Lord Coe hails Tokyo Olympics test event in Sapporo

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Lord Coe has said a half-marathon test event in Japan’s northern city of Sapporo has made him confident that the Olympic marathon can be held successfully in the city when the Tokyo Games open in just under three months.

Spectators were encouraged to stay off the streets and not watch the race in person.

Security officials held signs on the roads that read: “Please refrain from watching the event from here.”

The smattering of competitors from abroad were largely restricted to their hotel rooms while not competing or training. Lord Coe said strict protocols measures against Covid-19 were followed.

The former Olympic champion and head of the world governing body of track and field said Sapporo had demonstrated the “highest level of capability” to organise successful marathon and race walk events.

Those events are being held outside of Tokyo because of the city’s hot summers.

Lord Coe
Lord Coe (Nick Ansell/PA)

Organisers in the city have held a series of test events in the last few days and have reported few problems.

The biggest problem is convincing the Japanese population that the Olympics, involving 11,000 athletes and thousands of others connected to them, should take place at all in the middle of a pandemic.

Sapporo half-marathon begins
Runners start at the Sapporo challenge half-marathon (Kyodo/AP)

Tokyo, Osaka and other areas are under emergency orders with coronvirus cases surging, particularly involving the more contagious variants.

Only about 2% of Japan’s population has been vaccinated for Covid-19. The country has reported just over 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

“You can understand the concern,” Lord Coe told a news conference.

He tried to offer reassurance by saying that a fifth of the athletes in the Olympics represent track and field – and that World Athletics can meet the challenge.

Tokyo is officially spending 15.4 billion dollars (£11 billion) to hold the Olympics, although some estimates put the figure at twice that amount.

The IOC is pushing on with the games, partly because 73% of its income is from selling broadcast rights.

Sapporo Half Marathon staff
Staff urge people to refrain from watching the half-marathon (Kyodo News via AP)

“Everybody, the athletes particularly, will hope for spectators,” Lord Coe said.

“But I think they recognise that if that’s not possible then the Games will still take place and the competition will still be extremely good.”

He said athletes had become used to competing at stadiums where there are not any crowds.

Lord Coe, a two-time Olympic gold medallist at 1,500 metres, also headed the 2012 London Olympics.

He said he did not envy Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo organising committee.

“The challenges are big. I don’t believe any Olympic Games has been delivered under more difficult circumstances,” Lord Coe said.

“These Games have an overlay of complexity that is beyond most comprehension.”

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