The delivery of the Olympic torch by the Hellenic Olympic Committee to the organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Games took place today behind closed doors at the Panatinaico Stadium in Athens, under the national alarm caused by the expansion of the coronavirus.
The event, carried out without the possibility of public access, was attended only by the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Spyros Kapralos, the torch bearers and a small delegation from the host country of the Games.
The ceremony began with the appearance of actress Xanthi Yeoryíu, in her role as Grand Priestess of Olympia, carrying the torch.
Then there was a small relay in which two elite athletes from the Greek sport participated: the gymnast Elefterios Petrunias and the pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi, both European, world and Olympic champions in their respective disciplines.
After the burning of the cauldron by Stefanidi, it was Kapralos who picked up the torch from the High Priestess and passed it on to the Japanese representative, the Japanese swimmer Naoko Imoto, who completed the ritual.
Despite the difficulty produced by the winds, the Olympic fire finally passed from the torch to an oil lamp, the container in which the flame will be transferred to Japan.
“The light of Olympism is a great opportunity to highlight the ties between both countries,” said Kapralos in his speech. “Hopefully the spirit of the Olympic flame will help us defeat this enemy,” he concluded, referring to COVID-19.
Organizing committee chairman Yoshiro Mori intervened via video, thanking the Greek government and HOC “for holding the event despite the difficulties” and announcing that the Olympic flame will travel Japan for 121 days.
The event, beyond continuing with the Olympic tradition, has been marked by the intention, both of the organizing committee and of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that the Olympic Games continue on schedule, despite the fact that many tournaments Qualifiers for the summer event have already been canceled due to the global expansion of the pandemic.
According to the IOC, which yesterday issued a statement announcing that preparations are ongoing, it is working with the relevant federations to make changes in the qualifying tournaments, including raising the number of invitations for athletes. At the moment, only 57% of the athletes who will participate in Tokyo have passed the classification tests.
Despite the fact that the highest Olympic body also “encouraged all athletes to continue preparing for Tokyo to the best of their ability,” the quarantine particularly affects athletes who require specific training facilities.
This has been the case of the Spanish swimmers Mireia Belmonte or Jessica Vall, who have already publicly expressed their willingness to confine themselves to one of the High Performance Centers (CAR) to continue preparing for the Games, despite the coronavirus.
If the COVID-19 allows it, Japan will be the first Asian country to host the Summer Olympics since China-Beijing did it in 2008. This is the fourth time that the most important event on the sports calendar falls on Japanese hands, after Tokyo 1964 and the two editions of the Winter Games, Sapporo 1972 and Nagano 1998.
For the Japanese country, the celebration of these Games symbolizes reconstruction, nine years after the areas hit by the earthquake that devastated the northeast part of Japan and destroyed the Fukushima nuclear plant.
For this reason, the tour of the torch will begin in the same prefecture of the nuclear accident and will travel throughout the country until its arrival in Tokyo. The organizing committee has asked the public to refrain from following their path on the street and has warned that the relay could suffer delays or be stopped for health and safety reasons.