• REUTERS

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World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe gave Tokyo Olympic organizers high marks for the marathon test event staged in Sapporo on Wednesday, saying they were able to deliver both on the operation of the race and on their COVID-19 countermeasures.

The Sapporo Challenge Half Marathon 2021 was held on Wednesday as a dress rehearsal for the marquee Olympic event.

Six international athletes participated in the event and had to go through stringent testing protocols before and after entering Japan.

“The organizing committee here not only demonstrated the ability to stage an event on the field of play, it also demonstrated the ability to deliver across other complexities including, of course, the COVID-19 protocols,” Coe told a news conference.

All participants, including staff and media, had to log their temperature and answer a health questionnaire daily in the week leading up to the event, either through a mobile app or on paper.

Organizers urged spectators not to come and watch the race, with event staff holding signs reading: “To prevent infection, please refrain from watching.”

Nevertheless, a handful of observers turned out for a glimpse of the action.

Staff wore masks and sometimes face shields and plastic gloves.

Japan is battling a resurgence in coronavirus infections, and organizers are wrestling with how to hold the event safely with about 15,000 athletes expected to participate.

They have already decided to bar international spectators, and have said they would decide by June how many local spectators will be allowed into venues — if any.

“Everybody of course, the athletes particularly, will hope for spectators but I think they recognize that if that’s not possible, then the games will still take place and the competition will still be extremely good,” Coe said.

“And of course the athletes are now used to competing in stadia where there aren’t any crowds.”

Coe, who was the chief organizer of the 2012 London Games, said it was important that the Olympics were delivered successfully and safely.

“I know that each and every international sports federation are absolutely committed to adhering to the protocols and the processes with rigor,” the Briton added.

“Not just to protect themselves but acutely conscious that we have a responsibility in our behavior to protect local communities as well.”

The Olympic marathon and race walk events are scheduled to be held from Aug. 5 to 8 in Sapporo.

They were originally scheduled to be held in Tokyo but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided in October 2019 to move the events to Sapporo to avoid the worst of Tokyo’s summer heat.

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