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Tokyo Olympics Daily: Japan gets in the Olympic spirit

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Japan switches on to the Games as nation secures first golds 

Judoka Naohisa Takato won Japan’s first gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, securing early glory for the host nation that organisers hope will trigger more widespread enthusiasm for the Games. 

Though there were no fans present to witness the historic moment, commentators on public broadcaster NHK were in tears as they described the moment Takato secured an ippon against Yang Yung Wei of Chinese Taipei to win the bout.

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“I’m glad that I could help fire up the Japan team by winning the first gold,” Takato said after his victory in the men’s under-60kg weight class.

Japan’s first triumph was followed up with two more golds on Sunday: Yui Ohashi won the women’s 400-meter individual medley in swimming and Yuto Horigome took home the first-ever Olympic gold in the men’s street skateboarding.

In the run-up to the Games, opinion polls suggested that the majority of the Japanese public opposed hosting the Games during the pandemic. But on the first full day of action on Saturday, the International Olympic Committee reported that 69.4m people, representing around half of Japan’s population, had watched at least part of the Games on television. 

Japan’s Yuto Horigome added another gold for Japan in skateboarding, which made its Olympic debut this year © AFP via Getty Images

Within the IOC, there has long been a belief that early successes in competition would win Japanese viewers over to the world’s biggest sporting event happening on home turf, despite the public health crisis. 

Judo was the event that the quiet confidence was built upon. Matches are taking place in the beloved Nippon Budokan, built for the 1964 Tokyo Games when the sport made its inaugural Olympic appearance. Japan now has 40 gold, 20 silver and 26 bronze medals in the sport, leading the all-time medal table.

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There was even disappointment when Distria Krasniqi of Kosovo beat Japan’s Tonaki Funa in the final of the women’s under-48kg weight class on Saturday, even though the former was the world number-one and favourite. 

Naoki Ogata, a Japanese official at the International Judo Federation, had set expectations high ahead of the competition: “No doubt, we want a gold medal in all weight categories.”

That public enthusiasm was also captured during Saturday’s men’s cycling road race, where masked members of the public disregarded official advice and lined up along the 234km route, which snaked out of Tokyo, to catch a passing glimpse of the riders. 

Similar scenes are expected along the women’s road race, which ends this afternoon at the Fuji International Speedway, where thousands of fans will be able to watch from the stands. The ban of spectators in stadiums does not extend outside Tokyo.

But dissenting voices abound. Pictures of Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, not wearing a face mask while talking to officials at the judo competition have made local headlines.

Takeshi Kitano, a comedian-turned-director known for films such as Brother and Fireworks, gave a rare scathing assessment of the otherwise well-received opening ceremony during a TV programme on Sunday. 

“It was great, I slept through most of it. Give us back our money,” he said, predicting that people would look back at the 2020 Games and realise how “foolish Japan had been”.

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Highlights

Cate Campbell of Australia competes in the women’s 4x100-metre relay at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Team Australia won the women’s 4×100-metre swimming relay for a third consecutive time — and set the first world record at the Tokyo 2020 Games © Getty Images
  • The Australian women’s 4×100-metre swimming relay team set the first new world record of the Tokyo Games, securing the gold with a time of 3:29.69. The team finished a full three seconds ahead of Canada, which barely edged the US for the silver. Also in the pool, US swimmer Chase Kalisz won the men’s individual 400-metre medley in a time of 4:09.42.

  • The Japan Meteorological Agency is forecasting a typhoon could make landfall in or around Tokyo as early as Tuesday, which has already disrupted some sports scheduling. Typhoon Nepartak formed south-east of Honshu, Japan’s main island, on Friday. Olympic organisers said they have been monitoring the storm and the potential for further event postponements. 

Britain’s Jade Jones, right, and and Refugee Olympic Team’s Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin compete in the taekwondo women’s under-57kg competition
Britain’s Jade Jones, right, took home the taekwondo gold at the London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games. But she was unable to defend her title against the Refugee Olympic team’s Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin, left © AFP via Getty Images
  • Britain’s Jade Jones, the two-time Olympic champion in taekwondo, was knocked out in the round of 16 in the women’s under-57kg category. The result was a significant upset for the world number one, beaten by Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin, who was born in Iran and is representing the Refugee Olympic team. Jones had been widely expected to secure Team GB’s first gold in Tokyo. 

  • Australia’s Ashleigh Barty was defeated in the first round of the women’s singles tennis tournament. The world number-one, who came to the Olympics off a win at Wimbledon this month, fell in shocking fashion to Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo. On the men’s side, Britain’s Andy Murray announced he was withdrawing from the singles tournament to concentrate on the doubles event, alongside Joe Salisbury. Murray said he was advised not to take part in both events due to a quad strain.

  • The IOC announced 10 new Covid-19 cases at the Olympics on Sunday, bringing the total number disclosed to 132. Among them was Dutch rowing coach Josy Verdonkschot, who has gone into 10-day quarantine.

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On the podium

Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia, poses with his gold medal after winning of the men’s 400-metre freestyle
Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia bested Australia’s Jack McLoughlin and Kieran Smith of the US to earn Tunisia’s first-ever Olympic gold in swimming © AP

Likely winners have pristine uniforms prepared by their national Olympic associations to ensure they look the part during the medal ceremony. But that did not appear to be the case for Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia, whose victory in the men’s 400m freestyle was the first gold medal in swimming for his country. 

It was a stunning upset. Hafnaoui, only the second Tunisian to ever make an Olympics swimming final, started on the outside lane. But he swam three seconds quicker than the personal best he recorded in the heats to win in a time of 3:43.36. On the podium, he wore a simple grey training T-shirt. All the attention, though, was on the medal draped around his neck.

Click here for the FT’s “alternative medals table”, which ranks nations not just on their medal haul, but against how they should be performing against economic and geopolitical factors.

To keep up to date with the latest Olympic developments, click the button “Add to myFT” at the top of this page

Tokyo Olympics Daily is written by the team behind the Scoreboard business of sports weekly newsletter, with contributions from the FT’s Tokyo bureau. Sign up to Scoreboard here to receive it in your inbox every Saturday morning. 

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