Going for gold under the cloud of COVID-19 makes the Tokyo Olympics a Games like no other. This newsletter is here to help you make sense of it all, with original stories from Globe reporters in Canada and Tokyo, tracking Team Canada’s medal wins, and past Olympic moments from iconic performances. Tokyo Olympics Update is sent every Tuesday and Friday in July and twice daily during the Games, which run from July 23 to Aug. 8. You can sign up here. Let us know what you think by e-mailing email@example.com.
Good afternoon, and welcome to the latest edition of The Globe’s Olympic newsletter.
Holocaust joke and new COVID-19 cases latest troubles on eve of opening ceremony
The Olympic motto is “faster, higher, stronger.”
Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics chose “Unity in Diversity” as their Games’ tagline. They may have wished they had stuck to the original.
On the eve of the opening ceremony, officials were publicly apologizing for Holocaust jokes, dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases, and facing protesters and petitions demanding cancellation of the Games.
Kentaro Kobayashi, director of the opening and closing ceremonies, was dismissed after video surfaced of a 1998 comedy act in which he said, “Let’s play Holocaust.” The remark was revealed after the resignation this week of Keigo Oyamada, a composer for the opening ceremony, amid public outrage over comments he made in the mid-1990s describing how he bullied classmates with disabilities.
On Tuesday, children’s author Nobumi withdrew from an Olympic cultural event after public criticism over previous comments seen as discriminatory toward children with congenital disorders.
All of this is taking place in the shadow of COVID-19, which has now affected more than 100 Olympic participants as cases in Tokyo surged to nearly 2,000.
Read Nathan VanderKlippe’s full report from the Tokyo Games here.
How Team Canada is shaping up
The Tokyo Games are a day away from officially opening. Here’s how Team Canada is looking.
- Montreal’s Félix Auger-Aliassime will face two-time defending gold medalist Andy Murray of Britain in his Olympic debut, and he’s determined to not let his first Games experience distract him from the task at hand. “It’s an incredible challenge. That’s a match everyone will want to see,” the young tennis star said from Tokyo’s Ariake Tennis Park, where the tennis matches begin on Saturday. “I love opening matches like this. Having beaten him once last year means I go into the match with more confidence than if I had never faced him.”
- U.S. pitcher Monica Abbott tossed a one-hitter Thursday morning and the United States defeated Canada 1-0 in Olympic softball in Fukushima. Abbott was clinging to a one-run lead when she walked Canada’s Jen Gilbert leading off the sixth inning, and pinch-hitter Sara Groenewegen lined a 0-2 pitch to the right-centre field gap. Centre fielder Haylie McCleney picked up the ball at the wall and fired to Ali Aguilar. The second baseman made a perfect one-hop throw to catcher Aubree Munro, who moved up the third-base line and swiped a tag on sliding pinch-runner Joey Lye for the out. Trying to regain the gold medal it lost to Japan in the 2008 final, the U.S. improved to 2-0 while Canada sits at 1-1. After a day off for the opening ceremony in Tokyo, the tournament shifts to Yokohama on Saturday.
- Canadian athletes have mixed emotions when it comes to performing at venues that will be mostly devoid of fans because of COVID-19 precautions. Sprinter Andre De Grasse said the millions of fans watching on television should be enough to get the juices flowing. “That will motivate me, remembering a lot of people are watching on TV,” said the 26-year-old from Toronto, before adding with a laugh: “So don’t blow it.” Wrestler Erica Wiebe is disappointed that she won’t be able to perform in front of Japanese fans, who are keen supporters of women’s wrestling, which doesn’t get much global attention. “I was preparing to compete in a stadium environment that would be incredibly loud,” said the 32-year-old from Ottawa, who won gold in the 75-kilogram category in 2016.
- The wait is finally over for co-captain Nate Hirayama and the Canadian men’s rugby sevens team. After failing to qualify for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the team booked its ticket to Tokyo in July, 2019, going undefeated at the Rugby Americas North Sevens tournament in the Cayman Islands. But making their mark during the three-day competition in Tokyo won’t be easy for the Canadian men, who were eighth overall in the World Series standings when the remaining four events of the 2019-20 season was cancelled because of the pandemic. Canada is playing in Pool B with Fiji and Britain, the two finalists in Rio, and Japan, which finished fourth. Hirayama’s team takes the field at Tokyo Stadium on Monday at 9:30 a.m. in Tokyo (Sunday 8:30 p.m. ET) against Britain.
- Canada’s rowers had been all but shut out of the medals on the murky waters of Rio de Janeiro’s urban Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon at the 2016 Olympics. But Canada is confident and re-energized heading into the Tokyo Olympics with 10 boats in the running – the most since its six-medal 1996 Atlanta Games – when competition begins Friday at Sea Forest Waterway.
Smith, Carlos among signatories asking IOC not to punish athletes over activism
More than 150 athletes, educators and activists – including Americans Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Gwen Berry – sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee Thursday asking it not to punish athletes who demonstrate at the Tokyo Games. The letter urges the IOC not to sanction athletes for kneeling or raising a fist, as Smith and Carlos did at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Berry, a hammer thrower, has said she intends to use her platform to point out racial inequality in the United States. She turned away from the flag when the national anthem played while she was on the medals stand at the U.S. Olympic trials last month.
The IOC has made changes to its rule that bans political demonstrations at the Games, and has said it will allow them on the field, so long as they come before the start of action. Players on Olympic women’s soccer teams took to their knees Wednesday before their games on the opening night for that sport. The IOC is not backing down from the prohibition of demonstrations on the medal podium, but has left some of the decision-making about punishment up to individual sports federations.
As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, something unexpected was happening in track and field. Times were improving in almost every distance. Some suspected better shoe technology, better running surfaces, and perhaps less wear and tear on bodies because of the pandemic. But there was also a more ominous reason: For the better part of three months during the pandemic, testing for performance-enhancing drugs came to a virtual standstill worldwide. Not a single one of the approximately 11,000 athletes competing in Tokyo has been held to the highest standards of the world anti-doping code over the critical 16-month period leading into the Olympics. “Unless you’re a fool, you’d have to be concerned,” said Travis Tygart, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Just a day after saying it would withdraw its five athletes from the Games over COVID-19 concerns, Guinea reversed the decision on Thursday. The original decision caused the IOC to send a letter to Guinea’s Olympic authorities saying it was “extremely surprised by the last-minute decision.” Sports Minister Sanoussy Bantama Sow said Thursday that the government had now agreed the athletes could participate in the Games having received guarantees from health authorities.
Two more members of the Czech Olympic team have tested positive for COVID-19, taking the total to six, and the country’s Olympic Committee has launched an investigation into a charter flight bringing athletes to Tokyo. The infected athletes were on a charter plane that took part of the Czech team to Tokyo last Friday, together with the first identified case, doctor Vlastimil Voracek, the Czech committee said. The doctor was not vaccinated against COVID-19, Czech media reported, although that was not a condition of participation.
Summer Games time capsule
July 27, 1996: In a blink, Donovan Bailey becomes the fastest man in history
A look of determination was swapped for elation across Donovan Bailey’s face as he sprinted through the finish line of the men’s 100-metre final, momentum and adrenaline taking him another 40-odd metres beyond the line while the rest of the field stopped. The clock read 9.84 seconds, a world record and still-standing high-water mark in Canadian track.
The win was widely seen as a repudiation of Canada’s image on the track, which had been tarnished eight years earlier after Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids just days after winning the 100-metre final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Leading up to the 1996 Atlanta Games, Bailey had already eclipsed Johnson’s mark of 9.95 seconds with a 9.91 sprint at the Canadian national championships, making him one of the predicted favourites for the Olympics. His gold medal, one of two in his career – the other coming a week later in the 4x100-metre relay – solidified him as one of the best sprinters in history. His record stood until 1999, when American Maurice Greene ran 9.79 seconds.
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