TOKYO 2020: Tuesday Update

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

4 minute read
Words & Photos Rachel Quarrell
Published 27.07.21

With racing cancelled today at the Olympic Rowing venue in Tokyo – due to predicted adverse weather that has largely failed to materialise – Rachel Quarrell rounds up the latest from the course in Japan, as excitement builds towards rowing’s first medal races tomorrow in the men’s and women’s fours and quads.

Photo The Sea Forest Waterway Olympic rowing venue in Tokyo remained largely flat on Tuesday despite high winds
Credit Rachel Quarrell

To rowing’s relief, the big news on Tuesday was that competition would be back on again for Wednesday, with the version 2 schedule which had already been announced during the weekend. The storm, which has been less thunderous than predicted, is moving away north, leaving Tokyo soggy but unrattled, and by the time it has blown itself out overnight, conditions should be fair enough for the first medal finals to take place. 

As on Monday, the morning at the course was spent with crews training, despite gusts and gales flying around at regular intervals. The two big wind turbines on the venue island were spinning furiously and the roofs of the tents were vibrating, but the effect on the water was minimal. Whether it is the slight height of the land on both sides of the waterway — it’s not tall next to the course but there are high and wooded lump-like banks a few hundred metres behind – or the anti-wash mesh cylinders put in alongside the course, but the usual bounce and waves you’d expect in such wind just wasn’t appearing. 

I think the mesh cylinders have a lot to do with it, would be interesting to see if they can be installed at some other bounce-prone courses. 

Photo Anti-wash mesh cylinders soak up the bounce on the Sea Forest Waterway
Credit Rachel Quarrell

The ubiquitous virus has naturally affected medal ceremonies, though the amount of contact with rowing officials is never massive at best. Athletes may well hug each other and coaches immediately after competing here before being separated, but have been trenchantly told not to on the podium/pontoon, a matter of optics while the world is watching. Rowing will be no different, so socially-distanced medal ceremonies have been rehearsed. Medals will be disinfected, then placed on trays by officials wearing gloves. The medal-giver will take the tray themselves, and offer it to each athlete in turn, for rowers to pick up the medals to put round their necks. The same will happen for the flowers presented to all those on the podium, and it seems from other sports that if the athletes want to present to one another, they can. 

The victory flowers have an unusually deep significance this time, since they have been grown in the prefectures most affected by the 2011 Great Earthquake. Solomon’s Seal and eustomas from Fukushima, which is a wholesale producer of the latter for the whole country despite the ruination of most of its agricultural industry. Sunflowers from Miyagi, where parents who lost children during the earthquake and tsunami returned to plant sunflowers on the hill where the children had sought safety in vain:  they blossom again every year. Gentians the same bright blue as the Tokyo2020 emblem from Iwate, which produces over half the gentians grown in Japan, and aspidistras from Tokyo itself. The bouquets, arranged to look beautiful from every angle, also include the Olympic mascot Miraitowa, whose name is a combination of mirai (future) and towa (eternity), and whose personality is described as “cheerful, remarkably athletic, with a strong sense of integrity and the power to teleport anywhere it wants.”

Photo Socially-distanced medal ceremonies being rehearsed at the course
Credit Rachel Quarrell
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT – tidbits from RQ tweeting as @rowingvoice

Amongst the engaging stories swishing about the rowing waterway this week is the fact that Dutch oarswoman Roos de Jong was asked to design the rowing unisuits for the NED team. She incorporated thin orange wave-lines honouring the Dutch national colour and Japan’s traditional use of waves signifying strength and good luck into a white-body, blue shorts style unisuit which is being worn by the whole team. De Jong and her partner Lisa Scheenaard go in Wednesday’s competitive W2x A-final, trying to overturn Romania’s excellent double, amongst others. 


One of the most charismatic newcomers to the Olympics is Nazanin Malaei, Iran’s entry into the women’s single sculls, who has already charmed everyone with the story of how she was told she should go home or become a cox instead of trialling to go to the Games in the single. One nugget dug up by World Rowing’s comms staff was that the only multi-lane course in Iran is 1km long, so in order to practice for 2km Malaei and the other rowers have to take to the erg, and only started racing on 2km waters recently. “Every time I got to 1000m I was a bit stressed about what was going to happen to me”, said Malaei after an epic quarterfinal in which she qualified for the A/B semis by beating Kenia Lechuga, the Mexican who finished 12th at the Rio Olympics. She clearly has a great relationship with her coach, who also acts as press officer and occasional translator for his determined charge. 

Photo One of the most charismatic newcomers to the Olympics is Nazanin Malaei, Iran’s entry into the women’s single sculls, pictured here on Sunday

If you think the restrictions in Tokyo are bad, spare some pity for the Chinese athletes. Under the stringent regulations designed not to let COVID into China at all costs, they have to quarantine for four full weeks, not two, and aren’t allowed to fly directly back into Beijing since the Chinese provinces vary in their COVID rules. The eight crews who went to the Lucerne Final Qualifying regatta in May — including the excellent women’s eight — all had to do four weeks quarantine following that jaunt, and the same will happen after the Olympics. However, with the World Rowing Championships which had been due to be held in Shanghai now cancelled, at least they can focus on the real highlight of every four years:  the China National Games in late September. This multi-sport event, in which people compete for their provinces, is held every four years, most recently in 2017, so the postponed Tokyo Games puts the two into the same season for the first time. As a result, the president of the Chinese rowing federation has managed to get permission for his Olympic team crews to compete in their Tokyo line-ups, even if they are from different provinces, which will likely mean a bigger fuss being made of whoever manages to come second to them. 

For our complete coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic rowing, click here.