Age concern: Six stars for whom Olympics in 2021 may come too late

PARIS (AFP) – With the 2020 Olympics postponed until 2021, there are fears the delay will shatter the gold medal hopes of many ageing athletes.

AFP Sport looks at six evergreen stars for whom a delayed Tokyo Games might be a step too far.

Roger Federer

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who will be 40 in August 2021, won Olympic gold when he partnered Stan Wawrinka to the men’s doubles title at the 2008 Beijing Games. Federer was a quarter-finalist in singles in China, silver medallist in 2012 in London before injury forced him skip the 2016 Games in Rio.

In Sydney, in 2000, Federer made the semi-finals in singles but he still remembers Australia fondly as it was the place where he first started his romance with Mirka Vavrinec, who is now his wife.

“Overall it was probably the most unbelievable Olympics I ever had,” said Federer, who was also Switzerland’s flag-bearer in Beijing and in Athens in 2004 where he exited in the second round.

Serena Williams

The American great will be 40 in September next year although her desire to play in Tokyo might not be as pressing as that of Federer.

Williams already has four Olympic gold medals – singles at London in 2012 and women’s doubles with sister Venus in 2000, 2008 in Beijing and London four years later.

The sisters lost their opening round match in Rio in 2016 while Serena’s gold medal defence in the singles was ended by Elina Svitolina in the third round.

Tiger Woods

Woods, who will be 46 in December next year, would have struggled to make the US team for the Games if they had remained in their 2020 slot. He is currently only the sixth-ranked American with just the top four guaranteed to make the squad.

Woods, the winner of 15 majors, has been fighting a recurrence of a back injury so at least the delay to 2021 for the Olympics gives him renewed hope of a golden swansong.

Organisers would be desperate for Woods to play after he missed the return of golf at the 2016 Games in Rio due to injury.

Lin Dan

The colourful and controversial Chinese badminton superstar will be 37 by the time the next Games roll around.

Lin already has gold from Beijing in 2008 and London four years later, adding to his five world titles.

However, there is a hint of unfinished business for Lin who was defeated in the bronze medal match in Rio in 2016 having been downed in the semi-finals by great rival Lee Chong Wei, the man he had beaten in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals.

Allyson Felix

The only female track and field athlete in history to win six Olympic gold medals, Felix had spent the last two years preparing for a golden farewell at the Tokyo Olympics.

Felix, who turns 35 at the end of this year, will be racing against Father Time as she attempts to improve her medal tally in what will be her fifth consecutive Olympics appearance.

The American star can take comfort from the fact she is by no means the oldest woman to chase Olympic glory in sprint events. Merlene Ottey was 40 when she anchored Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team to a bronze medal in 2000.

Justin Gatlin

Gatlin had planned to retire in 2020 after competing in his fourth Olympics at the age of 38. However the controversial American star now plans to extend his career in order to compete in the rescheduled Tokyo Games.

“I think a lot of people think that time is against me or against older athletes in this situation, and it’s far from the truth,” said Gatlin, who has twice served suspensions for drug offences during his career.

Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, though could face a battle to even qualify given the depth of the US men’s sprinting squad, with Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles the favourites in the 100m and 200m.

But there will be plenty of time for this pair: Syrian table tennis player Hend Zaza was set to become the youngest athlete at the Tokyo Olympics – at just 11 years old.

She would not have been alone in Japan as professional skateboarder Sky Brown – only five months older – was hoping to compete for Great Britain.

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Olympics: Delay means $17 billion Tokyo Games just got more expensive

(BLOOMBERG) – The decision to delay the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until next year means taxpayers and sponsors likely will have to fork over billions of dollars more just as the global economy caves in during the coronavirus pandemic.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach agreed on an unprecedented postponement of the event for about a year as the world grapples with the coronavirus infection.

It is the first time the games have been delayed since they began in the 19th century.

Now Abe’s administration, along with organisers and the Tokyo local government, have to start figuring out the costs associated with that decision – and who’s going to pay them.

“When you have to change your plans in projects like this, it’s like turning a supertanker around, and it’s really expensive,” said Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School who wrote a study of Olympic cost overruns.

“The only thing you can do at this stage is keep paying the bills.”

Japan’s organising committee said in December the event would cost 1.35 trillion yen (S$17 billion), the bulk of which would be covered by themselves and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The Nikkei newspaper, citing the group, said Wednesday the delay would trigger about 300 billion yen in additional costs.

A professor at Kansai University, Katsuhiro Miyamoto, recently published an estimate of 422 billion yen in extra costs for a one-year postponement, with another 218 billion-yen hit to the economy on top of that, excluding any effects from the pandemic.

Japan’s organising committee will be seeking more cash from sponsors and the government, with individual sports associations likely to face financial difficulties, the body’s president, Yasuhiro Yamashita, said Wednesday.

The amount of funding needed is not known yet, he said.

Much of the extra costs likely will accrue from having to retain staff, who otherwise would have been let go once the games ended, Flyvbjerg said. Mitigating these outlays by putting workers on other projects likely will be hard, given the current global economic stagnation.

“The world is not the same as it used to be, so who needs more people right now?” Flyvbjerg said.

Olympic Facilities Maintaining venues that suddenly will be empty during the July-September schedule for the Olympics and Paralympics also will be a burden. Miyamoto estimated that extra care for the 45 venues will cost about 22 billion yen.

Some Olympic facilities already are booked for other events next summer, potentially forcing organizers to pay for alternatives. And sports federations may need to hold extra competitions to select representatives for the 2021 games.

Not least of the concerns is the fate of the athletes’ village, where many apartments already were sold to people expecting to occupy them in 2023.

The Covid-19 outbreak also introduces a huge element of doubt in planning for next year. Abe bills the event as one to mark humanity’s victory over the virus, yet no one knows whether the pandemic will be under control by then.

With Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike calling on the capital’s residents to stay at home this weekend in a bid to slow infections, further delays cannot be ruled out, nor can the eventual abandonment of the effort.

Flyvbjerg’s research shows that Olympic costs always outstrip estimates, with the most extreme example being Montreal in 1976, which had a 760 per cent overrun.

“If it happened, God forbid, that the games got cancelled altogether, it would be a huge waste of money,” he said.

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Olympics: From 'best prepared' to postponed – Tokyo 2020's rocky road

TOKYO (AFP) – Olympic officials regularly lauded Tokyo as the best prepared host city they had seen. But no one could have planned for the coronavirus pandemic that has forced an unprecedented postponement of the 2020 Games.

And while organisers won praise, a plagiarism scandal, corruption charges and budget woes all clouded the horizon even before the virus outbreak threatened the Games.

Here, AFP Sport chronicles the path to postponement:

  • 2013: Tears of joy – TV news presenters burst into tears and thousands of people erupt in screams of delight as the IOC awards the Games to Tokyo in September 2013. With emotions running high, the thoughts of many Japanese turn to the thousands of victims of a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, with the Olympics seen by some as a golden opportunity to rebuild. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vows Tokyo will be a “safe pair of hands” with a reputation for efficiency and competence.
  • 2015: Stadium scrapped – Embarrassment for Abe as he is forced to tear up blueprints for the proposed national stadium when costs balloon out of control. “I have decided we must go back to the drawing board,” a red-faced Abe says in July 2015 after public anger over the US$2 billion (S$2.89 billion) price tag which would have made it the world’s most expensive stadium.
  • 2015: Logo dropped – Scandal follows in September 2015 as the logo for the Games is ditched after accusations of plagiarism. Designer Olivier Debie says the design is stolen from his logo for a Belgian theatre and threatens court action before officials withdraw the emblem, saying it “no longer has public support”.
  • 2018: Cute mascots – After the logo disaster, there is relief at the smooth rollout of futuristic mascots for the Olympics and Paralympics, chosen by schoolchildren. Olympic mascot “Miraitowa” – combining the Japanese words for future and eternity – is a blue-checked, doe-eyed character with pointy ears, while Paralympic counterpart “Someity” sports pink checks derived from Japan’s famous cherry blossoms.
  • 2018: Boxing blues – In an precedented move, the International Olympic Committee strips troubled governing body Aiba of the right to run the boxing competition at the Games over various allegations. There are fears the sport will not feature in the Games, but the IOC opts to organise the boxing tournament itself.
  • 2019: French charges – French investigating magistrates in January 2019 charge the former head of Japan’s Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, as they probe two payments totalling US$2.3 million made before and after the Japanese capital was chosen. Takeda says he was “never involved” in any decision-making process over the payment and protests his innocence but he steps down as head of Japan’s Olympic Committee.
  • 2019: Marathon move – After warnings against holding the marathon in the middle of Tokyo’s sweltering summer, the IOC springs a surprise in October 2019 by shifting the flagship race to Sapporo, 800km to the north – and usually cooler in August. Tokyo 2020 organisers are livid, but city governor Yuriko Koike says she has no choice but to accept the decision.
  • 2019: Budget blowout – Organisers unveil the final version of their budget in December, with the Games expected to cost US$12.6 billion, although Tokyo 2020 and the IOC are still wrangling over the cost of moving the marathon. An audit suggests the national government’s part of the overall bill, which is supposed to be 150 billion yen, is actually nearly 10 times that. Organisers say auditors are counting expenses only tangentially related to the running of the Games.
  • 2019: Russian ban – Russia’s participation in the Games is thrown into question in December, when anti-doping agency Wada bans the country’s athletes for four years from global events including the Olympics over manipulated doping data. Russia vows to appeal, but a hearing in March 2020 is postponed as the new coronavirus spreads globally.
  • 2020: Cancellation ‘unthinkable’ – By late March, the coronavirus outbreak has been declared a pandemic causing more than 325,000 infections and over 14,400 deaths. With pressure growing for organisers to acknowledge the Games may be hit, Tokyo governor Koike calls cancellation “unthinkable”. But the IOC and Japanese officials gradually begin to concede a delay may now be on the cards.
  • 2020: Historic postponement – The IOC and Japan eventually bow to the inevitable and postpone the Olympics in a historic decision.

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Olympics: S'pore table tennis player Feng says postponement 'right move', but challenges await

SINGAPORE – As the number of coronavirus cases continues to spike worldwide with more than 390,000 infections and over 17,000 dead, Singapore’s most bemedalled Olympian and top paddler Feng Tianwei agrees that the postponement of the July 24-Aug 9 Tokyo Olympics is “the right move”.

The world No. 9 is encouraged by the decision not to cancel the quadrennial event entirely, but the rescheduling throws up issues such as fitness, form and finances as she plans for what appears to be her final Olympic medal push.

Since table tennis made its debut at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, only six female paddlers over the age of 30 have won a medal, with Germany’s Shen Xiaona the oldest at 33 when she won a team silver at Rio 2016.

Time is not on Feng’s side as she turns 34 in August, even though she beat China’s world No. 1 Chen Meng and some of Japan’s top players – including joint-world No. 9 Kasumi Ishikawa – to work her way back into the top 10 after falling to 13th last July.

While the Singapore women’s team have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, an extra 12 months with the rescheduled Olympics will mean that Feng has to continue hustling for world ranking points to attain better seedings in the women’s singles and team events.

Feng, who has been coping with a chronic wrist complaint, told The Straits Times: “The decision to postpone the Olympics is a fair one for everyone.

“I just hope that I can do what is required of me to be at my best when the Olympics is eventually held, and that is to take good care of my body, maintain my technical and fitness levels to face the different challenges that are to come.”

There are also financial considerations for Feng, who has one team silver from Beijing 2008 and bronzes in the singles and team at London 2012.

After cutting ties with the Singapore Table Tennis Association in 2016, she no longer receives an allowance from the association. She receives funding via Sport Singapore’s Spex Scholarship, but there is pressure to play more – 20 to 30 events a year – and do well to justify the financial support.

The International Table Tennis Federation’s suspension of its World Tour events has hurt Feng, although next year’s introduction of the US$13 million (S$18.8m) World Table Tennis series will offer the opportunity to earn more prize money. The funds are needed to sustain her five-man team comprising two coaches, two sparring partners and a manager, as well as her overseas training programme.

Feng, who is currently training in Japan, was based in Europe before the Covid-19 pandemic and expenses can easily run into a six-figure sum a year.

Feng said: “At this point, if I want to continue playing and strive to do well at the rescheduled Olympics, I will need to find more sponsors to maintain the team I have built so that I can continue to improve and be ready for battle.

“I’m always thankful for the Spex Scholarship and the good relationship with Singapore Sport Institute over the years, and I hope to continue to have their support in this long and tough journey.”

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