The 1996 Olympic swimmer from Japan who resides in Greece was appointed to anchor the Greek leg of the Olympic torch relay prior to its departure towards Japanese territory. The Greek leg of the relay was suspended last Friday, March 13, due to spectators crowding the roadway in the midst of the virus outbreak.
The decision was made a day after the Greek leg of the relay started following a lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, however, Tokyo Olympics CEO Toshiro Muto said the halt of the Greek relay will not influence the schedule outlined for the Japanese leg of the exchange. The Japan relay is set to start on March 26 in the Prefecture of Fukushima.
The organizers of both the Greek and Japanese relays have been forced to modify their plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic compromising next summer’s Games.
The flame was lit on Thursday at a ceremony in Olympia, Greece, held in the presence of a limited number of delegations, officials and press, per Japan’s news service Kyodo.
After the Greek relay was called off on the second day, the flame was brought to Panathenaic Stadium in central Athens ahead of today’s handover ceremony, which experienced downsizing due to the threat that the virus poses.
Reuters further reported that retired 1996 Olympic swimmer Naoko Imoto of Japan was a last-minute addition to receive the Olympic flame during a scaled back handover in Athens today in the official handover to the Japanese.
Due to coronavirus concerns and travel restrictions placed on flying in and out of Europe, Tokyo 2020 announced on Tuesday they would not be sending a delegation of Japanese athletes to Athens to receive the Olympic flame, but rather have Imoto, who resides in Greece, take on the role of handing the torch over to Japan.
Imoto swam the 800 free relays at the 1996 Games, where the Japanese finished fourth just behind the United States, Germany and Australia.
The Olympic torch will be flown over to Japan tomorrow aboard a chartered flight.