After an unprecedented year-long delay, the Tokyo Olympics are on course to take place this summer. Fans wondering what to expect from the global sporting event should prepare for a Summer Games unlike any other – both because of what is expected to take place and what isn’t.
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When are the 2020 Summer Olympics taking place?
Postponed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin officially July 23 with the opening ceremony and end Aug. 8 with the closing ceremony. Some events, such as the softball and the men’s and women’s soccer tournaments, begin July 21, before the official start of the Games.
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Who is hosting the Games?
Tokyo is the host city, and most events will be staged throughout the Japanese capital. Several sports will be held in other Japanese cities and towns, however. Road cycling, for example, will take place in the foothills of Mount Fuji; surfing will be held 40 minutes outside of Tokyo on the country’s eastern coast; and the men’s and women’s marathons, as well as the race walking events, will take place in Sapporo, which is located 500 miles north of Tokyo. The soccer matches will be played in six cities, and baseball and softball games will be held in Fukushima and Yokohama.
These Summer Games mark the second time Tokyo has hosted an Olympics. The 1964 Games also were held there, the first time the Olympics were staged in an Asian country.
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What do we call the Tokyo Olympics?
These Games mark the first time an Olympics has been postponed. Even though the Tokyo Games are taking place in the summer of 2021, they’ll still be referred to as the 2020 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo organizers agreed that the Games would retain all of the 2020 branding, which means all signage, television graphics, souvenirs, apparel – even the medals won by the athletes – will say “Tokyo 2020.”
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How will the coronavirus affect the Olympics?
Organizers have promised an Olympics that looks and feels different than previous Summer Games, but they’re still working out some key details. In March, Tokyo 2020 officials said only Japanese spectators will be allowed, but had not yet made any decisions on the capacity at Olympic venues or protocols for fans.
The Olympics typically draw together more than 11,000 athletes and 25,000 journalists from more than 200 countries, so plenty of protocols will need to be in place to ensure a healthy and safe Summer Games.
The Games likely will be scaled back a bit, but they’ll still feature a full slate of sports, nations and athletes. There will be guidelines in place to encourage social distancing, restrict movement and limit face-to-face interaction, and some of the pageantry will be toned down.
Athletes will be allowed to stay at the Olympic Village only for the duration of their competition, and they’ll be subject to regular coronavirus testing and temperature checks throughout their stay in Japan. They also will be barred from using public transportation or visiting any public places that aren’t approved by Olympic officials.
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How can I watch the Tokyo Games?
NBC once again will be providing extensive coverage of the Olympics, broadcasting events across several channels, including NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC and USA Network. Cord-cutters will be able to stream Olympics coverage on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. While many events will air live, given the 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and the United States’ Eastern time zone, many others will be broadcast on tape delay.
The opening ceremony is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. in Tokyo, and NBC will broadcast the event live, which means it will air at 7 a.m. EDT in the United States.
What’s the schedule for the Olympics?
The first medals will be handed out July 24, followed by more than two weeks of dizzying action. Swimming and gymnastics likely will take center stage in the opening week. Swimming competition runs July 24-Aug. 1, and gymnastics is July 25-Aug. 3.
Track and field events begin July 30 and conclude with the men’s marathon Aug. 8, the final day of the Olympics.
Many Olympic tournaments run nearly the duration of the Games, including basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, water polo, soccer and beach volleyball, and don’t award medals until the final days.
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Who are the athletes to watch?
While qualifying will continue through July, the United States is expected to field a star-laden squad with several athletes seeking multiple medals in Tokyo. Gymnast Simone Biles, the defending Olympic all-around champion and five-time world champion, is looking to cement her place in history. In the swimming pool, Katie Ledecky, Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel are expected to take aim at five or more medals. On the track, a new generation of American sprinters should include Noah Lyles and Michael Norman, while Allyson Felix is trying for her fifth Olympics and Justin Gatlin for his fourth.
The U.S. men’s and women’s basketball teams again will be a who’s who of all-star players, and the women’s soccer team will feature many of the same stars who won the 2019 World Cup, likely including Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle.
Other familiar faces include shooter Vincent Hancock, a three-time Olympian who won gold in 2008 and ’12; fencer Mariel Zagunis, 35, who will be competing in her fifth Olympics and taking aim at a third gold medal; and runner Galen Rupp, who will be competing in his fourth Olympics and trying to improve on his third-place finish from the 2016 Olympic marathon.
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Who are the up-and-comers?
Sprinter Noah Lyles will be 24 by the start of the Olympics, and after just missing the 2016 team, he hopes to compete in both the 100- and 200-meter races in Tokyo. He’ll likely face stiff competition on the track from fellow American 23-year-old Michael Norman.
Five years ago, 16-year-old Sydney McLaughlin was the youngest track athlete to make the U.S. team in more than a quarter-century. In Tokyo, she’s a strong contender for the medal podium in the 400-meter hurdles.
Swimmer Regan Smith is 19 and graduated high school last spring. She’s the world record-holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes.
Skateboarding will feature a ton of young talent. Nyjah Huston, 26, a four-time world champion in the street event, is a leading candidate for Team USA, and Brighton Zeuner, the youngest-ever X Games competitor, turns 17 not long before the Olympic park event begins.
When surfing makes its Olympic debut, it’ll showcase some of the world’s top talents, including John John Florence, 28, a two-time world championship, and Carissa Moore, 28, a four-time world champ.
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What are the venues?
More than half of the 43 Olympic venues predate Tokyo being awarded the Summer Games, which means organizers have been able to focus on renovations more than new construction. Tokyo’s National Stadium was the centerpiece of the 1964 Games and has undergone a complete overhaul for this summer. The 68,000-seat stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as track and field and the women’s gold medal soccer game. Initial designs for the stadium were scrapped in 2015 when costs ballooned to $2 billion and organizers settled on a more modest renovation.
Tokyo’s Metropolitan Gymnasium is also a holdover from the 1964 Games, when it was used for gymnastics and water polo. This time around, the 7,000-seat arena will host table tennis.
While the Tokyo Olympics don’t feature centrally-located venues in “clusters,” like recent Summer Games, most are still consolidated in Tokyo. In all, 28 are located within five miles of the Olympic Village.
Just 11 new venues were constructed for the Tokyo Games, including the 15,000-seat Tokyo Aquatics Center, home of the swimming events; the 12,000-seat Ariake Arena, which will host volleyball matches; and the 15,000-seat Oi Hockey Stadium, site of the field hockey tournament.
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Is Russia competing in Tokyo?
Russia won’t formally be competing in Tokyo, but plenty of Russians will be. Still dogged by a lingering doping controversy, the country was issued a four-year ban from international sporting events in 2019, which was reduced last December to two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The punishment still means Russia will have no official presence – no flag, no anthem – at the Tokyo Games.
Many of its athletes will be eligible to compete, as long as they haven’t been implicated in the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme. They will branded formally as “ROC” athletes – an acronym for Russian Olympic Committee – and will be allowed to wear Russia’s colors. Their flag will include the ROC’s logo: a white, blue and red-striped flame above the five Olympic rings.
Similarly, at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, 168 Russians competed as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” According to the court’s decision, any Russian athlete wishing to compete in Tokyo should not be “subject to suspension, restriction, condition or exclusion imposed by a competent authority in any past or future proceedings.”
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What other controversies should we expect?
The Olympics always seem to offer a heavy dose of intrigue and controversy. And even without the coronavirus casting a shadow over the lead-up to these Summer Games, there will be no shortage of hot-button issues in Tokyo.
From the day Tokyo was awarded hosting rights in 2013, there have been concerns about the heat athletes and spectators will face. Many weather watchers and Olympic historians predict this will be the hottest Summer Games ever. (During the originally scheduled dates last year, Tokyo experienced an especially long rainy season and temperatures that reached 90 degrees.) Knowing this, teams and athletes have been doing heat-training, particularly those in endurance sports that take place outdoors, and are preparing for difficult conditions.
Russia aside, doping concerns are a regular part of the Olympics, and the swimming world has been closely monitoring the situation with Sun Yang, China’s most accomplished swimmer. In 2018, Sun ordered a security guard to smash a vial containing his blood sample. The World Anti-Doping Agency took the case to CAS, which issued an eight-year ban last February. Sun appealed the decision to Swiss Federal Court, which in December kicked the case back to CAS. It’s not clear whether the matter will be resolved before the opening ceremony.
The U.S. gymnastics team will head to Tokyo bearing the pain and scars from a sexual abuse scandal that rocked the sport, pitting the top American gymnasts against their national governing body, USA Gymnastics. Top athletes, such as Biles, have been outspoken on the abuse they suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, a former team physician, saying USA Gymnastics refuses to operate in good faith, thus prohibiting the gymnasts from finding any semblance of closure. The gymnasts were not happy with a settlement proposal last year and have had to vie for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team even as they continue to battle the key decision-makers who run the sport in the United States.
Both USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee will come to Tokyo as revamped organizations. But despite substantial leadership changes, both are still subject of ongoing congressional scrutiny with many athletes and advocates saying more change is needed.
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Who has the best uniforms?
The colors alone give many of the Team USA uniforms a futuristic Captain America feel, but fans might gravitate toward some of the skateboarding gear. The Nike-produced ensemble features colorful, abstract designs, fitting for a sport that embraces expression and individuality.
Skateboarders from Brazil and France will wear a similar design. Animal motifs are embedded in each uniform, a bald eagle for the U.S. team, a toucan for Brazil and a rooster for France.
The U.S. squad also will be outfitted with loose-fitting cargo pants, while the French team has an all-red, industrial-looking boilersuit.
On the medal stand, American athletes will wear an all-white ensemble produced by Nike, providing a simple background for the medal to shine.
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What is the mascot?
Miraitowa is a blue-checkered creation intended to represent both old traditions and celebrate new innovations. The cartoon character supposedly resides in the digital realm but has the ability to transport itself to the real world. Its name is a combination of two Japanese words: mirai, meaning “future,” and towa, which means “eternity.”
Miraitowa was created by Japanese artist Ryo Taniguchi, emerging from a competition process that began with more than 2,000 mascot designs.
What do the medals look like?
Each athlete that reaches the podium will be awarded with a unique Olympic prize. The medals in Tokyo are made from recycled cellphones and other electronics. In February 2017, Tokyo 2020 organizers began soliciting donations from the public for their old electronics, and the gold, silver and bronze was extracted and utilized to forge the medals. The Vancouver Winter Games in 2010 similarly utilized recycled electronics in its Olympic medals.
While the back of the medal features the Tokyo 2020 logo, in accordance with IOC regulations, the front depicts Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, in front of Panathinaikos Stadium.
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What does the Tokyo Games logo look like?
The official emblem is called “Harmonized Chequered Emblem,” and it features a blue checkered circular pattern above the words “Tokyo 2020” and the familiar Olympic rings. The logo was not changed after the Games were postponed into 2021.
The logo, which was unveiled in 2016, was created by Japanese artist Asao Tokolo, who is known for his geometric stylings. The checkered pattern – “ichimatsu moyo” – dates back more than 250 years from the Edo period and was first popularized in Kabuki theater.
Tokolo’s design includes three rectangular shapes, which interlock to form a ring. Olympic organizers say the logo “represents different countries, cultures and ways of thinking.”
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What are the new Olympic sports?
After a push that began a half-century ago, karate was formally added to the Olympic program in 2016. It will consist of two medal events: kumite, a tournament that features three weight classes for each gender; and kata, in which athletes are judged performing a series of maneuvers and techniques.
As the IOC eagerly seeks out a younger audience, it added skateboarding to these Olympics, thrusting the popular street sport onto the sporting world’s biggest stage. There will be two disciplines on display: street, an obstacle course of sorts that features rails, stairs and ramps; and park, a giant bowl that skateboarders use to perform a variety of tricks.
There’s a new cycling discipline called BMX freestyle. It will feature daredevil cyclists performing a series of tricks and jumps in a park loaded with ramps and obstacles.
Sport climbing also will make its Olympic debut, but it will be a format that’s still relatively new to most competitors. The Olympic competition for both genders includes three disciplines: lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. Competitors earn points in each discipline and athletes with the highest overall scores reach the podium. Many climbers feel the disciplines are distinct enough to warrant separate medal events. In fact, at the 2024 Paris Olympics, the format will be adjusted, with speed climbing contested as its own event.
Like skateboarding, surfing promises to introduce both a unique culture and a youth-oriented competition to the Olympic platform. Both men and women will perform before judges, showcasing their speed, power and flow on the waves. While there was some initial discussion about utilizing an artificial wave pool, the event will take place at Shidashita beach, about 40 miles outside of Tokyo. While the competition will take place over just four days, organizers will consider a 16-day window to ensure optimal conditions.
While basketball has been a staple of the Olympic program since 1936 – it was a demonstration sport as early as 1904 – these Tokyo Games will introduce a new version of the familiar game: 3-on-3 basketball, long popular in playgrounds and gymnasiums. The half-court contest will look and feel much like the standard 5-on-5 game with several rule variations. Points are worth one and two points, for example, and the team with the highest score after a single 10-minute period or the first to 21 wins.
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What sports are returning?
Baseball was a medal sport at the Olympics from 1992 to 2008 and softball from 1996 to 2008, but both were eliminated from the 2012 Olympic lineup and subject to years of debate. Olympic officials have expressed concern that the sports aren’t sufficiently universal and don’t attract audiences or participants from all corners of the globe.
Almost immediately, organizers in both sports began campaigns to earn their way back on the Olympic platform, and Tokyo will feature six-team tournaments for both baseball and softball. Each sport has been ruled out of the 2024 Olympics in Paris, though.
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What are the most popular sports?
With nearly 1,000 competitors from 170 or so nations, swimming will be among the most-watched sports in the opening days of the Tokyo Olympics.
Gymnastics, similarly, is a favorite of fans and television network executives alike. Every four years the sport seems to crown Olympic royalty and generate some of the biggest story lines of the summer.
No sport at the Olympics is as ubiquitous and universal as track and field. Some 200 countries and more than 2,000 athletes will compete in Tokyo, vying for medals in 47 events, the most of any Olympic sport.
The men’s and women’s Olympic basketball tournaments are always one of the hottest tickets of every Summer Games, especially since professionals began competing in 1992. Both the U.S. men and women have medaled at every Olympics – except the 1980 Moscow Games, which the United States boycotted. The men’s team has won gold at the past three Summer Games, while the women’s squad has won the past six Olympic titles.
The men’s soccer tournament is limited to players age 23 and younger, so it generally highlights up-and-coming talent. The United States hasn’t medaled since 1904. The women’s tournament, on the other hand, has no age restrictions, and especially in the United States, it has become appointment television for many fans. The women’s tournament was first held at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and the Americans have won four of the six gold medal matches since. The U.S. squad failed to advance past the quarterfinal round four years ago.
Beach volleyball will be contested at an Olympics for the seventh time this summer. The sport has become popular for broadcasters but also fans, who in non-covid times pack the intimate, often picturesque venues. Teams from the United States and Brazil have been especially dominant, accounting for five of the six gold medals in the men’s tournament and four of the six in the women’s.
After being contested in 1900 and ’04, golf disappeared off the Summer Games platform for more than a century. With the sport’s growth and expansion across the globe in recent decades, it made its long-awaited Olympic return at the Rio Games, but many of the game’s top players decided not to compete.
The men’s and women’s marathons are always among the most-anticipated track and field events, and the 26.2-mile road race will feature plenty of intrigue this year. The races were relocated 500 miles north of Tokyo to Sapporo because concerns about the heat, but the runners likely still will find conditions hot and less-than-ideal.
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What are the other sports?
In all, the Tokyo Games will feature 33 sports, 50 disciplines and 339 medal events, including (number of events in parenthesis):
Artistic gymnastics (14), artistic swimming (2), archery (5), badminton (5), baseball and softball (2), basketball (2), 3-on-3 basketball (2), beach volleyball (2), BMX freestyle (2), BMX racing (2), boxing (13), canoeing (16), cycling (22), diving (8), equestrian (6), fencing (12), field hockey (2), football (2), golf (2), gymnastics (18), handball (2), judo (15), karate (8), mountain biking (2), pentathlon (2), rhythmic gymnastics (2), road cycling (2) rowing (14), rugby (2), sailing (10), shooting (15), skateboarding (4), sport climbing (2), surfing (2), swimming (37), table tennis (5), taekwondo (8), tennis (5), track and field (48), track cycling (12), trampoline gymnastics (2), triathlon (3), volleyball (2), water polo (2), weightlifting (14) and wrestling (18).
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What are the concerns with the heat?
With an anticipated average temperature of nearly 90 degrees and humidity topping 55 percent, the Tokyo Games will be on par with some of the hottest athletic events ever staged and many are anticipating these to be a historically hot Olympics.
When the 1964 Games were held in Tokyo, organizers shifted the competition calendar to October to take advantage of cooler temperatures. Tokyo 2020 and the IOC opted to stick with the traditional schedule, which could pose unique challenges for many athletes.
The temperatures will especially impact endurance athletes and those who compete outdoors. The IOC formed a committee to focus on heat-related issues in Tokyo, and both Olympic organizers and many competing countries have been preparing for these conditions for years.
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How can I get tickets?
Following months of speculation, Tokyo 2020 organizers decided in March that only Japanese spectators would be allowed to attend the Olympic events.
Before the pandemic upended the sporting calendar, Olympic tickets were in high demand and hard to get. Last year organizers said that 7.8 million tickets were being issued for the Olympics, but demand was an estimated 10 times higher than the ticket supply. A nationwide ticket lottery last year left scores of Japanese people disappointed.
That disappointment spread in March, when organizers said foreign spectators wouldn’t be allowed at the Tokyo Games and refunded money for hundreds of thousands of tickets that had been sold. The authorized seller for Olympic tickets in the United States, CoSport.com, long ago stopped selling tickets and was in the process this spring of issuing refunds.
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Who has qualified for Team USA?
Athletes began earning their spots on the U.S. Olympic team in July 2019 and the last tickets for Tokyo won’t be punched until around July 1. Around 600 American athletes in all are expected to qualify. The USOPC maintains a running list of those who’ve already locked up their spot on the U.S. Olympic team, which includes: Mariel Zagunis (fencing), Vincent Hancock (shooting), Sandra Uptagrafft (shooting), the U.S. softball team (which includes Olympic veterans Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott), surfers John John Florence and Carissa Moore, marathoners Galen Rupp and Aliphine Tuliamuk and triathlete Summer Rappaport.
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What do I need to know about attending the Games?
It will be virtually impossible for any non-Japanese person who’s not accredited by Tokyo 2020 organizers to attend these Tokyo Games.They can’t enter with a ticket, and as of late March, foreign visitors were still barred from entering the country.
Organizers were initially expecting some 10 million visitors. As with most Olympics, attending the Tokyo Games would be a costly affair. Flights and hotels are never cheap to Japan. Some estimates last year suggested Tokyo would be facing a shortage of hotel rooms and tickets – if they exist – would be difficult to come by.
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Where is the next Olympics?
The next four Olympic host sites have been named. Beijing, which staged the 2008 Summer Games, will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, which begin next Feb. 4.
The 2024 Summer Games will take place in Paris, followed by the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. The Summer Games will return to Los Angeles, home of the 1984 Olympics, in 2028.
Olympic organizers have not chosen a host for the 2030 Winter Games, though bids could come from Spain (Pyrenees-Barcelona), Japan (Sapporo) and the United States (Salt Lake City). The 2030 site won’t be announced until 2023. Olympic officials, meanwhile, have targeted Australia as a preferred host for the 2032 Summer Games.