MISHIMA from Japan
The future Olympic champion was in what cyclists derisively call “the cave of pain,” with empty lungs burning and legs like dead weight. The climb he was on seemed endless, the devilish slope sending him straight up into the sky.
Hardly enough time for Richard Carapaz to look tenderly at an almost naked man running beside him on the road.
Except … did the stoic rider from Ecuador really smile?
Indeed, he did. That same shot that overzealous fans do in the Alps and Pyrenees during the Tour de France, where it could bore Carapaz endlessly, was actually welcomed by him during the Olympic road race. This is because the draconian measures taken by the organizers of the Tokyo Games to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also prevented fans from having the unique opportunity to see most of the world’s best athletes perform on their own soil. .
Or roads, so to speak.
“It made us feel like we were going back to normal, seeing the fans there,” Carapaz said later. “I liked it.”
Technically speaking, a fan ban for almost all events remains in place. Police and volunteer security guards patrol almost constantly. But that didn’t stop many locals from getting a glimpse of the action.
On the way to the opening ceremony, thousands of people lined the streets to cheer on the buses, even though they had no idea who was inside. They held up signs saying “Welcome to Tokyo”, despite the feeling of the public who strongly opposed the organization of the Games. As the drones rose above the stadium, they would ooh and ahh and take photos, just as they would have watched their beloved Shohei Ono compete in their national pastime, judo.
Sixty miles east, where surfing made its Olympic debut, fans found their way to Tsurigasaki Beach.
On the first day of the three-day tournament, dozens of people gathered around the orange plastic fence marking the security perimeter, their building of rejoicing throughout the day. In the distance, locals could see the beach and athletes moving through the water, as well as coaches, journalists and volunteers at work.
No one seemed to care about the piers near the surf area blocking much of the competition.
At Ariake Urban Sports Park, a dazzling stadium setup that could have accommodated 7,000 spectators for the Olympic skateboarding debut, 8-year-old Ayane Nakamura was doing ollies on his “Peanuts” skateboard outside the venue.
She had come with her mother, Rie, and had camped out at 7am in the hopes of seeing her hero, Yuto Horigome, and the rest of the men arrive for the competition. When security guards inevitably showed up to chase Nakamura and his friend, 8-year-old Sora Yamagishi, the playful youngster in the blue Nike skateboard cap kept slipping away.
“Some people scold me multiple times,” Nakamura said, “so I have to hide when I see these people.”
Others have also managed to find vantage points to watch skateboarding, and they have been richly rewarded. Horigome not only won the men’s street event, but Momiji Nishiya took gold and Funa Nakayama won bronze in the women’s event.
“I love skateboarding and I’m all the best Japanese skateboarders,” said Tamura, who works for a Tokyo recruiting agency and managed to catch some of the kickflips and railstands with binoculars.
Were the fans disappointed that they couldn’t enter the room? Maybe get a little closer to the athletes?
“To be honest,” Tamura said, “I couldn’t get a ticket so I’m not that shocked. But under these circumstances the decision makes sense, even if it’s sad.”
Shogo Miyamoto, a freelance writer from Kyoto, also thought the decision to ban viewers was correct. But that didn’t stop him from trying to breathe in the Olympic atmosphere. He arrived in Tokyo on the second full day of competition and tried to get a glimpse of a few of the venues, then planned to come down the coast to go sailing.
“I wasn’t really into sports,” said Miyamoto. “But the Olympics are something you wouldn’t have in your home country twice in your life. Maybe not even once. That’s why I wanted to come and explore the venues.”
There are still plenty of opportunities, too, for the more intrepid fans.
With the right equipment and a little common sense, golf enthusiasts may be able to spot Masters champion Hideki through the trees lining the eastern course of the Kasumigaseki Country Club. At Odaiba Marine Park, where a few souls braved the rain to watch the triathlon this week, long-distance swimmers will participate in the marathon.
Speaking of marathons, the track and field marathon will be held next week in Odori Park in Sapporo, about 700 miles northeast of Tokyo, where temperatures are expected to be slightly cooler. That could mean observations from reigning Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei or four-time US Olympian Galen Rupp.
Technically speaking, fans are prohibited from lining up on the course. But good luck watching 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) of road.
Those who don’t want to break the law can catch the last week of cycling, which will move to the Izu velodrome for track cycling. Its location in Shizuoka Prefecture, like the ATV course and the finish of the road race at Fuji International Speedway, does not fall under the spectator ban, meaning up to 1,800 people will be able to squeeze in. inside.
Good for the fans. Good for athletes who lack their support too.
“At first, I was pretty sickened. Without the fans it would have been completely different, ”said Briton Laura Kenny, four-time Olympic cycling champion. “Would they have played crowd noise?” Could they have chosen the London audience? It wouldn’t have been as exciting as it could have been. I’m glad people are coming. “