'Litmus test' - Olympic host Tokyo holds international gymnastics meet

·3 min read
A false positive coronavirus test for Kohei Uchimura rattled nerves in the run-up to the international gymnastics meet
A false positive coronavirus test for Kohei Uchimura rattled nerves in the run-up to the international gymnastics meet

Tokyo this weekend hosts an international gymnastics competition described as a "litmus test" of its ability to hold sports events during the pandemic, less than a year before the virus-delayed Olympics.

The friendly tournament on Sunday will feature teams from Japan, the United States, Russia and China, and is the first international sporting event in the Japanese capital since Tokyo 2020 was postponed in March.

Sports officials at home and abroad will be watching closely, especially after a false positive coronavirus test for Japan's top Olympic star Kohei Uchimura rattled nerves in the run-up to the event.

"King Kohei", a three-time Olympic gold medallist, tested positive for the virus last week, but several subsequent follow-up tests were negative and he has been cleared to take part in Sunday's event.

The gymnastics meet comes with Tokyo 2020 and Japanese government officials poring over plans for coronavirus countermeasures in a bid to show they can host next year's Games even if a vaccine is not available or widely in use.

Foreign athletes arriving for the competition were required to test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their arrival in Japan, but have had a two-week quarantine period waived.

They travelled to Japan by charter planes and were separated from other passengers at the airport on arrival, Japanese media reported.

"This is the first competition this year for me and it's important for us to be able to join competitions," Russian gymnast Nikita Nagornyy, who won three gold medals at last year's world championships, told reporters on Friday.

"This is an event to prove that the Olympics should be held... The Olympics is everything for athletes," he added. "I have hopes for the success of the 2021 Games."

The US team began official practice on Thursday, but they and other foreign teams are subject to stringent restrictions.

- Daily tests -

All foreign athletes are required to take tests every day and their movement is limited to the competition arena, practice venues and hotels, where each delegation is booking an entire floor.

Federation Internationale de Gymnastique president Morinari Watanabe has admitted that testing athletes daily might appear "medically meaningless".

"But I want athletes to feel comfortable," he told the Nikkei daily.

The competition "will be one of the litmus tests for next year, for sure", Japan Sports Agency chief Koji Murofushi told reporters this week.

He said Uchimura's false positive was the sort of thing officials must prepare for, adding "we assume these sorts of things can happen", the Nikkan Sports daily said.

"What's important is to have unified measures beforehand," he said.

Some 2,000 spectators will be watching the event, in socially distanced seating, and Japanese gymnast Asuka Teramoto said she was keen to be back in front of a crowd.

"I'm so thrilled because I feel a sense of competition after such a long time," she told broadcaster NHK.

"I'm really happy to compete before spectators. I want to enjoy myself and put on a good show."

Uchimura, 31, will be the main attraction at the one-day event, where all competitors have been divided into two teams of mixed nationalities named Friendship and Solidarity.

In addition to Nagornny, Russia's contingent includes Artur Dalaloyan, another three-time world champion, while the USA and China opted against sending their senior competitors.

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