• Olympics & Paralympics

Qualifiers for Olympics head into full swing as unpredictability hangs in air

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Tokyo metropolitan government buildings, foreground, are seen in April 2020.

As the countdown continues toward the Tokyo Olympics, an array of Japanese sports are getting down to the business of finally conducting long-delayed qualifying events and team member selections at competitions in and outside of Japan.

With the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus pandemic making last-minute cancellations or postponement a constant possibility, the next few months will present a unique situation for the all involved.

The Tokyo Olympics are expected to draw a total of about 11,000 athletes. According to the International Olympic Committee, 61% of the spots had been decided as of Jan. 27.

In Japan, the 15 members of the gold medal-favorite softball team were announced on Tuesday. The Japanese Olympic Committee estimates it will have a delegation of about 600 athletes and, according to Yomiuri Shimbun calculations, about 150 have now secured spots, up from 102 in March 2020, when the decision to postpone the Games was made.

About 30 swimmers are expected earn Olympic tickets at the upcoming Japan championships, which start on April 3.

Outside of Japan, in line with the beginning of the season for summer sports, international competitions that serve as Olympic qualifiers as well as Olympic trials in individual countries and regions are gradually resuming.

In fencing, several Japanese earned Olympic berths based on their results in a series of World Cup meets held this month in Russia and elsewhere. Among those qualifying was Nozomi Sato, 34, in the women’s epee.

On March 10, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee reconfirmed that the world’s largest sporting superpower would be sending teams to Tokyo.

In a message to its athletes to not let up in their preparations, the committee also made clear that national Olympic trials would go ahead as scheduled in June in swimming, athletics and gymnastics — sports in which Americans can expect a large medal haul.