Tokyoites celebrate triumphant 2020 Olympic bid

Kyodo, AP

The mood in Tokyo was ecstatic early Sunday as the city was chosen to host the 2020 Summer Olympics by the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires.

Close to 2,000 people watching a live broadcast of the IOC’s general session on a large screen at Komazawa Olympic Park Gymnasium erupted in cheers as IOC President Jacques Rogge opened the envelope holding the results of voting and read the city’s name at 5:20 a.m.

“I was overwhelmed. I was on the verge of tears,” said 20-year-old Minori Nakano.

Gold ticker tape shot over the crowd as it celebrated the result. Some cried while others hugged or shouted with joy.

Many in the crowd had spent the night at the gymnasium, built for the wrestling competition at the 1964 Tokyo Games, ahead of the vote by IOC members.

“I’ve been here since 10 o’clock last night because I didn’t want to miss the moment,” said Sachiko Noguchi, 37.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for. The Olympic sites being built will be something to look forward to. I’m glad I live in Tokyo!” she said.

Kikuo Otabe, 68, said he had worked as a volunteer at the 1964 Games when he was a university student.

“Back then, we had a mind to turn our eyes to the world. I’m very happy (that Tokyo was chosen) because I want children, my grandchildren, young people, to also turn their eyes abroad and spread their wings,” he said.

When asked about concerns over the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, he said, “I’m not 100 percent convinced of (the plant’s) safety, but it’s a situation that all Japanese people need to make an effort to improve.”

Elsewhere, members of the Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee celebrated their successful campaign at a convention hall in central Tokyo with cheers of “Banzai!”

“I hope children will continue whatever sport they’re doing and aim to be in the Olympics,” three-time Olympic gold medal wrestler Saori Yoshida said, teary-eyed, at a hall in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward where some 700 people were watching a live broadcast of the IOC’s announcement.

Hiromi Miyake, silver medalist in women’s weightlifting at last year’s London Games, said, “This is so exciting. I hope it’ll be a historic and memorable Olympics.”

Tokyo will be the first Asian city to host the Olympics twice. The 2020 Games will be the fourth Olympics to be staged in Japan, which also hosted the Winter Olympics in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.

A half-century after the 1964 Tokyo Games heralded Japan’s re-emergence from destruction and defeat in World War II, the city’s triumphant bid to host the 2020 Games is giving this aging nation a chance to revive both its sagging spirits and its stagnating economy.

The 1964 Games were relatively bare bones by today’s standards.

“There were no facilities, no food to eat; no barbells; no place to practice. That was what it was like,” said Yoshinobu Miyake, Hiromi’s uncle, a featherweight weightlifting gold medalist at the 1964 Games who recalls walking the streets of Tokyo with a crooked barbell in hand, looking for a place to practice.

“But still, we had to win — so it was a country that managed to go on with just a hungry spirit, a Japanese spirit,” he said.

To prepare for the 1964 Olympics, Japan rushed to build expressways and introduced its first high-speed shinkansen. The 1964 Tokyo Summer Games won it worldwide recognition for its growing affluence and economic power, and were a turning point for the country’s athletics, as it captured 16 golds, 29 medals in total, trailing only the United States and Soviet Union.

This time, many here consider the Olympics a symbol of recovery both from economic stagnation and from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 19,000 people dead or missing in Tohoku.

“From here on, things will get better,” said Yoko Kurahashi, 65, whose high school was just across the street from Tokyo’s Metropolitan Gymnasium, the site for the 1964 games gymnastics and water polo competitions.

“This will help invigorate us,” Kurohashi said as she stood outside Tokyo city hall with her 94-year-old mother-in-law watching hundreds of other Tokyo residents celebrating with gold streamers and balloons.

Japan is counting on the 2020 Olympics to boost both the economy and morale. Two decades after its economic ascent was cut short by the bursting of its financial bubble, its population shrinking and rapidly aging, it can use all the help it can get, said

Yukio Takahashi, who was jubilant as he took his morning walk with his wife in a suburban park that was a main 1964 Olympic venue.

“This will help us to not lose confidence,” Takahashi said. “It gives us a goal, something to strive for.”

Surveys showed 70 percent of Tokyoites favored the bid.