Games on: Tokyo 2020's road to recovery begins from Fukushima with Japan hosting Australia in softball

Nearly 16 months after the first postponement in history, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are set to finally get underway. The women's football will also to kick off on Wednesday.

The first pitch that will be thrown at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Wednesday (21 July) morning at the Fukushima Azuma Stadium will be anything but ceremonial.

It will be cathartic.

With defending champions Japan hosting Australia, softball will get the Games’ competition going - two days before the Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium officially raises the curtain on Tokyo 2020.

Softball and Fukushima could not be more fitting to ignite a Games themed around recovery.

Softball rejoins the Olympic programme for the first time since Beijing 2008, while Fukushima has found its feet again following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

Hours after "Play Ball" is declared in Fukushima, women's football kicks off with a pair of games each in Sapporo, Miyagi and Tokyo.

Nadeshiko Japan will host Canada in Sapporo with four-time champions U.S. taking on Rio 2016 silver medallists Sweden.

In Miyagi, a region hit hard by the quake like Fukushima, Brazil face China, and the Netherlands play Zambia.

The gravity of the moment fully weighs on UENO Yukiko, Japan's long-reigning ace who was on the mound when they edged the United States to win gold 13 years ago.

"I’ve thought long and hard about what it means to start these Games in Fukushima, these Games of recovery," Ueno said on Thursday before going into the Athletes' Village.

"It’s a shame about the crowd, but we want them to feel our passion through the television," she said, referring to the organisers' decision to not allow spectators at venues in Tokyo and five other prefectures.

"I feel nerves - but in a good way. It’s all about to start finally, and while I have my concerns, my expectations are even higher."

Recovery has taken on a whole new meaning since the Games were postponed by a year on 24 March 2020.

It no longer only refers to the survivors and disaster areas of the 2011 quake. It is now a word that resonates with the Japanese public after four State of Emergencies stemming from the global coronavirus pandemic and many lives and businesses lost. And the end, unfortunately, does not appear to be near.

These Games have become far more than about medals for Japan. They have become about inspiration, reclamation, release and salvation all rolled into one.

It is the story athletes like Ueno feel the need to tell to help a nation recover.

"Of all the sports at the Olympics, softball is going ahead first," said Ueno, now a bona fide veteran at 38.

"On behalf of the entire Japanese delegation, we want to get off to a good start, and to do that we will leave everything out there on the field."

Picture by 2018 Getty Images