SAPPORO, Hokkaido – Fences are erected on Odori Park in Sapporo, the green oasis in the center of the city. Tents, containers, and weird structures can now be found where people typically congregate to enjoy the sun and the occasional Sapporo Classic beer.
Sapporo will host the Olympic marathons (the women’s run will be on August 7, the men’s run the next day), the Olympic walking events and eight football matches. Although the city is some 1,100 kilometers from Tokyo, the competitions will be billed as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. And Odori Park will be the venue for walking and running.
Sapporo, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, was chosen to host the events because it offers better weather conditions than the sweltering summer heat of Tokyo. However, Sapporo’s cooler climate was not the only consideration. The city is still planning to host the Winter Olympics, perhaps in 2026 or 2030. It hopes that the organization of the Olympic marathon will increase its chances.
But as three blocks of trees and flower beds in Odori Park have disappeared from view, the mood in Sapporo is far from cheerful. “I really hope the marathon is canceled,” said Hiroya, an English professor at a local university.
Sapporo was one of the first places to be affected by the pandemic in the winter of 2020. It did not perform particularly well in 2021 either and was the subject of a state of emergency request until. ‘has recently. Hiroya’s English classes, which have been running online for months, just returned to class at the end of June.
Hiroya is still not vaccinated against the coronavirus and is feeling uncomfortable. Like many others in Sapporo, he’s still waiting for a voucher. “It’s not safe to hold the marathon here,” he said.
Nanaho, his girlfriend, works at another university that serves as a support station for the Olympic marathon. She is also concerned about the safety of the event. “Fortunately, August is when the students have vacation and we don’t have classes,” she says.
Ready or Not
While the vaccination campaign in Hokkaido has been slow, the city of Sapporo has managed to go even slower. By early July, less than 20% of Sapporo residents had received a corona-shot. Only a quarter of all people over 65 are fully immunized. The city continues to send vaccination coupons to people over 65. Vouchers for people between 60 and 64 are expected to be mailed by mid-July, while vaccinations for this age group are expected to start in late July or early August, depending on the city.
As Olympic volunteers have been given priority in recent days, the city is now running low on vaccines and may in fact have to suspend its vaccination campaign. Hiroya, who is in his 40s, doesn’t know when his voucher will arrive. As cases of infection in Sapporo have declined, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) recently warned that hospital bed occupancy rates for COVID-19 patients in Sapporo remain high.
Bi Kim, a South Korean student, has just received her first coronavirus vaccine. Kim, who has just passed her N1-Japanese language proficiency test, works part-time at the Prince Hotel, where most of the athletes, delegates and Games organizers will be staying from next week.
Kim hopes to receive her second dose of the vaccine in late July. She will be fully vaccinated two weeks later ー by the time the marathon and the Olympics are over. “I’m glad I got the vaccine,” said the 26-year-old.
The marathon route
The Sapporo Olympic Marathon route resembles the Hokkaido Marathon route, which takes place every August. Runners will depart from Odori Park, pass the TV tower and follow the course south, along the Toyohira River, then turn around to downtown and Hokkaido University to complete the race at the park. Odori.
The course includes a large loop that is about the length of a half marathon, followed by a second smaller loop that will be completed twice. This is probably to reduce costs for the safety of the race. The bridges over the Toyohira River have already been refreshed with a new coat of color.
“Now people are pretty negative, but as the event gets closer, they get more and more excited,” predicts Yujiro Nakamura, ski instructor. Marathon runners will pass by Yujiro’s house in the south of town and he plans to find a not-too-crowded spot to watch the runners.
However, the Tokyo 2020 press office sent a statement to the media on Friday, July 9, stating that: “Members of the public have already been urged to refrain from watching along the route of the Olympic marathon and the walking events. in Sapporo. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether Sapporo residents will be able to attend a large portion of the marathons and running races. In a mock test in May, staff with boxes toured the Odori Park site asking spectators not to linger.
Veteran Olympic city seeks to make an impact
Sapporo is no stranger to Olympic events. In fact, the city hosted the first Winter Olympics outside of Europe and North America in 1972. The Games have proven to be a huge success for Japan and Sapporo.
The impact of the Games is still visible today in the city. In preparation for these first Games, the city of Sapporo has undergone enormous changes. The Japanese national government has invested some US $ 500 million in improvements, including a new metro system.
The first trains ran between Sapporo Station and Makomanai, one of the main Winter Games venues in the south, which included a new stadium, an ice rink, the Olympic Village and a press center. Today, the Olympic Village is a quiet residential area overlooking the mountains. Only the clock tower in front of Makomanai Station, which bears the names of all the gold medalists, pays homage to Sapporo’s Olympic history.
This time around, the Games should not change the physical design of the city. However, people still hope they will have an impact.
Masashi Abe, Honorary Director of the Sapporo Olympic Museum, believes the Tokyo Olympics can be a success. “This will be the best opportunity to show the beauty of Sapporo to the world,” he said.
Abe is a former Nordic combined athlete, a competition that integrates ski jumping and cross-country skiing. He won Olympic gold for Japan at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. At 55, he is still very active in sport and runs marathons in his spare time.
“I think the Olympic marathon will have a positive effect on Sapporo,” he said.
Others are less convinced.
“I really doubt Sapporo will host the Winter Olympics again after the Tokyo Olympics controversy,” Hiroya said.
Author: Agnès Tandler (Sapporo)