What to Expect at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan

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What to Expect at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan

Now that the Rio Olympics have come to a close, all the attention, controversy and expectations that come with hosting the Olympics can turn towards the next city: Tokyo.

Tokyo was a contender to host the 2016 Games, and came back with a stronger plan and high public support to win the 2020 bid, beating out Istanbul and Madrid. Unlike Brazil, Japan is a seasoned Olympic host. This will be Tokyo’s second time hosting the Summer Games, after the 1964 Olympics, and Sapporo and Nagano hosted the Winter Games in 1972 and 1998, respectively. Expectations will be riding high for the experienced nation, but Tokyo won’t have nearly the weight on its shoulders to prove itself as competent that Rio did as the first South American city to host the Olympics.

As this is Tokyo’s second time around, naturally there will be many callbacks to the 1964 Games. Those Olympics were the first to take place in Asia and, according to Tokyo, were a huge economic boom for the country and drove up local interest in sports. These days however, Japan has the third largest economy in the world and is a leader in science and technology.

The vision

The 2020 Olympics will open on July 24 and finish on August 9, followed by the Paralympic Games on August 25-September 6. As with Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 organizers have emphasized the positive legacy the Olympics will bring to the city and the country as a whole. Japan has put a particular emphasis on sustainability, and says it will use advanced technology to create a more environmentally friendly Olympics. Recovery is also a theme in the preparations; the country is still suffering the consequences of the 2011 earthquake and see the Olympics is part of the strategy to rebuild the nation. Sports will be split between two major areas – the Heritage Zone, which harkens back to the 1964 Games, and the Bay Zone, which will feature new constructions. Tokyo has already begun to highlight its upcoming venues, but as in Rio, the construction of new sites is no stranger to controversy.

The controversy

Four years out from Tokyo 2020, and there’s already been plenty of drama around the preparations. When organizers revealed the initial logo for the Games, Belgian designer Olivier Debie sued the IOC for copyright infringement, claiming the Tokyo 2020 logo by designer Kenjiro Sano copied elements from his design for the Théâtre de Liège. Though Tokyo organizers initially defended Sano, they eventually scrapped the design after past allegations of plagiarism surfaced. The new design, unveiled earlier this year, comes from Asao Tokoro.

Japan had to throw out another major design when the costs and criticisms of Zaha Hadid’s stadium spiraled out of control. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma was tapped to replace Hadid in designing the Olympic stadium, but plagiarism reared its ugly head again when Hadid’s office accused Kuma of copying Hadid’s designs. Kuma denies all claims.

In slightly less dramatic controversy, some concerns have already been raised about Tokyo’s extreme heat in July. The 1964 Games actually took place in October to avoid the summer heat and the September typhoon season, but the IOC has no plans to alter the 2020 dates. It’s no Qatar levels of heat that forced FIFA to change the 2022 World Cup from its usual July slot to November, but still organizers are considering pushing events to morning and late afternoons to avoid midday heat.

Tokyo’s logo design has already stirred the pot and gone through a redesign, but that other major visual component of the Games, the mascots, have yet to be unveiled. Will they have anything on Vinicius and Tom? Will they be made into obnoxious hats and sarongs? We’ll have to wait and see.

The sports

There will be five new sports introduced to the Tokyo Games: baseball/softball, karate, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing. Baseball and softball already have a long Olympic history and were last seen in Beijing, though they were absent at the 2012 and 2016 Games. But the other sports will be making their Olympic debut; the IOC believes some of the new “urban” sports will appeal to young people. Badminton and taekwondo will also appear at the Paralympics for the first time.

The athletes

Between now and 2020 a whole new crop of star athletes will have surfaced. But will the biggest stars of Rio be returning? Simone Biles at 19 may have another Olympics in her yet – but then 23 is old for female gymnasts, the oldest member of Team USA this time around was Aly Raisman at 22. Another multiple gold medal-winner, Katie Ledecky is the same age, but swimmers typically have longer careers than gymnasts and Ledecky will probably scoop up more medals and world records in events to come.

Usain Bolt has already discussed retiring in 2017, though his coach has encouraged him not to rule out 2020. Michael Phelps said 2016 would be his last Olympics, but keep in mind he said the same thing about 2012.

While Rafaela Silva, Marta and Neymar were some of the biggest names in Rio, naturally Japanese athletes will take the spotlight this time around. Japan has particularly dominated men’s gymnastics for the past few Olympics. Kohei Uchimura has won back-to-back gold in the men’s all around gymnastics and is a huge celebrity in Japan; though at 27, his Olympic days could be behind him. Baseball is also hugely popular in Japan, and its return will surely provide many chances for the home team to shine.

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