Reportage: this is what the 2021 olympics in tokyo feels like

Reportage: this is what the 2021 olympics in tokyo feels like

The sun has gone, but the traffic jam has stayed. On Shibuja's boulevard, where just a moment ago passers-by were hiding their eyes behind panorama-window-sized glasses, an avalanche of cars is now heading into the evening and toward Tokyo's national stadium. Some cars look like they're about to mutate into robots with amazing powers, just like in comic book adaptations.

There is indeed a villain to fight.

Fear of mutants in Tokyo

Yuki, the 58-year-old cab driver, is not afraid of the evil called Corona. At least that's what he says. In Japan's capital, the number of new infections has risen to its highest level since January. A large part of the population fears the Olympic Games, which begin this Friday (from 12.10 a.m./DF) at the National Stadium in the presence of Emperor Naruhito, could bring mutants into the country with their thousands of visitors from 200 countries. "We Japanese are proud to host the Olympics," Yuki says defiantly, stopping the car in front of a guarded barrier at the stadium. 60.000 security forces are supposed to provide security at these Summer Games, which would allow Liechtenstein to defend itself. But against the virus even they are powerless.

Access to the National Stadium is prohibited. Not far from here is Japan's Olympic Museum. A small statue of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the inventor of the games, decorates the entrance. That Thomas Bach (67) will reside next to it as a bust in the future still seems unrealistic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its German president have nevertheless set out to prove to the world: The pandemic is controllable. This is a beautiful vision. But as always, everything beautiful is also extremely fragile.

There will be no shortage of images of perfectly staged competitions.

The Olympic organizers will do everything to hide this fragility. Olympics, that are picture games. When the Japanese, who are so skeptical but only 20 percent vaccinated, have their picture taken between the museum and the stadium in front of the five intertwined colorful rings, these are impressions of an ideal world that are to be sent away. There will also be no shortage of perfectly staged competitions on television.

If there weren't these five rings in isolated places around the city, however, one would come to the conclusion: Olympia is a long way from Tokyo. The city has hardly made itself up for the biggest sports festival in the world, no flags or posters anywhere. In Ginza, the business district of the metropolis, normal bustle prevails on the day before the opening ceremony. Men wear dark suit pants with light short-sleeved shirts, women protect themselves from the glaring sun with umbrellas.

Interpersonal fire accelerant

The high humidity in the air sometimes acts more like a fire accelerant than a fire extinguisher: Anyone who is identified at the stops of the Olympic bus shuttle system as one of the guests who have traveled from afar can expect to be grimly avoided on a sloping street by the relaxed passers-by running downhill. But there are also the uphill pedaling bicyclists who smile amiably under their masks.

The colorful party of the world's youth is cancelled

In Tokyo there will be no colorful party of the youth of the world, the youth of the world was denied entry. In front of the Ariake Arena, where not far from the harbor the volleyball players will be batting, ticket booths remind us that spectators had been planned. But the virus has eaten up this plan and with it the soul of the games; empty stands were spat out. Australian softball player Stacey Porter doesn't care about the atmosphere at her sport's Olympic comeback. "We've waited 13 years," she said after the 8-1 loss to the host country, "so we're going out there and playing. No matter what happens."

A dream ruthlessly whipped through

Porter's sentence is an expression of a fulfilled athlete's dream, but it also reveals ruthlessness. But she's not alone in that: For Bach, the goal is to mercilessly pull off Tokyo 2020 in 2021. Because Olympics are also power games. Despite warnings from health experts, despite rising infection figures, the government and the organizing committee are sticking with the event. Bach would love to award them the first gold for this even before the starting gun: Billions of people would be watching on TV over the next two weeks "admiring what the Japanese have achieved".

The influence of the 1976 Olympic fencing champion seems boundless; dissenters are as rare at the IOC as German gold medals in the 100-meet sprint. During the session in the days before the opening ceremony, Bach added the words "together" to the Olympic motto "faster, higher, stronger". Has anyone ever tried to design a pear into the logo of the famous smartphone manufacturer with the apple?? The message that went out from that at the swanky five-star Hotel Okura: Bach can do anything, including Tokyo.

Games in a state of emergency

Last but not least, it's the Olympic Corona Games. With uncertain outcome. The IOC playbook serves as a not to be disregarded instruction manual for all involved: many tests, sufficient distance, no risk. Nevertheless, there will be more infections in the coming days, that can not be avoided. The only thing that will be exciting is how it will be handled when it reaches into the environment of stars like tennis icon Novak Djokovic or gymnastics queen Simone Biles.

In any case, in the Olympic Village the athletes are separated like infected people, the usual togetherness is severely restricted. Whereby: In past editions of the games, they have also retreated into a parallel world. The US basketball players already spent their Olympic business trip on a luxury yacht. But even without Corona, these days even unknown participants like weightlifter Tanumafili Jungblut from American Samoa or swimmer Donata Katai from Zimbabwe would no longer go to the entertainment district of Roppongi.

And another cultural exchange is also slowed down: The 160.000 condoms, 14 provided per person, are distributed to athletes only before their immediate departure.

"Olympics will give people confidence in the future," Thomas Bach said these days. Cab driver Yuki smiles mildly when he hears the phrase again. He starts the engine and drives off. When night falls, Tokyo's streets empty rapidly in a state of emergency. Olympia must still be careful not to get shortchanged.

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