2020 Olympic Preview

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finally set to begin in the summer of 2021. It is the first summer Olympic Games to be postponed.

Despite taking place in 2021, it will still be recognized as the 2020 Olympics on logos, merchandise and the medals athletes receive.

There will be no spectators or family members of Olympians at the events. It will likely feel similar on television to professional sports leagues in 2020, like the NBA, MLB, and MLS, that took place in empty arenas and stadiums, with athletes secluded from everybody except teammates and competitors. Athletes aren’t allowed in public places without approval from Olympic officials.

Japan is currently in a declared state of emergency due to concerns of the Delta variant of Covid-19 spreading as the opening ceremony approaches July 23. There is concern that the Olympics could worsen the situation. The state of emergency will last the duration of the Olympics which end August 8, as cases have increased in the country over recent weeks. About 22 percent of Japan is currently vaccinated.

There is controversy in Japan over whether these Olympics should be taking place there at this point in the pandemic. Olympic sponsor Toyota announced on Monday, July 19, that the company will not be airing TV commercials in Japan about the Tokyo Olympics. According to a poll taken by one of Japan’s largest daily newspapers, Asahi Shimbun, 55 percent of those who took part in the poll said the Games should not be held this summer.

This is the second time the Olympics will be held in Tokyo, with the last time being in 1964.

The Associated Press reports that the International Olympic Committee has said that about 80 percent of the 11,000 Olympians, 4,000 Paralympians, and thousands of officials, judges, administrators, and media traveling to the Olympic village are expected to be vaccinated.

Athletes will be tested before traveling to, upon arrival, and regularly while in Tokyo at the Olympic village. Some athletes have already tested positive, including American tennis star 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who announced she won’t compete as a result. Kara Eaker, a gymnast from Grain Valley who qualified to go to Tokyo as a reserve gymnast for Team USA, was also one of the athletes reported to test positive.

The 2020 Olympics will be bigger than ever as four sports make an Olympic debut. Skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing and karate will be part of the Olympics for the first time.

Olympians with local connections

Courtney Frerichs

Courtney Frerichs competed in Cross Country and track at the University of Missouri Kansas City from 2011-2015. Frerichs qualified for her second Olympics in the 3,000 meter steeplechase by finishing second at the U.S. Olympic trials. She is from Nixa, Mo.

Frerichs finished 11th in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. In 2016, Frerichs won the NCAA title in the event.

“I’m so excited,” Frerichs told NBC Sports after the race. “To make one Olympic team is amazing; to make two is an absolute dream come true.”

Bubba Starling

USA Baseball selected Gardner, Kan. native Bubba Starling for the Olympic baseball team. Starling, a 28-year-old outfielder, has 97 at-bats and 7 home runs this season with the Kansas City Royals triple-A affiliate Omaha Stormchasers.

Starling graduated from Gardner Edgerton High School and was drafted by the Royals in the first round of the draft in 2011. He played at the major league level with the Royals in 2019 and 2020, with a batting average of .204 in 261 career plate appearances.

Starling and Team USA will try to win the third gold medal for US baseball and the first since 2000. Baseball has been added to the Olympics this year since it was removed in 2008.

Mason Finley

Mason Finley was born in Kansas City, Mo. and after moving away as a kid, he returned to the area for college and competed in track and field at the University of Kansas. This will also be Finley’s second Olympics in the discus and he won the U.S. discus title at the Olympic trials.

Finley won the bronze medal at the 2017 World Championships. Finley is prepared for the big stage in a way he didn’t think he was before, having now been on the medal stand at the World Championships and finishing 11th at the Rio Olympics.

“Rio was my first big boy international competition,” said Finley to Team USA. “I was seeing all of my idols for the first time and competing with them.  I’ve competed against the top in the world quite a bit since then, so this round, I’m not going to be so starstruck.”

Leanne Wong

Wong is from Overland Park and trains at the GAGE Center in Blue Springs. She has qualified to serve as an alternate for Team USA’s gymnastics team. Another GAGE Center gymnast, Kara Eaker of Grain Valley, also qualified as an alternate for gymnastics. Eaker is one of the US athletes reported to have tested positive for Covid.

In the floor exercise at the US Olympic trials, Wong finished second only to the great Simone Biles. Wong and Eaker will be attending their first Olympic games.

Others local Olympic competitors include decorated shooter Derrick Mein from Paola, Kans., and pole volters KC Lightfood from Lee’s Summit and Chris Nilson from Park Hill High  School.

Where to watch

NBC will broadcast the Olympics across the network’s channels including NBC, NBC Sports Network, and CNBC. The events can be streamed at NBCOlympics.com. The full schedule of events is on the network’s website. Tokyo’s time zone is 14 hours ahead of Kansas City.

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