Organizers opened the rowing venue for next year’s Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, highlighted by a race between alumni crews from Oxford and Cambridge — the two English universities that famously square off each year on the Thames in London — with Oxford winning this time.
The new venue is located in Tokyo Bay and is ready to go with the Olympics still 13½ months away, much to the delight of Sydney Olympics gold medallist and current International Rowing Federation president Jean-Christophe Rolland.
“Everything has been on track, on time and I am very pleased more than one year before the Olympic Games to be in such a position without any major issues,” Rolland told reporters.
“There are still some little things to improve but I can say we can be relieved we will have a good course for the Olympic Games.”
The rowing venue, which will also be used for canoe sprint, joins several other new venues that have been completed for Tokyo.
The rowing site offers a panoramic view of the city — and Mount Fuji on a clear day — and was built behind dams and water gates to protect from waves and tides.
The course, which is 2,300 metres long, sits next to a former landfill site, which has been turned into a forest in time for the Games.
Built by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the venue will have seating for 2,000 that can be increased to 16,000 for the Olympics and Paralympics.
The rowing site has been free of water-quality issues, which plagued rowing and sailing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
On a sunny but blustery day, the conversation revolved around the possibility of wind affecting race conditions on a course with very little natural protection from the elements.
Several dozen rowers and canoeists managed to successfully complete a demonstration on Sunday despite the conditions and Rolland said he was unfazed.
“Of course the wind, if it is too strong, might be an issue but this is the fourth time I have come here to Tokyo and this is the first time I have seen it so strong,” said the Frenchman.
“On an eight day program I hope we will find time easily where the wind is not too strong and that we can have a good competition.”
Like many venues built for niche Olympic sports, it could be pressed to find frequent use once the Olympics and Paralympics have come and gone.
The first regatta will be the World Rowing Junior Championships in August, which will serve as a test event for the Olympics.
The Olympics open on July 24, 2020.
The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will use eight news facilities, the most famous of which will be the new $1.25 billion national stadium, and the new venue for swimming, with both still under construction.
Tokyo is also using 25 existing venues, and 10 additional venues it classes as temporary.
Although exact costs are difficult to track, Tokyo is believed to be spending at least $20 billion to prepare for the Olympics. About 70 percent is public money.