• AFP-Jiji


Japan’s top athletes put Tokyo’s new Olympic stadium through its paces at a track meet Sunday, one year ahead of the Games which have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The televised competition was held behind closed doors, with only athletes and a few hundred journalists and officials in attendance at the 60,000-seat facility, which is still undergoing construction work on its exterior.

High jumpers got the Seiko Golden Grand Prix meet underway as up-tempo music and the lively voices of stadium announcers filled the air.

The jumpers however had no spectators to ask for slow handclaps to find their rhythm as they sped down the runway.

Sprinters likewise rushed to the finish line but there were no cheers of excited fans and no collective sighs greeted the failed jumps of the pole vaulters.

A handful of male javelin throwers took matters into their own hands and offered slow claps in unison for each other as they took their turns.

The event was held as Japan takes cautious steps to reopen its economy, with professional baseball, football and sumo allowing limited number of fans since early July.

But the nation is also seeing a rebound in new infection figures, particularly in urban areas including Tokyo and Osaka.

Organizers have announced the Tokyo Games will take place from July to August next year but have yet to decide a number of details, including how many spectators will be allowed into venues.

Many athletes voiced frustration about the postponing of the Olympics and the difficulty of training during the pandemic, which closed many tracks and prevented group practices.

“I am turning 32 years old and, when thinking about my age, I was very, very disappointed (by the delay). I was performing particularly well so it made it even more difficult for me to change my mindset and move on,” said Yukari Ishizawa, who took second place in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase.

“Even when I was practicing, I could not tell what all this practice was leading to,” she said.

“I finally realized that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to push myself to take on this challenge” of trying to qualify for the Olympics, she added.

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