Olympic torch relay begins after year’s delay

By AFP 19m in the past

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by Andrew McKirdy with Sara Hussein in Tokyo

TOKYO – The Tokyo Olympics torch relay obtained underway on Thursday after a year’s coronavirus delay, with officers hoping it is going to be a “ray of light” after the issues attributable to the pandemic.

Spectators had been barred from the departure ceremony and first leg over ongoing fears concerning the coronavirus, which pressured the 2020 Games’ historic postponement a year in the past.

But they’ll line the remainder of the route throughout the 121-day relay, which can criss-cross Japan and contain 10,000 runners earlier than the torch lights the Olympic cauldron on July 23.

Organisers are hoping the relay will dispel doubts about holding the Games throughout a pandemic, and Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto referred to as the flame “a ray of light at the end of the darkness”.

“This little flame never lost hope and it waited for this day like a cherry blossom bud just about to bloom,” she instructed the ceremony at Fukushima’s J-Village sports activities complicated, which was a base for responding to the 2011 nuclear catastrophe.

Azusa Iwashimizu, one in all Japan’s 2011 World Cup-winning ladies’s footballers, was the primary to hold the rose-gold, cherry blossom-shaped torch, accompanied by former teammates.

She handed the flame to Fukushima highschool pupil Asato Owada, who like all of the runners wore an official white tracksuit with a purple diagonal stripe.

A handful of followers, sporting their obligatory masks, watched the relay from its second part. But with cheering and enormous crowds banned for virus security, the loudest sound got here from clicking cameras.

“I think it somewhat lacks excitement because there are rules,” Tetsuya Ozawa instructed AFP within the city of Naraha.

“I think more people would have come and there would have been more excitement if there wasn’t coronavirus.”

– ‘An incredible reminiscence’ –

But 10-year-old Tsuzumi Sugeno was thrilled nonetheless.

“This will be a great memory,” he instructed AFP. “I want to become a professional baseball player and play at the Olympics.”

Organisers had been making ultimate preparations for the relay final year when the virus prompted the unprecedented determination to postpone the Games, as sport all over the world floor to a halt.

A year on, the pandemic continues to be in full swing regardless of vaccine roll-outs, and plenty of in Japan worry the Olympics will trigger a spike in circumstances.

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Overseas spectators are barred from the Games, and limits are probably on home followers, so the relay is seen as an important alternative to build optimistic momentum.

The Fukushima launch additionally places the highlight again on the northeastern area of Tohoku that was affected by the 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe.

The Games had been initially billed because the “Recovery Olympics”, showcasing reconstruction within the area. The relay will go via some cities that stay solely partially open to the general public, as radiation decontamination continues.

In Iwaki metropolis, the most important cease on the flame’s first day, 78-year-old Hikomitsu Onodera was wearing the identical blue blazer he wore as an official overseeing weightlifting on the Tokyo 1964 Olympics.

“It was good — sport is something that can bring everyone together,” he mentioned, after the flame handed.

– ‘Like the Olympics has began’ –

The torch will journey via all of Japan’s 47 prefectures and absorb landmarks together with Mount Fuji and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Its circuitous route first heads south to the islands of Okinawa earlier than reversing course for the northern area of Hokkaido and at last again to Tokyo.

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But there are nonetheless challenges forward for organisers. Several dozen torchbearers have dropped out, citing points together with scheduling conflicts and issues concerning the coronavirus.

Officials from one area have warned they may cancel the relay there if virus countermeasures aren’t improved, and elements of the occasion will likely be suspended if too many individuals collect.

Organisers are hopeful nevertheless that the relay will supply respite after a tough year, and persuade the general public that the Games will go forward.

“It really feels like the Olympics have started,” spectator Fumie Hasekura instructed AFP in Iwaki.

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