Japan star sees gymnastics event as 'model' for Olympics

Tokyo (AFP) –


An international gymnastics competition in Tokyo must succeed with thorough measures against coronavirus infections as "a model" for the delayed Olympic Games, star athlete Kohei Uchimura said Saturday.

Sunday's competition will feature teams from Japan, the United States, Russia and China, and is the first major international sporting event in the Japanese capital since Tokyo 2020 was postponed in March.

"For the sake of the Olympics, I think this competition must be successful no matter what," Uchimura told reporters.

"I think we can make it become a model for good Olympics by reporting neither infected patients nor injuries," said "King Kohei", a three-time Olympic gold medallist.

The gymnastics meet comes with Tokyo 2020 and Japanese government officials poring over plans for coronavirus countermeasures in a bid to show they can host next year's Games even if a vaccine is not available or widely in use.

Japan Sports Agency chief Koji Murofushi has described the one-day event as a "litmus test" of its ability to hold sports events during the pandemic.

According to Uchimura, anti-virus measures taken by gymnastic organisers are "more than sufficient".

"But doing too much is just appropriate," he added.

Foreign athletes arriving for the competition were required to test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their arrival in Japan, but have had a two-week quarantine period waived.

They travelled to Japan by charter planes and were separated from other passengers at the airport on arrival.

All athletes are required to take tests every day and their movement is limited to the competition arena, practice venues and hotels, where each delegation has an entire floor.

Uchimura tested positive for the virus last week, but several subsequent follow-up tests were negative and he has been cleared to take part in Sunday's event.

He described the confusion as "a very good experience", saying: "We've got to do it under any circumstance."

Uchimura, 31, will be the main attraction at the four-nation contest, where all competitors have been divided into two teams of mixed nationalities named Friendship and Solidarity.

Some 2,000 spectators will watch the event, in socially distanced seating.

Uchimura said he wants to contribute to the success of the event by putting on his best performance.

"I think that's my job," he added.