Opinion: Olympics will be worth the wait following postponement
Someday relatively soon, a Summer Olympics will take place in Tokyo. It won't begin on July 24, as we know after officials postponed the games on Tuesday, but it will happen. In the midst of sadness, uncertainty and fear over the worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus, this is where an Olympic conversation should start today: with the hope and relief the largest regularly scheduled gathering of the world will bring, when it comes.
Can you imagine the scene when the Olympic flame is brought into the stadium in Tokyo next spring or next summer to signal the beginning of the 2020 Olympic Games – in 2021? How strange, and yet how exhilarating.
The athletes of the world forced this change upon the International Olympic Committee and the various national Olympic committees and sports federations, and they will be the ones to revel in it when the moment arrives. They were the ones who were concerned that they were endangering not only their own health but the health of those around them by continuing to try to train in the midst of a pandemic. They were the ones who didn’t want to defy shelter-in-place orders to keep their Olympic dream alive. They were the ones who wanted to be good global citizens.
It’s now our fervent hope that when the Olympics comes, it will have been worth the wait.
Clearly, any Olympics, much less any sporting event, will not – or should not – go on if there still is a danger that the virus is among us. But presuming the world is back to some semblance of normalcy in 2021, the Tokyo Games will be there to formally announce it.
Ironically enough, these were being called “The Recovery Games” in Japan, referring to the country’s tsunami and earthquake in March 2011 and the subsequent meltdown of three nuclear reactors. Recovery, indeed.
OFFICIAL: 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed
NANCY ARMOUR: Postponing Olympics is right, even if it feels wrong
WHAT WE KNOW: What happens next with the Olympics
“One of the great things about an Olympics is all the stories about athletes overcoming adversity,” American Olympic swimming star Katie Ledecky told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Now everyone in the world is facing so much adversity. When the Olympics are held, it will truly be a celebration of the entire world coming out of this adversity and coming together. After all the social distancing, in a year’s time, the hope is that we’ll all be together, celebrating together.”
It’s mind-boggling to think of everything that must be done to move a Summer Olympics from one year to the next. It’s a massive undertaking that has never been done before. There have been cancellations for World War I and II and political boycotts in 1976, 1980 and 1984, but nothing like this. It involves billions of dollars, hundreds of structures and hundreds of thousands of people. It’s venues, an Olympic village, hotels, tickets, flights, spectators, organizers, the news media, everyone. It’s truly overwhelming.
That said, if any city can pull this off, Tokyo can. Organizers have already spent a fortune, well over $12 billion, to get ready for the games, and they’re about to spend more. But it’s a good guess to expect that Tokyo will be as ready for its Olympics as any city could be, whenever it is.
An Olympics is a sporting event, certainly, but it’s often so much more. In this way, Tokyo has been through this before.
The 1964 Games, the first to be held in Asia, were Japan’s coming-out party to the world just 19 years after the end of World War II. Organizers of those games met the symbolism of the moment by selecting a runner named Yoshinori Sakai to be their final torchbearer to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony.
Why the 19-year-old Sakai? His age gives it away. He was born on Aug. 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on that city.
Legendary U.S. swimmer Donna de Varona, who won two gold medals as a teenager at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, said Tuesday that she remembers traveling around Japan two years before those games on a promotional swimming tour.
"The country was being transformed,” she said. “They had a two-lane road from the airport and there was only one hotel that still had bullet holes in it. Then it all changed. They’ll find a way. They’ll find a way.”