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Tokyo 2020: Better late than never?

By Mark Andrews | Features | Published:

It would have been some homecoming. Sir Mo Farah, having come out of retirement for one final Olympic Games, could be returning to a hero's welcome today, having once more clinched Gold in Tokyo.

A countdown clock for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is reflected in a puddle of water outside Tokyo railway station

By now, the world would be basking in the afterglow of the 2020 Games, which would have finished on Saturday, and Team GB would hopefully have built on the success of the Beijing 2008, Rio 2016, and of course London 2012.

But instead of taking a well-earned rest after a 16-day celebration of sporting excellence, Britain's sporting stars now face another 12 months of preparations. In March this year, the International Olympic Committee announced that the Games would be postponed until next year, following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Farah's dream of one last hurrah may yet come to fruition. But the popular runner, who will be 38 by the time the Games take place, knows that time is not on his side. For sports stars coming towards the end of their careers, a year is a very long time in athletics.

This is something former world 400m champion Dai Greene is well aware of. “Once you get past a certain age, you’re going to start to go downwards,” he says.

Prior to the postponement, the summer couldn't come quickly enough for Greene, who will be 35 by the time he goes to Japan.

“This is the best place I’ve been in for a long time so I was excited for the summer,” he says.

Sir Mo Farah – one last hurrah?

“But while I am in good spirits physically and mentally, there is a small thing at the back of my mind that I don’t know if my body will give up on me at some point.

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“I just hope that in a year’s time I’ll still feel like I do now. There’s always the doubt that it might not be.”

For Martyn Rooney, the former double European 400m champion, it means a delay to his retirement plans.

“It feels like it’s worth carrying on for just one more year,” says Rooney, who will be 34 by the time of the rescheduled Games.

For three-time Commonwealth 400m hurdles silver medallist Eilidh Doyle, the postponement has given her a fresh opportunity. After giving birth to her son Campbell in January, the 33-year-old Scot had planned to only be part of Great Britain's 4x400m relay team as she worked her way back to fitness.

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But she says the delay has given her time for a rethink.

"It was virtually impossible to be competitive over hurdles," she says.

"Now that we've been postponed, it gives me a lot more time. Maybe I can come back and be a part of the 400m hurdles, which is the event I love. It's about being able to take all the positives from what has been a pretty horrendous time for a lot of people.

A man wearing a Japanese flag-themed hat shows a towel with a Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo printed on while waiting in line to view the Olympic Flame in Fukushima City

“I was only really going to race the 400m at the British trials, try and get in the top six there, and hopefully go to the Olympics in the relay team.

"Now all of a sudden we have a whole extra year to prepare.”

For British firms contracted to help deliver the Olympics, the delay has led to disruption and uncertainty. Aggreko, which has supplied generators and other electrical equipment for every Olympics since Seoul 1988, is one of the companies forced to hastily reschedule their plans.

Managing director Robert Wells says the company has had to remove some equipment it had already installed at some venues.

"There is a huge logistics operation to reschedule things," he says. "Clearly there will be a cost of delay."

British company ESG, which will build and dismantle temporary venues for six events, has also been affected. Joint chief executive Olly Watts also fears that a second wave could further disrupt plans.

"Although organisers have made statements that the Games are only postponed, there is a certain level of uncertainty," he says.

"It has been made clear there are circumstances under which the Games could be cancelled, depending on how the virus continues in Japan and worldwide."

The Olympic rings are moved from their spot in Tokyo Bay for maintenance, ahead of the postponed Games

The decision to cancel the games was taken somewhat hurriedly, under mounting pressure from the UK, Australia and Canada. On March 18, the International Olympic Committee repeated its opposition to any plans to delay or cancel the event, but on March 23 the three nations said they would withdraw from the Games if they were not put back by a year. The same day, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he would support a proposed postponement, saying athlete safety was paramount. On March 24, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo Organising Committee did an about-turn, announcing that the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics would be "rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021".

Their statement said the Games "could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present."

It was the first time the Olympics had been postponed in the history of the competition. Perhaps surprisingly, it was decided that the Games would continue to be branded Tokyo 2020 for marketing purposes.

It is not the first time Tokyo has had its plans disrupted, though. The 1940 summer Olympics were due to have been held in the city, but were moved to Helsinki following the onset of war between China and Japan. The 1940 Games were eventually cancelled altogether following the outbreak of the Second World War.

Barring any further turn of events, the Games will now take place from July 23 to August 8, one day shy of a year from when they would have originally taken place. For some the delay will be the end of a dream, for others it will be a new opportunity. Hopefully, for us all, it will be a chance for the world to look to the future, and put a difficult period behind it.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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