THE most troubled Olympics in modern history finally open in Tokyo on Friday, struggling to shake off lingering virus fears after a one-year postponement and a build-up marred by scandal and controversy.
Eight years after Japanese newscasters shed tears as Tokyo celebrated winning the right to stage the Games, Friday’s opening ceremony will take place before empty stands and with the city in a state of emergency.
Fears that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could trigger a super-spreader event have prompted organizers to clamp the Games in a biosecure straitjacket.
Overseas fans are banned for the first time ever, and domestic spectators will be kept out of all but a handful of venues.
Athletes, support staff and media are subject to strict Covid-19 protocols, including regular testing and daily health checks.
Polls have consistently found a majority of Japanese are against the games, with opinion ranging from weary indifference to outright hostility.
But in the hours before the opening ceremony, there were glimmers of excitement building, with thousands turning out in Tokyo to watch an aerial display by the Japanese air force’s Blue Impulse team.
“Before the Olympics began I expected the atmosphere to be a little sad,” said Maki Hasumoto, 25, as she waited for the display.
“But now it’s very atmospheric and now I’m looking forward to it.” Friday is a national holiday in Japan and families set up picnic blankets in Tokyo parks to watch the jets draw the Olympic rings in coloured smoke.