TOKYO, Japan – Tokyo on Wednesday, July 24, entered the final leg of its marathon Olympic preparations, marking a year until the 2020 Games open with officials promising a high-tech but eco-friendly event.
Organizers have battled everything from fears over deadly heat to persistent questions about the cost of the Games and how Tokyo won its bid.
But as the final countdown began, they were touting speedy progress on venue construction and pledging a Games that will be "a springboard for the creation of a new Tokyo."
"One year to go, all of the excitement is growing here," John Coates, chairman of the International Olympic Committee's coordination body, said on Tuesday.
He added that "unprecedented" ticket sales and applications by 200,000 people for just 80,000 volunteer positions had shown the enthusiasm building for the 2020 Games.
He praised Tokyo's preparation as the sprint to the finish line began. "We're very pleased that the delivery of the Games remains firmly on track," he said.
Half of the new permanent venues have been completed, and organizers say construction of the rest is on track.
An official year-to-go ceremony was due to reveal the Olympic medals design and organizers were hosting events allowing residents to try out Olympic sports.
Twelve-year-old Yukimasa Nakahara queued from 5:30 am with his mother for the chance to try pitching baseballs.
"We thought the earlier the better," he said sporting a baseball cap.
"I'm looking forward to the Olympics... We've won tickets for a baseball game for the bronze medal," he added with a big smile.
While cooler weather this summer has assuaged fears raised by a deadly heatwave last year, organizers say they have a raft of safety measures planned in case temperatures soar.
Tactics from misting towers to flower beds will be showcased from this week at a test event for beach volleyball.
With the countdown under way, organizers have also been stepping up efforts to promote the Games as a showcase for Japan's high-tech know-how.
Japan's reputation as an industrial innovator has flagged since the last time it hosted the Games, in Tokyo in 1964, when it wowed the world with bullet trains.
But government and businesses are hoping to dazzle visitors with everything from driverless airport transport to robot greeters and mascots.
Poignant torch relay
The organizers have even teamed up with two Japanese astronauts who will send messages of support from the International Space Station to those carrying the Olympic torch through the country.
The torch relay, featuring a rose-gold cherry blossom-shaped torch unveiled earlier this year, will start from a sports center in Fukushima that housed workers battling to remove radioactive waste after the 2011 tsunami.
It will pass through other areas of north-east Japan devastated by the disaster, with authorities hoping to show the region's recovery.
Organizers also want the Games to be the "most sustainable ever" and are making everything from medals to podiums from recycled materials.
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing, with persistent questions over the cost of the Games, despite organizers slashing more than $4 billion.
The last version of the budget, released in December 2018 stood at 1.35 trillion yen ($12.1 billion), unchanged from 2017.
Organizers have also faced a series of embarrassing sideshows, including the resignation of Japan's Olympics minister in April after a string of gaffes.
That came just a month after the head of Japan's Olympic Committee Tsunekazu Takeda said he would step down as French investigators examine payments made before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Games.
The clouds appear to have done little to dull enthusiasm for the Games though, at least in Japan.
Organizers say more than 7.5 million residents registered for a lottery to buy tickets during a first round in July.
Demand was so high that the registration period was extended and organizers will hold a follow-up in August for those who were unsuccessful the first time around. – Rappler.com