Once the government extended Tokyo’s state of emergency through Aug. 22, it was inevitable that spectators would be banned from the Olympics. With COVID-19 cases in the capital on the rise, a populace still anxious about the Games going on at all, and a national election on the horizon, empty seats was the only answer.
“We need to issue a message which is strong and easy to understand,” organizing committee chief Seiko Hashimoto said before the decision was made.
Officials already were heading in that direction in recent days — they’d removed the final stages of the torch relay from Tokyo’s main streets and had told fans not to line Sapporo’s marathon and race-walking courses.
As it was, there already was a 50 percent capacity limit in the stadiums and arenas with a maximum of 10,000 people. So going to zero wasn’t an enormous leap, especially since foreign fans had been excluded, and it won’t have a material effect on the competition.
“Fans with bums in the seats are nice to have,” Dick Pound, the IOC’s senior member, observed months ago. “But they’re not must-haves.”
The Games long have been a global TV spectacle anyway. What’s most important to the Lords of the Rings and the organizers is that the Games go on with a full complement of athletes performing in front of cameras. Everything else — including $800 million in forgone ticket revenues — is expendable.
She’ll be missed, somewhat
How will Sha’Carri Richardson’s absence from the US women’s 4 x 100 relay team affect its medal chances? Not much.
Even with her in the lineup the Jamaicans still had three sprinters (Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Herah, and Shericka Jackson) with faster 2021 times than the second American (Javianne Oliver). Without Richardson the rest of the quartet (Oliver, Teahna Daniels, Jenna Prandini, Gabby Thomas) still is faster than the British, although not by much.
Where Richardson will be missed is in the 100, where she has the world’s third-fastest clocking this year.
Brianna (Rollins) McNeal, the Olympic 100-meter hurdles champion, not only was bounced from the US team for Tokyo but also from next year’s global meet and the 2024 Games when her five-year doping ban was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
McNeal, who finished second to Keni Harrison at the trials, was disciplined for missing a doping test. She claimed that she was at home recovering from an abortion and didn’t hear the doping official at her door, calling it “an honest mistake at a very emotional time.”
The suspension is McNeal’s second — she was sidelined for a year for missing three tests in 2016. Taking her place will be Gabbi Cunningham, who originally missed making the squad in a photo finish with Christina Clemons.
Thanks to global rankings, the United States will have the maximum three entries in every track and field event, except men’s javelin. That’s how a number of qualifiers who hadn’t met the Olympic standard — most notably victors Cole Hocker in the men’s 1,500 and Curtis Thompson in the javelin — earned their tickets.
The American squad, which includes a half-dozen reigning world champions and 13 Rio medalists, has 81 first-time Olympians.
Slovenia and the Czech Republic will be the two newbies in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament after winning last weekend’s last-chance qualifiers, while the Italians are back in the field for the first time since they took silver in 2004.
Notable by their absence will be Lithuania and China, who’d never missed qualifying since they first competed in the Games. The Czechs will be grouped with the United States, France, and Iran.
Cleveland power forward Kevin Love, the head-scratching pick for the US men’s basketball roster, acknowledges that he’ll have to justify his presence.
“For me to come here I have a lot to prove,” said Love, who played only 25 games for the Cavaliers this past season and hasn’t been on a US roster since he won a gold medal with the 2012 squad in London.
Love does bring five-ringed experience to a roster that has only two other Games veterans (Kevin Durant and Draymond Green) and coach Gregg Popovich is looking for him to shoot and bang the boards.
“We’re going to work his ass off the next four to five weeks and demand a lot,” Popovich said at the beginning of the Las Vegas camp.
Gold on the greens?
Even without Dustin Johnson, who opted out, the United States should put two men on the Olympic golf podium. Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, and Bryson DeChambeau all are ranked just behind Spanish leader Jon Rahm. The talent pool is so deep that the US team could have sent its next tier — Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed, and Harris English — and still had a strong chance at a couple of medals. Nelly Korda, meanwhile, is the women’s favorite amid an imposing quartet of Koreans led by defending champion Inbee Park . . . Who’s the only member of the US baseball squad with Olympic experience? Eddy Alvarez, a Marlins minor leaguer who won a silver medal with the 2014 short-track relay team in Sochi. Alvarez is the first Olympian from a different sport to play in the majors since Jim Thorpe . . . For those who view the Olympics as a five-ringed folly there’s “Toon In!” a massive collection of more than 1,200 Olympic-themed cartoons by 360 illustrators from 47 countries with a 100,000-word commentary. It’s the brainchild of Michael Payne, the IOC’s longtime former marketing director, who put it together during COVID as “the mother of all lockdown projects.” The volume, which weighs in at 500 pages, is available for $95 at www.olympiccartoon.com. Proceeds go to four charities.
(John Powers can be reached at email@example.com. Material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews, and wire services was used in this report.)