PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Now it’s Tokyo’s turn.
Sunday drew the curtains on a Winter Olympics that opened two weeks ago under the cloud of Russia’s doping scandal and saw fears of a norovirus outbreak and freezing weather force changes to the Pyeongchang Games schedule.
Not to mention the North Korea issue, which loomed over the build-up and affecting it at various levels throughout, ensuring organizers were on their toes at all times.
The next stop for the Olympic caravan will be Tokyo in 2020, and at a glance, the capital will provide a stark contrast to Pyeongchang, one of the more remote towns in South Korea.
However, Toshiro Muto, CEO of the 2020 Olympic organizing committee, says there is plenty Tokyo can learn from Pyeongchang’s experience.
“We need to learn as much as we can from Pyeongchang and apply the lessons to our own planning,” Muto said during a visit to South Korea ahead of Sunday’s closing ceremony. “Equally, all kinds of things are bound to happen and we need to be able to respond with flexibility.”
“You need to be willing to learn, to be able to pay attention,” he said.
For Japan, a nation not known internationally for being either flexible or willing to go off script, that will be a challenge in its own right. With respect to what Tokyo can learn from Pyeongchang, Muto pointed to two aspects: weather and transport.
While Pyeongchang had to deal with severe cold, Tokyo, one of the world’s biggest metropolises, will stage the Olympics during the hottest, most unbearably humid time of year.
Not particularly known outside Japan, Tokyo summers are becoming increasingly difficult with each passing year. Warnings to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke by staying indoors are not often associated with Japan, but remain the truth in Tokyo nonetheless.
“The strong wind in both Pyeongchang and Gangneung had a huge effect on the competition,” Muto said. “In Tokyo, we have typhoons and squalls, so while these games are the Winter Games, scheduling changes are a problem we will have in common. We’ve had our people ask around, to research with great interest.”
“We are looking into our options on how we can combat the heat,” Muto said. “We should have a fair number (of remedies) to consider, but then there are budget issues, so it remains to be seen how much we can do.
“Yet one thing we can do is warn people ahead of time because we know it is going to be hot. We need to really think about this for 2020.”
Tokyo sold itself as a compact games when it won the right to host its second Summer Olympics, but the whole arrangement has morphed into anything but, with cost challenges scattering a significant number of venues throughout the city’s sprawl.
With that comes the challenge of transporting athletes, officials, media and fans, which will demand a fair amount of creativity, given the daily congestion. Traffic also increases in July and August, when school is out.
Tokyo’s world-renowned public transport system will play a major role in any solution, but more will have to be done to ensure the smooth delivery of people to and from the Olympic venues.
“For the Tokyo Olympics, 60 percent of the venues will be located within the city limits, 40 out in the suburbs,” Muto said. “The long transport from the athletes’ village to the venues outside the city will be a challenge.”
“The Pyeongchang organizing committee was fully aware of its own challenges, but they found out there were more problems than they anticipated.”
In addition, Tokyo needs to do all it can to prevent terrorism and cyberattacks.
Officials in Pyeongchang confirmed that a cyberattack took place during the opening ceremony on Feb. 9, disrupting the Olympic website, online services and Wi-Fi access, among other things.
Hackers are a growing threat. In 2012, Summer Olympics host London reportedly weathered more than 200 million cyberattacks, while 2016 host Rio de Janeiro withstood over 500 million.
Now the world will wait to see how Tokyo stacks up.