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SPORTS

Olympics countdown: Japan athletes give Tokyo Olympic stadium a test run ahead of Games

ATHLETICS By AFP | August 24th 2020
Visitors wearing protective face masks pose for a photo through the Olympic rings amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo

Japan's top athletes put the new Tokyo Olympic stadium through its paces at a track meet yesterday, 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.

"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.

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.

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)," said Yukari Ishizawa, who was second in the women's 3,000m steeplechase.

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