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Virtual Olympic send-off leaves gymnast Uchimura unimpressed

gymnast Kohei Uchimura
Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimaura at the 75th All Japan Artistic Gymnastics Apparatus Championship, June 5, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
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TOKYO, Japan — Japan held a stripped-down, socially distanced send-off ceremony for its Tokyo Olympic team on Tuesday — with star gymnast Kohei Uchimura complaining that the event felt "a bit unsatisfying".اضافة اعلان

Usually held in front of cheering crowds with lively stage performances, this year's ceremony took place largely online and struck a decidedly low-key note.

Athletes waved from computer screens, while the team's leaders sat masked and at arm's length from each other in a plain white room.

The event left Uchimura, a Japanese Olympic great who will be appearing at his fourth Games this summer, feeling underwhelmed.

"I've done a lot of online interviews recently, so I'm used to it," he told reporters online.

"But to do a formal ceremony online feels a bit unsatisfying."

Japanese Olympic Committee president Yasuhiro Yamashita began the event with a speech, before an announcer introduced the team's 582 athletes online.

Yui Susaki, a twice-world-champion wrestler who will carry Japan's flag along with NBA star Rui Hachimura, was one of only a handful of athletes taking part in person.

"It made me realise that the Tokyo Olympics — the event of my dreams — is about to start," she said.

"There isn't long left before I compete, so I want to get myself ready and be in my best shape for it."

Japan will take a record number of athletes to the pandemic-postponed Games, which will be held in conditions unlike any previous Olympics.

Athletes will be tested for the virus every day, and will be confined to the Olympic Village when not competing or training.

Overseas fans have already been banned and organizers have yet to decide how many domestic fans will be allowed into venues.

Wrestler Risako Kawai said the athletes "just have to get on with it".

"We've never had a send-off ceremony like this before, and a lot of the situations we're dealing with as we prepare for the Games are new," said Kawai, a gold medal winner in 2016.

"But this is the national team, and to fulfil that role, the most important thing is to give your best performance."

Japan's team captain will be sprinter Ryota Yamagata, who set a new Japanese 100m record of 9.95sec last month.

Japanese Olympic chiefs had previously set the team a target of 30 gold medals.

But delegation head Tsuyoshi Fukui said Tuesday that "the situation has changed a lot" because of the pandemic, and that the goal was now for the athletes "to give their best performance".

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