Athletes make Friendship & Solidarity meet a win for Tokyo 2020

Thirty gymnasts from four countries leave Japan as happy campers, leaving Games organisers confident and convinced for summer of 2021.

By Shintaro Kano

It's probably fair to say the Friendship and Solidarity Competition, the first major international sporting event to be held on Japanese soil of the COVD-19 era, accomplished its most important mission: the gymnasts stayed safe, and went home with a big smile.

Which is exactly what organisers will be looking to reproduce next summer but on a much larger scale at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

"When the athletes first arrived I could tell they were a little scared, worried if they could stay safe from the virus", International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) President Watanabe Morinari said on Tuesday (10 November), two days following the four-nation competition was held at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

"But as they spent time here, their insecurities eased and when they left, they left with pure joy and excitement that I could see on their faces. I like to think that’s proof the countermeasures we put in place were effective.

"We are proud of what we have done this time".

While there was the positive test scare of Japan's gymnastics royalty Uchimura Kohei in the lead-up to the meet, the otherwise successful coronavirus countermeasures employed on Sunday boosted the hopes of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee.

Nikita Nagornyy and Uchimura Kohei were all smiles at the Friendship and Solidarity Competition on Sunday.

Thirty combined athletes from the United States, Russia, China and Japan with a crowd of 2,000 may not compare to the 11,000-plus athletes at 33 venues set for 2021, but organisers believe a lot from Sunday can be cookie-cuttered to the Games.

"When you break it down for both the Olympics and Paralympics, you end up having to take it one day at a time, sport by sport, so we like to think what went on over the weekend translates", Games Delivery Officer Nakamura Hidemasa said after a debriefing held by Watanabe at Tokyo 2020 headquarters

"I think it sends a strong message, that we were able to hold an event of this magnitude using various infection countermeasures.

"We are no longer just throwing around ideas now; we have started to execute on-site, which will help us build towards the Olympics. We took away a lot from this competition".

Athletes first and foremost

Asked what made Sunday's competition possible, Watanabe didn't hesitate in pointing to the athletes.

"I think the measures worked and at the end of the day, the athletes made it happen by following the protocol," he said. "Each delegation knew what they had to do and obeyed the rules. We hope this is what we will see at the Olympics.

"It’s the little things that count in reassuring the athletes - and from security to the media to the spectators, everyone must play a part.

"The athletes were happy and safe. I won’t say which country but some said they felt safer here than at home.

"From Uchimura on down, the athletes expressed how much the Games mean to them. I have urged the organising committee to put their interests over everything".

Uchimura's false positive almost derailed the entire competition in what would have been a nightmare scenario.

Retests did clear the three-time Olympic champion to compete - and he was in scintillating form on the horizontal bar - but Tokyo 2020 made it clear Uchimura's case was far from being in the rearview mirror.

"In the end, Mr. Uchimura was able to compete and turned in a brilliant display which was good, but we are not leaving it at that", Nakamura said. "We need to really think about what we must do should a case like this occur during the Games".