Tears for Olympic fears

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2020 - 12:00am

It was a touching moment when in a recent interview on Japanese TV, International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG) president and IOC boxing officer-in-charge Morinari Watanabe choked on his words and sobbed as he related how 2019 world all-around champion Nikita Nagorny of Russia agreed to participate in an invitational meet in Tokyo despite the scourge of the pandemic.

Watanabe said last June, he met with IOC president Thomas Bach and they anguished over the suspension of the Tokyo Olympics which would’ve been held last July 24-Aug. 9. “We wanted to change the flow (of the negative information) and he asked me to think of something,” said Watanabe. His idea was for Tokyo to host an invitational gymnastics competition involving 30 athletes from Russia, US, China and Japan for one day and prove that sports wouldn’t be suppressed by the virus.

Watanabe traveled the world to invite the athletes. In Russia, he personally requested Nagorny to compete. Watanabe bared his soul in conceding that the fight against an unseen enemy isn’t over but asked would he fly to Tokyo anyway? Nagorny said even at the risk of his life, he would participate if only to demonstrate the power of sports in overcoming all odds. Watanabe tapped FIG Anti-Doping Medical and Scientific Commission head Dr. Yasunobu Iwasaki to develop health and safety protocols to guarantee the athletes’ protection. The venue was the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Shibuya, Tokyo with a seating capacity of 13,291 but only 2,000 spectators were allowed in.

The usual 14-day quarantine for visitors entering Japan was waived but the athletes had to be quartered for two weeks at home and swab-tested thrice before taking off. They were tested every day during their stay. The “Friendship and Solidarity” competition was held without a hitch last month. It was Japan’s first major international sporting event since the pandemic broke out and Watanabe said the successful staging was an indication that the Olympics could be held on July 23-Aug. 8. He said the IOC will confirm the schedule of the Tokyo Olympics in March. A second suspension will mean cancellation for good.

Newly-elected POC treasurer and Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion said she recently reached out to Bach appealing to make the Olympics happen. “I begged Mr. Bach,” said Carrion, an executive committee member of the Asian Gymnastics Union. “The athletes want the Olympics to go on. Mr. Watanabe has assured strict protocols will be in place for everyone’s safety.” She added that gymnastics qualifier Caloy Yulo has been training in Tokyo since 2016 and this is his chance to capture the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal. “Caloy’s at his peak and he has sacrificed so much for our country to be where he is,” said Carrion. “He’s scheduled to compete in at least five meets before the Olympics and I know our entire nation is praying for him. We’re lucky that Caloy can continue training in Japan and grateful to the PSC and the MVP Sports Foundation for their support. ”

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