Here’s what you need to know:The opening ceremony that Kentaro Kobayashi planned will go ahead as scheduled at the Olympic Stadium despite him being fired.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
TOKYO — Thursday was another warmup day for the Olympics, a second day in the spotlight for softball, and a first for men’s soccer.
On the diamond, the favored United States, 2-0 winners over Italy on Wednesday, won an even closer game, 1-0, over Canada to remain unbeaten. Japan won its game, 3-2, over Mexico in extra innings and appears to be on a collision course with the U.S. for the gold medal game on Tuesday.
In soccer, Mexico looked impressive beating France, 4-1, but a pretournament favorite, Spain, could only manage a draw against Egypt, a team they were widely expected to defeat.
And Richarlison had a first-half hat trick for Brazil, the defending champion, in a 4-1 win against Germany.
Off the field, Olympic organizers dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the opening ceremony, after video emerged of him making fun of the Holocaust. The ceremony that he planned will go ahead as scheduled.
Kentaro Kobayashi is the second creative director of the opening ceremony to step down.Credit…Kimimasa Mayama/EPA, via Shutterstock
Follow our live coverage of the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics.
TOKYO — Just a day before the opening ceremony of the delayed Tokyo Olympics, organizers of the Games dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the ceremony, after video footage emerged of him making fun of the Holocaust in a comedic act in the 1990s.
At a press briefing on Thursday, Japan’s Olympics minister, Seiko Hashimoto, sounding beleaguered after a run of scandals that have plagued the Games and the creative staff of the opening ceremony in particular, said she had learned about the routine on Wednesday. In the skit, Kobayashi joked about “massacring Jews” while miming the act of cutting up human figures made of paper. The organizing committee, she said, decided to dismiss him “immediately.”
In a statement, Kobayashi said that he had regretted the routine after he made it and “started aiming to create comedies that don’t hurt others.”
“I understand that my choice of words was wrong, and regret it,” his statement said. “I apologize to those who felt displeasure.”
The organizing committee, in a statement, said Kobayashi had “made a mockery of a painful historic fact in the past” and apologized “for having caused troubles and concerns to many stakeholders, and residents of Tokyo and Japan.”
The swift decision to dismiss Kobayashi was in contrast to the resignation this week of Keigo Oyamada, a composer who had written music for the opening ceremony, after excerpts from interviews he had given in the 1990s confessing to severe bullying and abuse of disabled classmates surfaced on social media.
Oyamada at first apologized, and it appeared he would keep his job before a widespread campaign on social media prompted him to resign. “We should have dismissed Mr. Oyamada sooner,” Hashimoto said.
Kobayashi is the second creative director of the opening ceremony to step down. In March, Hiroshi Sasaki resigned after a magazine revealed that he had compared a popular comedian and plus-size fashion designer to a pig when proposing her participation in the ceremony. Sasaki’s resignation came just weeks after Yoshiro Mori, the former president of the Tokyo organizing committee, also resigned after making sexist comments about women.
On Twitter, some people questioned why Kobayashi was being fired for an old routine, but others said his dismissal was not sufficient. “Kentaro Kobayashi’s dismissal after the discovery of the Holocaust skit in the past is a quick measure,” wrote one poster. “But are they going to perform what this guy directed at tomorrow’s opening ceremony? Is the problem solved just because he was dismissed?”
Asked if she regretted going forward with the Games amid the unfurling scandals and rising coronavirus cases in the Olympic Village, Hashimoto acknowledged that the Tokyo organizers are “facing every single possible problem.” But, she said, “we want you to remember Tokyo for overcoming a lot of issues and having success.”
Paul Bernardoni of France makes a save during the game against Mexico.Credit…Dan Mullan/Getty Images
CHOFU, Japan — Mexico, the 2012 Olympic men’s soccer gold medalist, opened its campaign to regain that title by thrashing France, 4-1, on Thursday at Tokyo Stadium.
Alexis Vega scored on a first-half header and Sebastian Cordova, Uriel Antuna and Erick Aguirre added goals after halftime as Mexico outclassed a French team featuring two stars from Mexico’s Liga MX.
One of them, André-Pierre Gignac, scored on a penalty kick in the 69th minute after Randal Kolo Muani was scythed down in the Mexican box.
Gignac, a 35-year-old striker who has played more than 200 matches since 2015 for the Mexican club Tigres, is playing in the Olympics as one of France’s three overage players. On Thursday, he was a brooding, vocal but poorly supplied presence, chatting with the Mexico players in Spanish, challenging his teammates in French and, at one point, excoriating the Australian referee for a perceived injustice in English.
“This will be a special game for me because my sons are Mexican so I’m excited about it,” he had told reporters this week. In the end, it was one he probably would like to forget quickly; his team can still advance with better performances against South Africa and host Japan in its next two group games.
Mexico’s thumping of France, a country known for its strong youth teams, was not Thursday’s only surprise: Australia beat Argentina, 2-0, in Sapporo, and Spain, which had called in a handful of players from the senior team that advanced to the European Championship semifinals only two few weeks ago, was held to a scoreless tie by a defensive-minded Egypt.
In Yokohama, Brazil, the reigning Olympic men’s champion, outclassed an out of sorts Germany, 4-2, in the same stadium where it had beaten the same opponent to secure its fifth and most recent World Cup crown in 2002. Unlike on that sultry night two decades ago, the game was played in front of empty stands and without any competitive tension.
Richarlison, one of Brazil’s three overage players, was the game’s star performer. The Everton striker scored the team’s opening three goals inside 30 minutes as Germany, playing with a roster of largely little known players, crumbled in the face of the early onslaught. Only a penalty save from goalkeeper Florian Mueller prevented there from facing a four-goal deficit before halftime.
Monica Abbott celebrated with teammates during the U.S. win.Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
TOKYO — Behind the powerful left arm of Monica Abbott, the top-ranked United States softball team sneaked by third-ranked Canada, 1-0, on Thursday at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium.
Abbott tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing just one hit, walking three and striking out nine. The day before, her fellow American ace Cat Osterman tossed six scoreless innings and struck out nine while surrendering just one hit to Italy. Abbott came in for the final inning to secure the 2-0 win.
So in two games, Osterman, 38, and Abbott, 35 — who both played in the last Olympic softball tournament, in 2008 — have combined to allow just two hits, give up three walks and strike out a whopping 21 batters.
Pumping 70-mile-an-hour fastballs, Abbott vexed Canada’s offense all game on Thursday. And when she did cough up a hit in the sixth inning, her teammates came to the rescue.
With a runner on first base, Canada’s starting pitcher, Sara Groenewegen, smacked a double into the right-center field gap. But center fielder Haylie McCleney chased down the ball and fired it to second baseman Ali Aguilar, who relayed it to catcher Aubree Munro in time to nab a sliding Joey Lye at home.
The defensive play preserved Abbott’s gem, and Ken Eriksen, the team’s head coach, stuck with her for the final inning.
On offense, the U.S. threatened with base runners throughout the game but struggled again to convert its chances. Its lone run came in the fifth inning, when McCleney reached on a one-out single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Janie Reed.
Facing Jenna Caira, Amanda Chidester slapped a ball to right field for a single that scored McCleney. Standing at first base, Chidester pumped her arms and shouted toward her teammates.
No softball games are scheduled for Friday as the tournament shifts to Yokohama Baseball Stadium, closer to Tokyo. The U.S. will next play on Saturday, facing Mexico. After each team plays five games, the top two teams in the six-team field advance to the gold medal game.
The U.S. women’s soccer team after its 3-0 loss to Sweden on Wednesday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
TOKYO — The U.S. women’s soccer team arrived at the Olympics full of confidence, riding a two-year unbeaten streak. It woke up Thursday morning wondering how everything had gone so wrong in its opening game, a 3-0 defeat against Sweden.
“I don’t even know how many goals we have given up this whole year,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. (The answer is one, in 12 matches.)
“I don’t remember the last time we gave up a goal,” she added. “So to give up three is not great.”
What happens now? The good news for the United States, as several veteran players pointed out on Wednesday night, is that all is not lost. The team will move on quickly to its next two group-stage games, against New Zealand on Saturday and Australia on Tuesday.
Better efforts in those will ensure a place among the eight teams that advance to the medal round, a knockout stage where fitness, experience and talent can make even a disturbing stumble a distant memory.
Trouble could lurk after that: The runner-up in the Americans’ group would play the winner of the group that includes the Netherlands (which hung 10 goals on Zambia on Wednesday) or Brazil (and the former United States coach Pia Sundhage). But those are worries for next week.
“We put ourselves in a big hole,” U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “But we are the only ones who can get ourselves out of it.”
For the moment, the U.S. players, speaking with either sage wisdom or wishful thinking, are preaching patience.
“We weren’t going to breeze through six games no matter what,” forward Christen Press said. “So here we are.”
Rapinoe, after watching Wednesday’s implosion, seemed to speak to her team, its fans and everyone else preaching doom when she said, “You want to put a mirror in front of everyone and say: ‘Relax. We’re good.’”
By next week, everyone will find out if she is right.
Sailors practicing Thursday on the waters off Enoshima, southwest of Tokyo, where the sailing competition will be held.Credit…James Hill for The New York TimesVolunteers getting the field in shape for the men’s soccer match between New Zealand and South Korea at Ibaraki Kashima Stadium.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesNaomi Osaka will begin her bid for a gold medal with a first-round match this weekend.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
There is less than a day to the opening ceremony, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are abuzz. Athletes are at training venues working to get in any last-minute tweaks before the start of their competitions, officials are checking to make sure everything is safe and secure, and volunteers are running around to make sure things go smoothly. Our photographers bring you an inside look at what it has been like to be on the ground.
Officials hosed down the hot sand as the Canadian beach volleyball player Brandie Wilkerson practiced with her partner Heather Bansley at the Shiokaze Park Beach Volleyball training venue on Monday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesSecurity personnel at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, where the opening ceremony will be held Friday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesThe Romanian women’s 3×3 basketball team practicing at Chuo Sports Center on Monday.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesSkateboarders in the men’s street competition during practice at the Ariake Urban Sports Park on Wednesday.Credit…James Hill for The New York TimesThe Brazilian surfer Italo Ferreira trained at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach on Tuesday.Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York TimesAriake Tennis Park was quiet except for some athletes getting in a training session.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesAthletes will parade through a largely empty Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, as spectators have been barred from most of the Games. Performers at this year’s lineup have not yet been announced.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
After a yearlong delay, the opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is almost here. But with social distancing and no fans, the ceremony, much like the Games, will look a lot different.
When is the opening ceremony?
The opening ceremony for the Olympics is scheduled for Friday night in Tokyo. But the 13-hour time difference with Tokyo means it will be Friday morning in the Eastern time zone of the United States.
How can I watch it?
NBC will have a live morning broadcast of the ceremony starting at 6:55 a.m Eastern time, marking the first time the network has ever had a live morning broadcast of the event. Savannah Guthrie, the anchor for “Today,” and NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico will host NBC’s coverage. The ceremony can also be streamed on the NBC Sports App and on NBCOlympics.com
Afterward, NBC will also broadcast a special edition of “Today” that includes athlete interviews, followed by an Olympic daytime show.
Similar to years past, the network will air a packaged prime time version of the ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday. Coverage will also be replayed again overnight for viewers who missed earlier broadcasts.
Who is leading Team U.S.A. in the Parade of Nations?
One of the highlights of the opening ceremony is the Parade of Nations. U.S. women’s basketball player Sue Bird, who has won gold four times, and baseball player Eddy Alvarez, a 2014 silver medalist in speedskating, will be the flag bearers for the United States and will lead the delegation of more than 230 U.S. players. (There are 613 athletes total on Team U.S.A.)
“It’s an incredible honor to be selected the flag bearer for Team USA,” Bird said in a statement.
Alvarez, too, said he was humbled by the selection. “It is an honor and a privilege to be named as one of the flag bearers by my fellow Team U.S.A. athletes for the opening ceremony. Being a first-generation Cuban-American, my story represents the American dream,” Alvarez said.
What are some of the changes to the ceremony this year?
Athletes will parade through a largely empty Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, as spectators have been barred from most of the Games. Performers at this year’s lineup have not yet been announced. And NBC has no plans to add background noise that mimics the fans in the stands throughout the Games, NBC Olympics executive producer Molly Solomon said during a call last week. That’s a departure from last year, when most broadcasters would pipe in recorded fans for games during the pandemic.
The opening ceremony comes at a time when games have already been underway in Tokyo, and anxieties about the virus are high. Tokyo’s infection rate hit a six-month high. Adding to that anxiety is the flurry of announcements about Olympic participants testing positive, including those inside the Olympic Village.
What else should I know?
Other news has also overshadowed the event in recent days.
On Thursday, organizers of the Games dismissed Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the ceremony, after video footage emerged of him making fun of the Holocaust in a comedic act in the 1990s.
Mr. Kobayashi’s dismissal followed the resignation of the composer who had written music for the opening ceremony, after excerpts from interviews he had given in the 1990s confessing to severe bullying and abuse of disabled classmates surfaced on social media.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of the Australian state of Queensland, during a news conference Wednesday in Tokyo.Credit…Franck Robichon/EPA, via Shutterstock
The male Australian Olympic official who secured the 2032 games for his country rebuked a leading female politician and insisted that she attend the opening ceremony in Tokyo, prompting disbelief and outrage in Australia.
The awkward exchange occurred in front of television cameras on Wednesday night at a news conference after Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, was confirmed as the host of the 2032 Games.
John Coates, the president of the Australian Olympic Committee, told Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of Queensland, that she could not spend her time “hiding” in her room.
Palaszczuk, 51, had traveled to Japan to secure the bid and drawn criticism at home, because most Australians are unable to leave or return to the country because of coronavirus border restrictions. She had previously promised not to attend any Tokyo Olympics events.
Coates, 71, took issue with that, telling her at the news conference: “You are going to the opening ceremony. I am still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group. So far as I understand, there will be an opening and a closing ceremony in 2032.”
He extended his insistence to other Queensland politicians who had come with Palaszczuk, and said: “All of you are going to get along there and understand the traditional parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony, so none of you are staying behind and hiding in your rooms, all right?”
Palaszczuk declined to say why she would not attend the ceremony. Coates, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, pressed her, saying, “You’ve never been to an opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, have you?”
After Palaszczuk shook her head, Coates continued to insist: “You don’t know the protocols.” Because Olympic opening ceremonies are a major responsibility for organizers and cost $75 million to $100 million to put on, Coates said, “it’s my very strong recommendation” that Palaszczuk and other officials attend.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday morning, Palaszczuk downplayed the exchange, saying that Brisbane was “now a part of the I.O.C. family, and I’m just going to do what John Coates said.”
She added that Brisbane would not have been selected as 2032 host “if we didn’t have John Coates.” But when asked directly whether she would attend Friday’s opening ceremony, she said she did not want to offend the I.O.C. or the Japanese government, and said, “I’ll let them sort that out.”
Asked in an interview on Thursday morning whether he had “overruled” Palaszczuk, Coates chuckled and said: “Yes, I did do that.” Hours later, he released a statement saying that Palaszczuk would attend the ceremony but that it “has always been her choice,” and that his comments at the news conference had been “completely misrepresented.”
The exchange drew outrage in Australia, with online commentators labeling Coates’s behavior “appalling” and “arrogant” and asserting that he would not have made the same comments to a male premier.
Leigh Russell, a former chief executive of Swimming Australia, wrote on Twitter: “This is disgusting. And yet another example of how women are treated in sport.”
“What a condescending, patronizing man,” Jane Caro, a feminist commentator, tweeted. “How dare he tick off the Premier of Queensland publicly as if she was a naughty schoolgirl?”
The Australian Olympic Committee did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Many Tokyoites seemed eager to leave the city before the start of an Olympics that have been essentially closed to the public because of coronavirus restrictions.Credit…James Hill for The New York Times
TOKYO — For many, seeing an Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games, some residents couldn’t get out of town fast enough.
Roads out of the city were jammed on Thursday morning, and people packed onto flights to popular vacation destinations. Many Tokyoites seemed eager to leave before the start of a Games that have been essentially closed to the public because of tight restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The opening ceremony on Friday will have an audience of only 950 people in a stadium that was built for the Olympics and able to hold 68,000. Spectators are barred from nearly all competitions, a vast majority of which will be held in Tokyo.
There are not many other reasons to stay in Tokyo at the moment: The weather is scorching, with temperatures in the 90s and humidity at over 50 percent. The city has been under a state of emergency for weeks in an effort to curb a surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the contagious Delta variant. Most restaurants and bars close at 8 p.m. And road closures for the Games have backed up traffic on some streets in the city center.
Highways outside Tokyo were gridlocked for miles on Thursday. Flights to the cooler climes of the northern island of Hokkaido, a popular summer getaway, were nearly sold out despite government requests to curb travel from the capital to stop the virus’s spread.
For those inclined to get away, the timing couldn’t be better. Before the originally scheduled start of the Games last summer, in an effort to alleviate congestion, the government changed the dates of two national holidays so that they would coincide with the opening ceremony. When the pandemic forced the postponement of the Games, the four-day holiday rolled over to 2021 — and many in Japan have been more than happy to take advantage.
Taylor Crabb in 2019. He will be replaced by Tri Bourne.Credit…Martin Rose/Getty Images
United States men’s beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb will miss the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for the coronavirus upon his arrival to Japan.
Crabb, 29, almost didn’t make it to the Olympics at all.
Crabb was the “subject of a code of conduct review” that led to requirements being put in place that he needed to meet in order to compete, U.S.A. Volleyball said in an email. They declined to provide more details but said he was in “good standing” with the organization.
The Southern California News Group reported, citing documents it saw, that Crabb had violated a previous ban for misconduct involving a minor age girl and was suspended through September 2021. An arbitrator shortened his suspension, allowing him to qualify for the Games.
“I’ve faced adversity before, and I will face it again, but it doesn’t take the sting out of the situation,” Crabb said in a post on his Instagram account.
Crabb, who said he was vaccinated, was set to compete with his partner, Jake Gibb, on Sunday. He will be replaced by Tri Bourne. Bourne, 32, has partnered with Crabb’s brother, Trevor, for the past three years.
So far, at least 91 people with Olympic credentials, including 10 athletes, have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
Crabb joins a growing list of members of Team U.S.A. who will be left out of the Games. On July 19, Katie Lou Samuelson, a 3×3 basketball player, tested positive. And on July 20, Kara Eaker, an alternate on the U.S. gymnastics team, tested positive.
Outside the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. The decision to hold events without spectators has proved divisive.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Having delayed these games by a year because of the pandemic, Tokyo organizers made some major concessions for the event to happen this year, including barring most spectators, which has proved divisive. But the steps have done little to assuage the concerns of people across Japan, where numbers of cases are rising.
Athletes who have tested positive for the coronavirus
Scientists say that positive tests are expected with daily testing programs, even among the vaccinated. Little information on severity has been released, though public reports suggest that cases among athletes have generally been mild or asymptomatic. Some athletes who have tested positive have not been publicly identified.
Russian Olympic Committee
Russian Olympic Committee
Katie Lou Samuelson
Alex de Minaur
Among athletes, officials and others working at the Games, 91 people have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday, including 10 athletes, according to New York Times reporting. That tally does not include those who tested positive before arrival in Japan. Two players on Mexico’s baseball team tested positive before the team’s scheduled departure to Tokyo, forcing the team into quarantine in Mexico City. Several players, including some from the U.S., will miss the Games after positive tests.
Nippon Budokan in Chiyoda ward in Tokyo on Sunday.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
The discovery of isolated coronavirus cases, even in vaccinated athletes at the Olympics in Tokyo, is entirely expected, scientists say, and not necessarily a cause for alarm.
“This isn’t really that much of a surprise,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan.
Still, these cases do raise thorny questions about how to design testing programs — and respond to test results — at this phase of the pandemic, in which the patchy rollout of vaccines means that some people and communities are well protected from the virus while others remain at risk.
As Dr. Rasmussen put it: “When does a positive test really indicate that there’s a problem?”
Covid-19 tests, which were once profoundly limited, are now widely available in most of the developed world, making it possible for organizations — including private employers, schools, professional sports leagues and the Olympics organizers — to routinely screen people for the virus.
Vaccination is not required for Olympic participants, and officials are relying heavily on testing to keep the virus at bay in Tokyo. Those headed to the Games must submit two negative tests taken on separate days within 96 hours of leaving for Japan regardless of vaccination status, according to the Olympic playbooks, or manuals.
At least one of the two tests must be taken within 72 hours of departure. Participants are again tested upon arrival at the airport.
Athletes, coaches and officials are also required to take daily antigen tests, which are less sensitive than P.C.R. tests but are generally quicker and cheaper. (Olympic staff and volunteers may be tested less frequently, depending on their level of interaction with athletes and officials.) If a test comes back unclear or positive, a P.C.R. test is administered.
“Each layer of filtering is a reduction in the risk for everybody else,” Brian McCloskey, the chair of the Independent Expert Panel of the International Olympic Committee, told reporters this week, adding that the number of confirmed infections so far are “lower than we expected.”
Questions about transmission remain unsettled. Vaccinated people with asymptomatic or breakthrough infections may still be able to pass the virus on to others, but it is not yet clear how often that happens. Until that science is more definitive, or until vaccination rates rise, it is best to err on the side of safety and regular testing, many experts said.
But when you look that hard for infections — especially in a group of people who have recently flown in from all over the globe and have had varying levels of access to vaccines — you’re all but destined to find some.
Balloons floating over the stadium at the opening of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.Credit…Donald Uhrbrock/Getty Images
TOKYO — Under crisp blue skies in October 1964, Emperor Hirohito of Japan stood before a reborn nation to declare the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games. A voice that the Japanese public had first heard announcing the country’s surrender in World War II now echoed across a packed stadium alive with anticipation.
On Friday, Tokyo will inaugurate another Summer Olympics, after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hirohito’s grandson, Emperor Naruhito, will be in the stands for the opening ceremony, but it will be barred to spectators as an anxious nation grapples with yet another wave of infections.
For both Japan and the Olympic movement, the delayed 2020 Games may represent less a moment of hope for the future than the distinct possibility of decline. And to the generation of Japanese who look back fondly on the 1964 Games, the prospect of a diminished, largely unwelcome Olympics is a grave disappointment.
“Everyone in Japan was burning with excitement about the Games,” said Kazuo Inoue, 69, who vividly recalls being glued to the new color television in his family’s home in Tokyo in 1964. “That is missing, so that is a little sad.”
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are often regarded as the point when Japan pivoted into prosperity. In 2021, the country is again approaching a crossroad.
Kang Chae-young, a member of South Korea’s formidable national archery team, practices in her home country in April.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
For South Korean archers, winning Olympic gold medals feels almost like a given — they have claimed 23 of the 34 golds awarded in the sport since 1984.
It’s getting to the Games that’s tough.
Just ask Chang Hye-jin, who won two gold medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, or Ku Bon-chan, who pulled off the same feat on the men’s side. Neither champion made the cut this year.
Or ask Kim Je-deok, 17, who this spring successfully navigated the crucible of South Korea’s national team selection tournament, which gathers the country’s top 200 archers to vie for six tickets — for three men and three women — to the world’s biggest sporting event, with no regard for rankings or past performance.
“Once-in-a-lifetime luck came to me,” said Kim, who recently overcame a shoulder injury that would have kept him out of the Olympics if the event hadn’t been postponed by a year.
The South Korean archers fired thousands of arrows each over several rounds of grueling competition spread out over eight anxious months. For those who prevailed, the hard part might now be over.
The South Korean archery team has won gold medals at every Summer Olympics since 1984. The women’s team has been particularly dominant, winning gold eight straight times since the team event made its debut in 1988 in Seoul. At the 2016 Games, the men’s and women’s teams swept the gold medals in the team and individual events.
The team is famous in the archery world for the depth and detail of its preparations. National coaches employ wind machines and pump artificial noise (crowd sounds, camera shutters) through speakers to simulate adverse environmental conditions athletes might encounter in competitions.
“Our goal is zero-defect training,” said Jang Young-sool, the vice president of the Korea Archery Association.
Matthew Centrowitz, right, at the Track and Field trials last month.Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times
The day after Friday’s opening ceremony, Matthew Centrowitz, the reigning Olympic champion in the men’s 1,500 meters, will toe the starting line to chase the American record in the men’s mile — at home in Portland, Ore.
The pandemic has altered countless athletes’ pre-Olympic routines, and many, like Centrowitz, are delaying their departures to Japan. Athletes competing at the Tokyo Games cannot move into Olympic housing until five days before their competitions start. In Centrowitz’s case, the opening heats of the men’s 1,500 meters are not until Aug. 3, so he has decided to cram in one final stateside tuneup before he makes the trip.
“First time in my career I’ve publicly broadcasted a record attempt,” Centrowitz wrote in an Instagram post, adding that it had come together “last second.”
Track and field occupies the second half of the Olympic schedule, which means that American athletes have been watching the run-up to the Games from a distance. Many are improvising — and hoping for the best — amid an onslaught of pandemic-related protocols put in place by the Japanese government and Olympic officials.
In a conference call with reporters on Thursday morning, Sydney McLaughlin, the newly minted world-record holder in the women’s 400-meter hurdles, said she would be leaving for Tokyo on Saturday. McLaughlin, who has said she is vaccinated, confirmed that she would be staying in the athletes’ village, where there have already been positive cases.
“I think for all of us, it’s taking the precautions and doing the things that we know are going to keep us and our teammates and everybody safe,” she said. “I can’t control everything. But I can control mentally how I deal with it and how I handle it, and I guess for me that’s knowing that I’m doing everything that I can and trusting that God’s going to take care of the rest.”
Will Claye, a triple jumper and three-time Olympic medalist, said it was unfortunate that a number of first-time Olympians would be missing the opportunity to march in the opening ceremony. He recalled his experience in 2012 at the London Games.
“I walked and was able to meet and take pictures with some of my idols,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, because you never know if you’ll get back to this stage.”
Of course, nothing about these Olympics is normal, and the Games will already be underway by the time Centrowitz steps onto a high school track in Portland on Saturday night. Alan Webb set the American record for the mile when he ran it in 3 minutes 46.91 seconds in 2007.
Centrowitz will take a crack at it in an event that will be live-streamed, and he will do so with the help of people who will be absent from the Olympics: fans.