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Organizers manage to hold sport climbing test event without athletes

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The Ready Steady Tokyo sport climbing event had a wall, music, PA announcers and even a famous spectator.

What it didn’t have was athletes.

The sport climbing test event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics went ahead as planned on Friday at Aomi Urban Sports Park, near Odaiba in Tokyo’s Koto Ward. There was, however, one change, as the event was held without athletes because of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Even without the athletes, the organizers took care, saying they took measures such as reminding everyone about properly washing of hands and various other recommendations to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“Also at the entrance we had a checksheet so everyone could confirm everyone had taken the measures were in good condition,” said Mika Yanagisawa, the venue manager. “If everything was OK, they could enter.”

Twenty Japanese athletes — 10 men and 10 women — had been scheduled to take part initially.

“Because of this situation with the virus. If you see the recommendation from the government, it’s quite natural to follow,” said Toru Kobinata, the Sport Climbing sports manager. “Our athletes who were supposed to be competing at this test event are under age 14 and 15. So we estimated the potential risk.

“The purpose of the test is not a test for the athletes. It was a very difficult decision.”

Tokyo 2020 staffers took their places, rubbing chalk on their hands and scaling the wall multiple times.

“They are our NTOs and also international staff,” Kobinata said. “Volunteers who have the ability to climb.”

With Koji Murofushi, the 2004 Athens Olympic hammer throw gold medalist, in attendance for part of the morning, the event went through all the motions of the sport, which will be making its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Sport climbing will take place from Aug. 4-7.

The climbers came out and took all the requisite safety measures. As they climbed, up-tempo music blared through speakers and PA announcers called the action, noting the various nations the staffers were representing. There were a number of heats and rounds, complete with some false starts, disqualifications and absences.

A Japanese announcer at one point encouraged the crowd (which was not there) to cheer for both competitors in a heat where both fell before reaching the top. The English-language announcer later told the (again, nonexistent) fans to look at the “imaginary scoreboard” afterward while waiting for the official results of the speed climbing qualifying round.

The climbing wall towered over Aomi Urban Sports Park, a temporary open-air venue which will also host 3×3 basketball during the Olympics.

The wall is separated into three sections. Moving from right to left, and in the order of the competition, is a 15-meter section used for speed climbing, the 4.5-meter section for bouldering and the wall for lead, where the height is over 15 meters.

Athletes will compete in all three disciplines during the games. Their placements in the events will be combined at the end, with the athlete with the lowest score crowned as Olympic champion.

Most everything seemed to work as planned, though organizers can only hope the weather is half as good as it was Friday, when there was nothing but clear, blue skies overhead. Kobinata also said they had also been thinking of measures with Tokyo’s summer heat in mind.

The event took place just two days after the announcement rugby’s Asia Sevens Invitational, which was to have taken place next month and also serve as an Olympic test event, would be canceled. Many sporting events, in and outside Japan, have been altered, canceled or postponed due to virus concerns.

“I am not an expert about the coronavirus,” Kobinata said. “We just followed the authorities’ suggestions.

“What we did was our best under their recommendations.”

Some are still questioning whether or not the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to take place from July 24 to Aug. 9, will take place as planned. Tokyo 2020 organizers and IOC President Thomas Bach, however, have recently said they expect the games to take place on time.

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