When Olympic organizers learned that Typhoon Nepartak was heading for the Pacific, it must have looked like a storm too far away. Delayed for a year by a still raging global pandemic and with athletes forced to compete in empty arenas, these Tokyo Games were unlucky.
But a group of athletes – in the brand new Olympic sport of surfing – celebrated the news and even moved their gold medal heats forward 24 hours to make the most of the perfect storm conditions. The result, with the last three rounds of the shortboard event crammed into one day on big messy swells on Tuesday, was spectacular.
The first medal to be awarded was in the men’s bronze medal event. Australian Owen Wright, who had to relearn to walk after suffering a head injury in a crash in Hawaii in 2015, celebrated more as if he had won gold.
The gold medal round pitted Japan’s 23-year-old Kanoa Igarashi against Brazilian world champion Italo Ferreira. Mop-capped, bleach blonde Igarashi was born and raised in Southern California to surf-crazed Japanese parents. Ferreira, from northeastern Brazil, caught his first wave at the age of 8 after his fishing father lent him the foam cover of his fish crate.
Despite breaking his board in the first wave, Ferreira, 27, calmly surfed the unpredictable, storm-choppy waves and with the goal of winning his sport’s first gold medal with a score in two waves. of 15.14 against 6.60 for Igarashi.
Then came the women and it was the American Carissa Moore, the four-time world champion from Hawaii, who won the gold medal against Bianca Buitentag of South Africa, 14.93 points to 8.46.
Since the alerts were lifted last week, Nepartak has gone from a typhoon to a simple tropical storm, but it was still expected to drop up to six inches of rain and bring winds of up to 80 mph in the Tokyo area. The organizers have moved or rescheduled some outdoor events, in rowing and archery, as a precaution.
But the other storm threatening Japan shows no sign of abating. Tokyo recorded 2,848 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, the highest daily total on record at any time during the pandemic. The city is in its fourth state of emergency, which is expected to continue for another month.
Within the Olympic “bubble”, however, the situation appears to be under control. A Tokyo 2020 spokesperson said that out of 37,000 tests carried out at arrivals at Olympic airports, only 30 tested positive. Out of 240,000 tests performed among athletes, officials, staff and volunteers, there were only 52 positive cases, a positivity rate of only 0.08%.
This suggests that the strict restrictions imposed by organizers – who saw journalists locked in their hotel rooms and athletes repeatedly warned not to kiss each other in victory or loss – might work.
This will be little consolation for Italy’s Angelo Bonomelli, who was offered a last minute spot in the surf competition but couldn’t get there in time.
Bonomelli told The Associated Press that a Portuguese surfer who dropped out the day before the competition should have admitted earlier that he tested positive and cost him a “lifetime opportunity”.