Bow reports from Koto City.
Tomorrow morning the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will begin; the most beleaguered Olympics in living memory. Beseiged on all sides by coronavirus and a raft of associated issues, it has survived and emerged a year later as a competition that will forever be associated with its era.
The empty stands will be impossible to completely mask from camera view and however much crowd noise is added to the broadcast feed, it seems unlikely to be able shake off the tag of The Games That Maybe Shouldn’t Have Happened. Many of the senior journalists attending have descended into solipsistic handwringing, perhaps because so many of them are essentially confined to their hotel rooms for varying lengths of time. The big names in all fields are not only unable to lord it about town for a couple of weeks, they are unable to even walk down the street without the very real threat of deportation, such are the extensive – and in many cases, extraordinary – measures taken by the Japanese government to prevent the event becoming a public health disaster.
The question of if it was going to happen was essentially settled months ago, making the whether it should happen actually a little moot; the questions should be more about how to achieve the goal as safely as possible. The archery event, as arguably the first major sport to get underway before the apparently subdued Opening Ceremony tomorrow, will be mobbed by the world’s press looking for stories good and bad.
The Japanese public will not begin the process of getting behind the Games until Japan wins its first gold medal (most likely in judo on Sunday); this key change of public attitude was noted at both London 2012 and Rio 2016. A home nations medal in archery is less likely, but remains a possibility.
The first archery medals will be awarded on Saturday in the mixed team event, the event that has made World Archery extremely hopeful for a breakthrough in the dominance of the team events by a handful of nations.
Needing just one male and one female world class athlete per country, it opens up possibilities for more medals and more exposure for countries lower on the archery radar, spreading development of the sport worldwide. Unlike the individual and full team events however, not every pair from every country will get to compete on the stage; there is a cut to 16 pairs from the 30 possible teams that have at least one man and one woman attending.
The lack of spectators may help some and not others; all archers are used to competing with few or no spectators. Brady Ellison detailed in his recently released documentary that he relishes the roars of the crowd. He will not get any of that help this time, when he is finally the bookies’ favourite to win. Some others, like the 17-year-old Korean wunderkind Kim Je Deok, who at least appears nerveless, may be at an advantage without the novel distraction of a noisy audience. Many eyes are on the younger Kim, recently described in the New York Times as “the kind of archery talent that comes along once in a hundred years” by double Olympic medallist Yun Ok Hee, prompting World Archery to run a piece called ‘Is Kim Je Deok The Real Deal?’. Everyone is certainly looking forward to finding out.
There are other factors; the high humidity in Tokyo will make the arrows fly a little slower; easily corrected for, but experience will help. All elite archers are used to the blazing heat this week, but some, again, more than others – and thunderstorms are expected for the women’s final on Monday (literal rather than figurative). Experience may be counting there, too. We can but hope the competition – in all sports – quickly transcends the difficult circumstances around it; and we all get back rapidly to simply enjoying dazzling feats by the very best in the world.
From very early Saturday morning, the mixed team match should be available on your multi-channel sport provider in your country. UK viewers be aware that this time around, that isn’t the BBC, and you may require a subscription to Discovery Plus to watch archery as live. World Archery are also producing torrents of great content on Facebook and on their website.