It’s Games on for Tokyo

The 2020 Olympics will be a chance for the cap­i­tal to shine anew

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Japan - NI­COLE JEF­FERY

AT about 4am on the day af­ter the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the 1998 Win­ter Olympics in Nagano, my al­ready huge re­spect for Ja­panese ef­fi­ciency reached new heights.

Games or­gan­is­ers had bat­tled days of unco-op­er­a­tive weather that had forced re­peated post­pone­ment of the alpine events, and re­vealed un­sus­pected flex­i­bil­ity as they reg­u­larly resched­uled trans­port to the moun­tains for ath­letes, of­fi­cials, me­dia and spec­ta­tors.

Even so, my friend and I thought our chances of find­ing the poster of an ath­lete per­form­ing a ski jump we had ad­mired through­out the Games were slim (those on the walls of the me­dia cen­tre had al­ready been sou­venired).

When a col­league sug­gested we try the sou­venirs booth in the build­ing’s foyer, we as­sumed there was lit­tle chance it could be open at such an early hour. We were wrong. An el­derly lady who had learned English in or­der to vol­un­teer for the Olympics was at the booth, and we each filled in or­der forms for the cov­eted poster. Two weeks later our sou­venirs ar­rived in the post.

It’s this fa­mous at­ten­tion to de­tail that has con­trib­uted to Tokyo win­ning the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games, the city’s sec­ond time as host. The suc­cess­ful 1964 Games helped re­store Ja­pan’s rep­u­ta­tion in the eyes of the world post World War II.

In its con­test with Madrid and Is­tan­bul for the 2020 hon­ours, the Ja­panese cap­i­tal promised it would be a ‘‘safe pair of hands’’, an ar­gu­ment that clearly res­onated with the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee in Septem­ber, when prepa­ra­tions for the 2016 Games in Rio ap­peared to be chaotic.

There was no ques­tion about Tokyo’s trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, ho­tel stock, or­gan­i­sa­tional skills or fi­nan­cial means (the met­ro­pol­i­tan gov­ern­ment had al­ready put aside $US4.5bil­lion to guar­an­tee the project). The only stick­ing point was on­go­ing con­cern about ra­di­a­tion leaks from the crip­pled Fukushima nu­clear re­ac­tor, de­stroyed by the March 2011 earth­quake and tsunami. Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe moved quickly to give his per­sonal as­sur­ance that no ra­di­a­tion has af­fected, or will af­fect, the city.

Ja­pan hopes that, like 1964, its host role will prove sym­bolic, giv­ing it the op­por­tu­nity to prove it­self anew. Un­der the motto ‘‘Dis­cover Tomorrow’’, or­gan­is­ers hope to show­case Tokyo as a city that unites ‘‘world-class in­no­va­tion with tra­di­tional val­ues’’ us­ing ‘‘the power of sport to of­fer hope to the Ja­panese peo­ple and pro­mote na­tional spirit, unity and con­fi­dence’’.

It is no sur­prise that Tokyo’s Games plan is im­mensely prac­ti­cal, with two venue clus­ters to be cre­ated within 8km of the cen­tral me­trop­o­lis to re­duce trans­port times and costs. AHer­itage Zone will en­com­pass ren­o­vated and re­de­vel­oped venues from the 1964 Games and in­clude six com­pe­ti­tion venues for sports such as ath­let­ics, hand­ball and box­ing. The am­bi­tious 21-venue Tokyo Bay Zone will com­prise a se­ries of man­made is­lands con­nected by bridges.

At the north end of Tokyo Bay, a so-called Dream Is­land precinct will in­clude aquat­ics, archery, bad­minton and bas­ket­ball venues while the cen­tral water­front area will fea­ture another nine venues (cy­cling, ten­nis, gym­nas­tics and triathlon) di­rectly across the wa­ter from the Olympic Vil­lage. Re­de­vel­op­ment of Tokyo Bay as a con­fer­ence and leisure precinct will be a boon for the Ja­panese cap­i­tal, pro­vid­ing stim­u­lus for a mori­bund econ­omy dur­ing the prepa­ra­tion phase and new fa­cil­i­ties, hous­ing and tourism at­trac­tions fol­low­ing the Games.

Equally big plans are afoot in the Her­itage Bay Zone, where the 1964 Games sta­dium will be the site of a new cen­tre­piece sta­dium con­ceived by Bri­tish ar­chi­tect Zaha Had­did, who de­signed the aquatic cen­tre for the Lon­don Olympics. When com­pleted, it is ex­pected to look like the model for a new Star­ship En­ter­prise. Ni­cole Jef­fery is a sports jour­nal­ist with The Aus­tralian and has cov­ered six sum­mer and four win­ter Olympic Games. The 2014 Win­ter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Rus­sia.


A ju­bi­lant Team Tokyo cel­e­brates, above, and com­puter-gen­er­ated im­ages of ar­chi­tect Zaha Had­did’s new Olympic sta­dium and the ath­letes’ vil­lage

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