Tokyo Olympics with no crowds to close as pandemic goes on

Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 08 2021 10:55 AM

TOKYO - The Tokyo Olympics will come to an end on Sunday evening after more than two weeks of competition held with extraordinary restrictions and mostly behind closed doors that showcased athletic feats to a world still struggling with the coronavirus.

The closing ceremony at the National Stadium will bid farewell to the largest global sporting event since the start of the pandemic early last year -- and a games that did not look like any other in history.

China topped the gold medal standings as it prepared for another haul in six months' time when it stages the Winter Olympics in Beijing, while the United States also performed strongly, led by its star swimmers.

Japan had its best Olympic performance with a record 56 medals, including the most golds with 27. It dominated judo with nine gold medals and topped the podium in three of the four events in skateboarding, one of the new sports added to the games.

Since opening on July 23, about 11,000 athletes from over 200 countries and regions competed in Tokyo and some other parts of Japan while following anti-virus rules, such as taking daily COVID-19 tests and limiting their movements largely to venues and the Olympic village.

Outside of the village, touted by officials as a "parallel world," the host city continued to report surging infections, with a record-high 5,048 confirmed Thursday and medical experts warning that the games may have led the public to underestimate the severity of the situation.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga early in the month expanded a COVID-19 state of emergency, which only covered Tokyo and Okinawa before the Olympics, to three prefectures adjacent to the capital, as well as Osaka.

While Suga has warned that "infections are spreading at a speed we have never experienced before," he has insisted there is no link between the Olympics and the surge, driven by the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

While the daily count of coronavirus infections has more than doubled from before the start of the Olympics, since the beginning of July, the organizing committee has reported only a total of 404 COVID-19 cases among those associated with the games, including just 29 athletes.

The Tokyo Olympics, previously held in the Japanese capital in 1964, provided athletes with unique challenges, including, most notably, the absence of vocal crowds.

Japan's heat and humidity, meanwhile, turned into a nightmare for some athletes as the mercury regularly topped 30 C, forcing schedule changes to tennis, the women's soccer final and the women's marathon.

At the closing ceremony, at which International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach will declare the end of the games, the Olympic flag that was raised at the National Stadium during the opening ceremony will be lowered and handed over to Paris, the host of the next Summer Games in 2024.

Crown Prince Fumihito, the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito, will attend the ceremony, where the flame that was lit in Greece before the postponement of the games in March 2020 will be extinguished.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka ignited the sphere-shaped cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Olympics, featuring 33 sports made up of 339 medal events, with karate, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing making their debuts.

With an emphasis on diversity, the Olympics also saw the first-ever openly transgender woman compete in weightlifting. U.S. gymnastics superstar Simone Biles' withdrawal from many of her events sparked discussions about athletes' mental health.

While a few events will still take place until the evening, as of the end of competition Saturday, China had 38 golds, including seven in weightlifting and seven in diving. The United States followed with 36, 11 of them won in swimming, including three individual titles by Caeleb Dressel and two by Katie Ledecky.

==Kyodo

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