Tokyo promised a high-tech Olympics complete with robots as it marked a year to go until the 2020 Games on Wednesday, hoping to leave behind some bumps in the road including an ongoing corruption investigation.
Organisers have battled everything from fears over deadly heat to persistent questions about the cost of the Games and how Tokyo won its bid.
But as the one-year countdown began, they touted speedy progress on venue construction and pledged a historic Games.
“I can truly say I have never seen an Olympic city as prepared as Tokyo, with one year to go before the Olympic games,” said International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach at a ceremony Wednesday.
“All the elements that make a truly outstanding Olympic Games are in place,” he added, predicting “an amazing experience” for athletes.
Officials pointed to “unprecedented” ticket sales and applications by 200,000 people for just 80,000 volunteer positions as evidence of building excitement for the Games.
“The six years since Tokyo was picked have zipped by, but I’m glad that preparations have gone very smoothly,” Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, before the symbolic handing-out of invitations to national Olympic committees.
Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said Bach praised the speed of the city’s preparations as “an Olympic record”.
– High-tech showcase –
Half of the new permanent venues have been completed, and organisers say construction of the rest is on track.
Tokyo residents lined up for hours to try out Olympic sports at one of the events to celebrate the landmark.
Twelve-year-old Yukimasa Nakahara queued from 5:30 am with his mother for the chance to pitch baseballs.
“I’m looking forward to the Olympics… We’ve won tickets for a baseball game for the bronze medal,” he told AFP with a big smile.
While cooler weather this summer has assuaged fears raised by a deadly heatwave last year, organisers say they have a raft of safety measures planned in case temperatures soar.
Tactics from misting towers to flower beds — which don’t radiate heat, and which organisers say also have a “psychological” cooling effect — will be tested this week at a beach volleyball event.
With the countdown under way, organisers have also been stepping up efforts to promote the Games as a showcase for Japan’s high-tech know-how.
Japan’s reputation as an industrial innovator has flagged since the last time it hosted the Games, in Tokyo in 1964, when it wowed the world with bullet trains.
But government and businesses are hoping to dazzle visitors with everything from driverless airport transport to robot greeters and mascots.
The organisers have even teamed up with two Japanese astronauts who will send messages of support from the International Space Station to those carrying the Olympic torch through the country.
– Millions apply for tickets –
The torch relay, featuring a rose-gold cherry blossom-shaped torch, will start from a sports centre in Fukushima that housed workers battling to remove radioactive waste after the 2011 tsunami.
It will pass through other areas of north-east Japan devastated by the disaster, with authorities hoping to demonstrate the region’s recovery.
Organisers also want the Games to be the “most sustainable ever” and are making everything from medals to podiums from recycled materials.
Designs for the medals were unveiled Wednesday, featuring a rough outer ring similar to a meringue encircling a smooth shining centre.
Organisers said the design was intended to resemble stones that had been polished — a symbol of the daily striving of athletes preparing for the Games.
The preparations haven’t all been plain sailing for the organisers, with persistent questions over the cost of the Games, despite cuts of more than $4 billion.
The last version of the budget, released in December 2018 stood at 1.35 trillion yen ($12.1 billion), unchanged from 2017.
Organisers have also faced a series of embarrassing sideshows, including the resignation of Japan’s Olympics minister in April after a string of gaffes.
That came just a month after the head of Japan’s Olympic Committee Tsunekazu Takeda said he would step down as French investigators examine payments made before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Games.
But the clouds appear to have done little to dull enthusiasm for the Games, at least in Japan.
Organisers say more than 7.5 million residents registered for a lottery to buy tickets during a first round in July.
Demand was so high that the registration period was extended and organisers will hold a follow-up in August for those who were unsuccessful the first time around.