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    Wednesday, July 21, 2021

    Japan, USA Win as Tokyo Olympics Games Begin

    Japan’s women’s softball team got the Tokyo 2020 Olympics off to a winning start for the hosts on Wednesday, a boost for the pandemic-postponed Games that the World Health Organization sees as “a celebration of hope” even as COVID-19 cases surge.

    Japan crushed Australia 8-1 in the first of three softball openers that mark the first events of the Summer Games. The opening ceremony will be held on Friday.

    The United States defeated Italy 2-0 in Wednesday’s second game, with Mexico versus Canada to follow.

    Olympics and Japanese officials have forged ahead with the sports spectacle despite opposition in the country to hosting more than 11,000 athletes, staff and media.

    But spectators have been barred and restrictions imposed in host city Tokyo in an effort to minimize health risks and contain a mounting number of infections.

    WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Games should go ahead to demonstrate to the world what can be achieved with the right plan and measures.

    “May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthy, safer and fairer world,” he said, holding aloft an Olympic Games torch as he addressed the International Olympic Committee members at their session in the Japanese capital. “It is my sincere hope the Tokyo Games succeed.”

    But Tedros warned the world was in the early stages of another wave of infections and criticized the vaccine discrepancies between countries.

    “The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it. It is in our hands,” he said. “We have all the tools we need. We can prevent this disease, we can test for it and we can treat it.”

    Japan, with about 34% of the population having had at least one dose of the vaccine, has been concerned the Olympics could become a super-spreader event.

    In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68% of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organizers to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they were opposed to the Games going ahead.

    Japanese domestic media reported that government adviser Shigeru Omi said Tokyo daily COVID-19 infections may spike to a record level of 3,000 in first week of August.

    That would cause an extremely high risk of pressuring on the already-stretched medical system.


    Underscoring the downsized Games due to the pandemic, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will only meet with less than 20 country leaders on the sidelines of the Olympics, down from as many as 120 originally scheduled, the Mainichi Shimbun daily reported.

    Japan, U.S. clinch 1st victories

    The softball match between a gold-medal contender Japan and Australia was held amid buzzing cicadas and polite applause from a few hundred staff as a trio of two-run homers cleared the fence after spectators were banned at the stadium.

    “I feel relieved,” said Japan’s starting pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who surrendered just two hits over 4-1/3 innings, but saw her team easily prevail with a trio of two-run homers toward an 8-1 win.

    Ueno, ace of the softball team’s 2008 gold medal run, struggled to throw strikes early and hit two Australians.

    Coach Reika Utsugi said Ueno was too cautious after the pandemic had limited scrimmages. Ueno blamed her excitement on the “very long time” between Olympics – a remark she illustrated for reporters by outstretching her arms.

    Ueno quickly bounced back. Australian designated player Tarni Stepto said her side failed to exert patience at the plate, leaving bases loaded in the first after scoring the game’s initial run.

    The game ended after five innings due to a mercy rule.

    In the second of Wednesday’s matches, U.S. left-hander Cat Osterman, who is back from retirement, struck out nine and let a single hit over six shutout innings, leaving her with two runs allowed in 39.4 innings across three Olympics.

    On the bench, Italy and the United States draped heads with towels or their gloves to cool off in a balmy 34 degrees Celsius (94 Fahrenheit).

    Teams face each other once over six days before the top four advance to medal games.

    The first two days are at a baseball stadium in Fukushima, a region badly affected by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.

    After the 2008 Beijing Olympics featured a softball-specific venue, the temporary fencing in the outfield and an electronically-lowered pitching mound in Fukushima have attracted scorn from fans.

    There was at least one hiccup. Though rules require one, a chalk pitching circle was not laid until the fourth inning.

    To offer some semblance of fan support, concourses at stadiums including the one at Fukushima have been lined with young peach trees and other plants bearing messages from local children urging athletes to “go for gold”.

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