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“I Feel Like I Can Aim for a Good Time”: A Peek Into Tokyo 2020 with the Paralympic Test Events

Test events for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which had been cancelled for a time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were resumed in April and May, albeit without spectators. Four test events, for wheelchair rugby, swimming, athletics, and shooting para sport, were held for the Paralympic Games. The purpose of the events was to test COVID measures, check the operations for each sport, and to observe the flow of athletes and staff in the venues. It was also a good opportunity, however, for athletes—who did actually compete in these events—to learn about the equipment at the venues, and get a feel for things like the pool water and the track.

Points of Potential Improvement, From Coordination to the Flow of People

The first test event held since the one-year postponement of Tokyo 2020 was the Operational Test - Wheelchair Rugby, held in the wheelchair rugby official venue on April 3-4. Because Yoyogi National Stadium is to be the venue for three sports during the Olympic and Paralympic Games (handball, wheelchair rugby, badminton; in that order), the test event was meant to evaluate how long it would take to install and remove the flooring for wheelchair rugby. As expected, the process of switching floors took about three hours.

“It was good to get a sense of the venue’s atmosphere, and how bright the court is,” said Ikezaki
photo by Tokyo 2020

Something that differentiates wheelchair rugby from the other sports is the need for floor cleaning. Wheelchair rugby players make a lot of turns, which means the floor quickly becomes covered in wheelchair marks and pine resin (used to slip-proof the wheelchairs, the basketball, etc.). As such, the floor must be cleaned regularly. Indeed, one of the things that was checked during this test event was how long this cleaning process would take, and the effect of the cleaning on the flooring material. This was the first time that this latest type of wood flooring had been used in Japan. Daisuke Ikezaki, who had gotten a feel for it during a team practice match, said, “The flooring feels different from where I usually train.” He went on, “[On top of getting used to the flooring] I need to work on my core and the reflexes [I need to maneuver the wheelchair].”

The event was a good opportunity to gain information about the venue. Said Captain Yukinobu Ike, “The court has a lot of depth—it’s a very big space. During this event, we wanted to see what the distances would feel like on court, how the floor felt, how far our voices would travel, things like that. There were things that were kind of difficult, but also things that went better than we expected.”

The Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the swimming venue for Tokyo 2020
photo by Takashi Okui

The swimming test event, READY STEADY TOKYO- Para Swimming, was held on April 26 at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Swimming involves more events than many other sports, and is also a time-based sport. As such, the event was meant to test the feasibility of the relatively tight schedule, as well as the effectiveness of the timing technologies (measurement, time-keeping, etc.). It was also used to check the operations of the medal ceremonies, the various shows, and the general coordination of the event, and to see whether the starting blocks and touch pads were working correctly.

Naohide Yamaguchi, a multi-talented gold medal contender for swimming, in the intellectual impairment class
photo by Takashi Okui

The test event also involved moving players around the venue—a Paralympic-specific issue—in the same way they would during the actual Paralympic Games. Warm-up times before each event overlap, meaning swimmers can become concentrated at certain areas of the venue. The event was meant to evaluate methods in which to move them around effectively. Though no concrete points of improvement have been set out as of yet, organizers have stated that the report from the event, as well as feedback from the various people involved, will inform the methods established for Tokyo 2020.

“Because of the way the event is run, there are cables all over the places, and so that’s something we’ll have to warn people about, whether it’s by having staff telling them to be careful, or having announcements that say as much,” said Yasuo Mori, deputy executive director of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Even with a stadium known for its accessibility, it seems there are issues that only come to light once an event is actually held there.

The test event was held in much the same way as the actual event will be held, including setting up pathways for the flow of people
photo by Takashi Okui

READY STEADY TOKYO- Athletics was held on May 11. Because athletics involves so many events—even more than swimming—it is crucial that the medal ceremonies between each race go smoothly. Any issues or slowdown could greatly affect general operations. As such, the test event was used for a detailed evaluation of the kind of effects the COVID measures would have on operations, as well as the time schedule for the electric carts that operate at regular times within the venue.

The event, which had athletes competing in the same way they would in the real thing, involved approximately 10,000 people, including athletes and volunteers. This was the first time most of the athletes had stepped foot in the New National Stadium, and they were seen getting a feel for the track in the venue, their eyes alight with their motivation for Tokyo 2020.

The test event was used to check the operation of the medal ceremonies as well
photo by X-1

Shunsuke Itani, one of Japan’s top sprinters, competed in the 100m event.

Itani, who runs with a prosthetic leg, said the track was easy to run on. He went on, wiping the sweat from his brow, “There was a good spring to my run, and I felt the forward momentum more [during the home straight]. It fits with how I expect my runs to feel, so I feel like I can aim for a good time. I think the other runners will probably get good times in the real thing too. The spectators are pretty close to us, so I think they’d be able to hear the prosthetics hit the ground, the sound of our breathing, stuff like that.”

Accessibility, however, is paramount in the Paralympic Games, and there were many athletes who voiced concerns, from walkways being too narrow, to the uphill slopes being too much of a burden for athletes on wheelchairs.

The track garnered positive reactions from athletes with prosthetic legs, who said it helped them gain a good spring
photo by X-1

The shooting test event, READY STEADY TOKYO- Shooting was held as a joint Olympic/Paralympic event from May 17-21 at the Asaka Shooting Range. The venue had only been certified as a shooting range on May 10, and is newly built.

The event was meant to test overall operations, but also shooting-specific processes related to the handling of guns, including customs at the airport, transportation, storage, and management.

Shooting sport manager Peter Underhill said, about shooting, “Our utmost concern is managing the flow of people. I’m sure it’s a concern for the teams as well. I’d also say that in terms of the range itself, we need to improve the flooring a little bit.”

The brand-new shooting range, which smells freshly of wood
photo by Asuka Senaga

Testing COVID Measures, and Points for Potential Improvement

The most important issue at hand across all the test events, however, was the COVID measures.

COVID-19 Measures for Test Eventsb

Minimize physical contact
・Limit contact between people as much as possible.
・Avoid physical contact in the form of hugs, handshakes, etc.
・Maintain a 2-meter distance with the athletes; with others, maintain a distance of at least 1 meter within the space of operations.
・Avoid closed spaces, crowds, etc., as much as possible.

Manage hygiene ・Wash your hands regularly, and use hand sanitizer if possible.
・Always wear a mask, unless outdoors in an environment where you are able to maintain a 2-meter distance from others.
・When coughing, cover your mouth with a mask, tissue, your sleeve, etc.
・Support the athletes by clapping for them, not singing, shouting, etc.
・Avoid sharing physical objects as much as possible, or make sure to disinfect them before use.
・Ventilate the room and any shared spaces every 30 minutes.

The basic COVID measures outlined above were implemented and evaluated across all of the test events in the form of screening tests. Part of the evaluation was seeing the effect these measures would have on operations—how much the regular disinfections would impact the schedule, or how social distancing would impact the flow of people and concentration of athletes/staff in areas within the venue. The measures implemented were adapted for each sport, depending on things like the scale and layout of the venue, and the number of people involved.

Some creative, sport-specific tweaks, however, were already being made in the test events.
In wheelchair rugby, for example, the Japan Wheelchair Rugby Federation placed towels doused in disinfectant in front of and behind the door, so the wheels could be disinfected without any extra effort on the part of the athletes/staff.

The Japan Wheelchair Rugby Federation suggested the organizers place towels doused in disinfectant at the door, to disinfect the wheels
photo by Tokyo 2020

There were issues raised, however, about the mixed zone, where post-event interviews take place. These included overlapping flows of movement for athletes and the media, the overall narrowness of the Mixed Zone, and the fact that the players could be difficult to hear during the interviews when the appropriate level of distance (2 meters) was established. Efforts to improve these measures will surely continue, and will most likely include the placing of microphones, speakers, etc., and remote interviews, which were incorporated into these test events.

text by TEAM A
key visual by X-1

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