirus infection numbers.

Such an early gold rush is just what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) always hopes for because early success from the host nation is a big boost for the entire Games, and even more now.

“It can continue like this every day,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said on Sunday when he learnt that Yuto Horigomes had just won the skateboard gold in the Tokyo area where he grew up and started the sport.

That was a feel-good story for everyone in the country and may even make the Japanese finally appreciate this urban sport.

Judo has no such problems as it was invented in Japan and provided an even bigger feel-good factor when Uta Abe and her brother Hifumi both took gold within the span of an hour – a first at Olympics in an individual sport.

Hifumi later said they had both dreamed of getting double gold and thanked everyone involved for making this possible by staging the Games against all odds and public opposition.

“We are going through lots of challenges and didn’t even know whether the Games would be held,” he said.

“Without that I could not have won the gold. I wanted to show my gratitude to all the people. They made sure that countermeasures against COVID would be placed and us athletes are thankful for all the efforts made.”

The conditions under which the Games are held one year behind schedule are harsh and range from empty arenas to victory ceremonies with little emotions in a host city under a state of emergency in which the Games take place within a bubble.

The Japanese wouldn’t have cared a few weeks ago as a vast majority opposed the hosting of the Games under the current conditions.

But now television ratings are going through the roof as the host country is enjoying the action from home – just what the government wanted.

Primi Minister Yoshihide Suga was among the first to congratulate Naohisa Takato who won Japan’s first gold, in judo, on Saturday, quoted as saying that “many were moved to see the tears of a man after competition”.

Takato had had also expressed gratitude that the Games were taking place, just as the other thousands from around the world – despite all the restrictions.

Some fans however showed up as many ignored government warnings and lined up to watch the cyclists in the weekend road races.

That is no surprise for political science professor Koichi Nakano who said that after months of restrictions “the people are becoming unruly and are no longer listening to the government”.

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