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Ryo Sato competes in the men's high jump at the Golden Grand Prix 2020 which was held without spectators at the new Olympic stadium in Tokyo


Japan athletes give Tokyo Olympic stadium a test run

TOKYO, Japan, Aug 23Japan’s top athletes put the new Tokyo Olympic stadium through its paces at a track meet Sunday, one year ahead of the Games which have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The televised competition was held behind closed doors, with only athletes and a few hundred journalists and officials in attendance at the 60,000-seat facility, which is still undergoing construction work on its exterior.

High jumpers got the Golden Grand Prix 2020 meet underway as up-tempo music and the lively voices of stadium announcers filled the air.

The jumpers however had no spectators to ask for slow hand claps to find their rhythm as they sped down the runway.

Sprinters likewise rushed to the finish line but there were no cheers of excited fans and no collective sighs greeted the failed jumps of the pole vaulters.

A handful of male javelin throwers took matters into their own hands and offered slow claps in unison for each other as they took their turns.

Top Japanese athletes put the new National Stadium through its paces a year ahead of the postponed Tokyo Games © AFP / Philip FONG

“It’s great to be back at my place of work,” javelin throw winner Genki Dean told reporters. “It’s so fun to compete.”

The event was held as Japan takes cautious steps to reopen its economy, with professional baseball, football and sumo resuming in front of limited number of fans.

But the nation is also seeing a rebound in new infection figures, particularly in urban areas including Tokyo and Osaka.

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Japanese Olympic organisers have said the Games will take place from July to August next year but have yet to decide details, including how many spectators to allow.

The newly-built Japan National Stadium is the main venue for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games now postponed until July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic © AFP / Charly TRIBALLEAU

Many athletes voiced frustration about the postponing of the Olympics and the difficulty training during the pandemic, which closed many tracks and prevented group practices.

“I am turning 32 years old and, when thinking about my age, I was very, very disappointed (by the delay). I was performing particularly well so it made it even more difficult for me to change my mindset and move on,” said Yukari Ishizawa, who took second place in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase.

“Even when I was practicing, I could not tell what all this practice was leading to,” she said.

“I finally realised that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to push myself to take on this challenge” of trying to qualify for the Olympics, she added.

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