Joe Frazier

Tokyo 2020 support now 70 percent, up 23 from 47


TOKYO -- Headline: IOC survey shows local support for Tokyo 2020 now 70 percent, up 23 percent from 47 last year. The International Olympic Committee gave Tokyo 2020's bid a boost Tuesday with the release of those survey figures. At 47 percent, which was what the IOC measured in what was called the "Working Group Report" last May, Tokyo might as well have not bothered; the IOC likes to feel welcomed.

To be candid, 70 percent is still not rousing. But it's dramatic progress, indicative perhaps of the Japanese team's strong showing last summer at the London Games (38 medals overall). And it for sure puts Tokyo in the game; London's winning bid for 2012 only registered 68 percent support in London itself, according to the March, 2005, IOC evaluation report.

Tokyo's support nationally? 67 percent.  (London's support nationally in 2005? 70 percent.)

Tokyo also bid for the 2016 Games, won by Rio de Janeiro. At this point in the 2016 race, the Tokyo poll numbers: 56 percent support in Tokyo, 55 percent nationally.

Preliminary results for Madrid and Istanbul, the other two cities in the 2020 race, have not yet been made publicly available. The IOC will release the full results, methodology and timing in the Evaluation Commission's report, in July.

It's little wonder Tsunekazu Takeda, president of both Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese Olympic Committee as well as the lone IOC member here, said at a Tuesday evening news conference, "We are very happy to hear those numbers."

Real news -- like the release of such poll numbers -- is deliberately kept scarce in these commission visits.

Instead, the process is -- to repeat, by design -- a melange of sights and scenes.

The one question that everyone wants answered -- who is going to win? -- obviously is not susceptible to answer. No one can predict the IOC or the future.

Instead, at least for public consumption, this is mostly theater. Behind the stage, the commission is actually doing real work. But in front of the curtain, it is all carefully stage-managed. Six months ahead of the vote, which in this instance will be in Buenos Aires in September, the IOC drops into town for four days, giving the particular city a chance to promote its bid -- big-time -- in town and nationally. Such promotion can prove a key momentum-builder in a campaign.

What both sides, the bid city and IOC, want is a win-win. The bid city wants the local press to turn out in droves and to see the bid as serious and constructive. The IOC wants all bids to be seen as serious and constructive; that way, going forward, it encourages more bids from more cities, wherever they may be.

Here is a look around some of the sights and scenes in Tokyo, beginning with the proposed location of the Olympic Village:

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That big blue tower is an incinerator. It is said it would thoughtfully be turned off during the Olympics.

That blue mat-looking thing in the middle of the asphalt was a welcome sign for the members of the evaluation team. It was promptly stripped away as soon as they left. The white tent  -- which you can see, just behind the blue, in the middle of the photo, glinting in the sun? It was put there to keep the members of the commission warm and it similarly was taken down, pronto. By the time reporters were driven by, literally just a few minutes later, the poles were on the ground.

Next photo below: the proposed location of a whole bunch of venues, everything from volleyball to gymnastics to BMX cycling to wrestling (if wrestling makes its way back on the 2020 program, that is). Referring back again for a moment to the photo above of the proposed village, these venues would be located across the bridge that sits on the left of that picture; this is a main reason why the Tokyo venue plan is so compact.

Notice how these sites are obviously surrounded by water. The views would be outstanding -- just imagine the fireworks on opening night, evocative perhaps of the scene in Sydney in 2000. At the same time: is it an issue that the way in and out would be by bridge or, say, water taxi? No one likes to think of the worst case imaginable but that's what planners plan for ... especially in the Olympic business. What if?

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Next: here is Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose -- "I'm a Sunday tennis player, mind you'' -- rallying with London and Beijing Paralympic Games singles champ Shingo Kunieda for the benefit of the Evaluation Commission.

The contrast between Inose and the prior governor, Shintaro Ishihara, has been pronounced. Ishihara controversially injected himself into a diplomatic feud with China over a group of disputed islands. Inose has struck a different tone, indeed, not just playing sports but talking about them and  -- about harmony.

photo courtesy Tokyo 2020

The governor is himself a writer. He tends to find a message, and stick to it. His messages here have included:

His own triumph in the marathon (he ran it for the first time recently, in his mid-60s, after starting out by running just a few blocks around his house); the French literary theorist Roland Barthes, and Barthes' pioneering studies on semiotics, or signs and symbols; and the "sacred haven of nothingness" that is the imperial palace in central Tokyo, "at the very depth" of the Japanese spirit of hospitality, a green space surrounded by modernity, tranquility giving rise to all that is possible now.

"It's one of the elements that should never be forgotten," he said.

Also never to be forgotten is what it's like to travel in the pack that is the Japanese press. Here is the scene at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium Tuesday afternoon, just moments after the Evaluation Commission left, the pack interviewing table-tennis players Ai Fukuhara, 24, the team silver medalist in London, and Koki Niwa, 18, the 2010 Youth Games Singapore gold medalist who played in the London Games but did not medal. What would a U.S. ping-pong player give to be part of such a scene -- just once?

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Across the street from the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium sits the National Stadium, site of so much at the 1964 Games -- for instance, U.S. distance standout Billy Mills' unexpected gold in the 10,000 meters.

Here is the stadium:

photo courtesy Tokyo 2020

Above the facade to the stadium entry, chiseled into stone, are the names of all the gold medalists -- Mills, swimmer Don Schollander, boxer Joe Frazier, all the members of the U.S. basketball team (Bill Bradley, who would later become a U.S. senator from New Jersey, is memorialized as "W. Bradley"). This stadium is also where, on one night in 1991, Mike Powell long-jumped 29 feet, 4 1/4 inches, breaking the record Bob Beamon set in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics, 29-2 1/2.

There is history here. One of the dilemmas, should Tokyo win, is what to do with those stones because the plan for this stadium is to turn it into a fantastic spaceship-looking structure, at a cost of $1.9 billion, to be ready for the 2019 rugby World Cup and the 2020 Games.

History and the future, the "sacred haven" and what's next -- they exist right next to each other in jam-packed Tokyo. "The building must be re-born," Takeda said.

Here is the formal entry to the stadium.

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 If Tokyo wins, enjoy that view while you can. Because nothing lasts forever. Not even Bob Beamon's long-jump record.


Jerome Singleton, Paralympic champion

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, arguably the most famous  cheetah-footed athlete of our time, hadn't lost in the 100 meters in a major competition since the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. Until Wednesday.

Jerome Singleton of the United States out-leaned Pistorius at the tape to win the category T44 100 meters at the International Paralympic Committee track and field world championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.

It's immediately unclear, of course, how the result plays out for Pistorius. It arguably is the best thing that could have happened to Paralympic sport.

There never has been, really, a great Paralympic rivalry to capture the world's attention. Now, maybe, there can be one.

It is unequivocally fantastic for the Paralympics and for Pistorius -- the "Blade Runner" -- that he has emerged as the world-class talent that he is. The logical next step is for the world to see that he is far from alone.

In the same spirit, while Pistorius is an amazing story -- Singleton is, too.

In a telephone interview as Thursday dawned in New Zealand, Singleton said of Pistorius, "Oscar is a phenomenal athlete. He has broken down barriers for the Paralympic movement. He has opened people's eyes -- that is, if you have a disability, you can take it to the next level …

"Oscar lets you know that you can do better and be better. You can look at the cup as half empty or half full -- or always look at it as half full and try to fill it even more."

Turning the focus to the track, stressing again that he views Pistorius as a "great person" and praising him as the longtime champion, Singleton also said, "Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Larry Byrd had Magic Johnson. Usain Bolt has Tyson Gay," emphasizing, "In track and field, you want rivalries."

Like Pistorius, Singleton is 24 years old. Singleton comes from South Carolina. He has an older sister, Shalena, 29, and a younger brother, Anthony, 21. Jerome has earned three university degrees in the past six years, from Morehouse College and Michigan, and in these disciplines: math and applied physics, and industrial and operational engineering.

Singleton won a silver medal at the Beijing Games in the 100, behind Pistorius. Understand -- he won silver while going to school in highly demanding fields of study.

Singleton finished school in Ann Arbor in December. Now he gets to train full-time.

Again, and for emphasis -- now he can train full-time.

Singleton lost his right foot when he was just a year and a half old, in the wake of a birth defect, he said. His father, also named Jerome, and mother, Jacqueline, stressed the value of hard work and dedication. The son's high school grade point average was better than a 4.0; he also played high-school football, basketball and ran track.

"Being an amputee, unless I was two times or three times as good as my competitors, [a coach] was always going to choose an able-bodied competitor," the son says now, his father's words with him still.

"My dad also said, when you're a single-legged amputee you're not going to have the ability to turn as quickly. I was just going to have to work and to work smart."

He ran a smart race Wednesday in what was, by any measure, a great race. All seven finishers crossed in under 12 seconds. Only nine-hundredths of a second separated the first- and fourth-place finishers. Both Singleton and Pistorius were timed in 11.34.

Singleton won because he leaned so hard he fell over the line. "There's a lot of me that won't be leaving New Zealand," he told reporters immediately afterward. "But it was all worth it."

Pistorius, to his credit, told reporters in New Zealand after the race, referring to Singleton, "He was the better man on the day. He has been improving all the time and he is a champion in the making."

The 400-meter relay comes Saturday.

The Paralympic Games -- in London in 2012. "I brought the worlds back," Singleton said on the phone. "Now it's time to bring back the big one."