The long-awaited Tokyo Olympics will finally begin Friday with the opening ceremonies at Japan National Stadium.
And though the parade of athletes and ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame may offer a sense of normalcy to the proceedings, these Games are sure to be unlike any we’ve seen before.
For starters, these are technically the 2020 Summer Olympics, though they are taking place in 2021. Much like everything else in the last year and a half, the coronavirus pandemic has had its way with the Olympic calendar.
Despite Japan declaring a state of emergency in Tokyo over a spike in COVID-19 cases — a decision that will forbid foreign fans from attending any events — and the days leading into the Games being pockmarked with athletes testing positive and withdrawing, the Olympics show will go on.
Nothing can stop Katie Ledecky and the rest of the American swimmers from trying to defend their supremacy against a hungry squad of Australians. Simone Biles will continue cementing herself as the greatest gymnast of all time. And Kevin Durant is looking to add to his Olympics résumé, which already includes gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games, as the USA’s men’s basketball team tries to get past a rocky pre-tournament stretch to win gold again.
Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of US Eastern time — keep that in mind as you track the Games via NBC’s multiple cable channels as well as its streaming platform, Peacock, which will exclusively show some major events.
The 2020 delay
The Olympics had never been postponed or canceled for something other than war, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of firsts for the world.
When the pandemic was out of control last March, the Olympics — originally scheduled to begin on July 24, 2020 — followed the lead of every major sports league and delayed the events. Canceling the Games entirely could have cost the International Olympic Committee as much as $3.5 billion, according to some reports.
Despite COVID-19 cases spiking in Tokyo, the head of Japan’s Olympic organizing committee ruled out another suspension of the games early last month. Most Japanese people have been opposed to hosting the Olympics amid the country’s current health crisis, including the capital city’s council, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
Latest COVID-19 testing protocols
Each participant in the Games was given access to a series of Tokyo 2020 Playbooks that outline their responsibilities and guidelines to follow during their time at the event.
Beginning 14 days before traveling to Japan, athletes are required to take their temperatures daily and monitor their health for any COVID-19 symptoms. They also have to take two PCR tests in the 96 hours before departure. Upon arrival in Japan, athletes will take another test, and their entry to the Olympic Village is dependent on the results.
There is technically a mandatory three-day quarantine, but if participants test negative, they are permitted to engage in Games-related activities during that span. Athletes will undergo daily testing throughout the Olympics, which will be conducted at the Village, and are not allowed to use public transportation.
In addition, within all venues, alcohol will be banned to curtail the spread of COVID-19. If athletes want to drink, they are expected to do so alone in their rooms, otherwise, alcohol is not allowed in the Olympic Village.
The COCOA app, the country’s newly released contact tracing platform, will be in use during the Games.
A confirmed positive case isn’t official until an athlete goes through a series of three tests. If an athlete tests positive in the saliva-based antigen test, the PCR test and the nasopharyngeal PCR test, then he/she is officially positive.
No international spectators will be permitted to enter Japan. In June, Olympic organizers announced that domestic fans would be allowed, but Tokyo’s fourth state of emergency upended those plans.
Olympic Village beds
The Summer Games will be using cardboard beds to promote the use of recycled materials. While some claimed that this was a choice to prevent athletes from having sex — this year’s Olympics condoms will be distributed to athletes after the Games end — some athletes disproved this rumor by jumping on their beds. The cardboard will be repurposed into recycled paper after the Olympics conclude.
What’s different about the Olympic Village
There will be daily testing conducted at the Olympic Village. Personal coaches staying outside the Village who are fully accredited will have access to venues and have to adhere to the same Playbook guidelines as those staying in the Village.
Participants will also not be allowed to go to restaurants, bars, go sightseeing or use public transportation.
Everyone at the Games will be treated the same regardless of vaccine status. Whether an athlete is vaccinated, however, will be considered when determining close contacts to a confirmed positive case.
The COVID-19 protocols aren’t the only thing that’s new at the Olympics this year. There will also be a slew of new events: karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.
Plus, baseball and softball will be making their returns to the Olympics for the first time since Beijing in 2008.
Additionally, there will be nine new mixed-gender events across seven sports. In sum, the Tokyo Olympics will host events in a record 41 sports, which is just one more way these Games will look like no others before them.