The Week That Was: Japanese Petition Calling For Cancellation of Tokyo Olympics

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Photo Courtesy: The Japan Times

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The Week That Was sponsored by Suitmate.

As the COVID-19 virus continues to spike in Japan, citizens are calling for the Olympic Games to be cancelled as to not cause further damage to the country’s health.

Olympic champion and world record holder Sarah Sjostrom, who was injured earlier this year, is eyeing a return to competition at the Mare Nostrum in June.

Read the five biggest stories of the week in The Week That Was sponsored by Suitmate.

The Week That Was #1: With COVID Spike in Japan, Petition Garners Thousands of Signatures For Olympics Cancellation

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By John Lohn

Less than three months shy of the scheduled start of the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the Associated Press has reported that an online petition circulating in Japan has garnered tens of thousands of signatures asking for the Games to be canceled. With Tokyo in a State of Emergency, along with other Japanese locales, citizens are concerned about the spikes in COVID-19 infections, and the possibility of more health concerns with the Olympics scheduled for late July into early August.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach is scheduled to visit Japan later this month and appear at the Torch Relay. Bach has long insisted the Games will go on, a stance that has also been adopted by the Japanese government and the Tokyo Organizing Committee. When Bach visits on May 17, confirmation of an official green light for the Games is a possibility. To date, more than $15 billion has been spent on the Tokyo Games, and cancellation is a highly unlikely option, given that investment and the IOC’s reliance on the television contracts that have been signed to broadcast the Games.

Still, more than 70% of Japanese citizens have indicated in polls that they prefer either a cancellation of the Games, or another postponement. COVID-19 cases are rising in the country and while the current State of Emergency is scheduled to be lifted on May 11, many think it will be extended. The thought of athletes, officials and media members from around the world coming to Tokyo has triggered tremendous concern among the already anxious residents. The statistical figures have been alarming, with Japan revealing one day in late April with nearly 8,000 new COVID cases.

The petition seeking an Olympic Games cancellation was organized by Kenji Utsunomiya and indicates that Japan is more concerned with the Olympics than fighting COVID-19.

“Government policies are being set with the Olympics in mind, and measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic are being neglected,” Utsunomiya told The Associated Press. “Hospital are stretched thin, and some people are dying at home.”

#2: Sarah Sjostrom Eyes Return to Competition at Mare Nostrum

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Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

By Dan D’Addona

Olympic champion Sarah Sjostrom is looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics, but the injured star is not looking too far ahead — just enough to target a return date after her elbow injury.

Sjostrom plans to return to racing during the Mare Nostrum Series. The Canet stop is June 1-2. She detailed the plan to Swedish news source Dagens Nyheter. She then hopes to compete at the Italian Sette Colli Trophy in late June.

After a strong International Swimming League (ISL) season, Sjostrom was injured and has been slowly getting back into the water, starting with freestyle motions, she posted a couple of weeks ago. She is now three months post-op from her surgery.

Sjostrom sustained the injury to her right elbow when she slipped on ice on her way to Reimersholme, south of Stockholm, in February and she was quickly transported to hospital where the fracture was diagnosed and she had surgery to repair the injury.

Now, she is continuing to prepare to defend her Olympic title in the 100 butterfly.

The Week That Was #3: La Salle University Reinstates Men’s Swimming & Diving

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La Salle’s University’s Kirk Natatorium; Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@saveLSU_swimanddive

By Andy Ross

La Salle University has reinstated Men’s Swimming and Diving as a varsity program, effective immediately, the chair of La Salle’s Board of Trustees announced.

William W. Matthews, III, Esq., ’90, shared the following with the La Salle community in a May 3 message:

“Last fall, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation announced the difficult but necessary decision to reduce the number of La Salle’s intercollegiate athletics teams at the end of this academic year. This action better aligned the size of our department with those of national and conference peer institutions and followed a comprehensive review aimed at elevating our student-athlete experience and improving the competitiveness and quality of our programs.

“At the time of this announcement, and in the months that followed, department and University leadership have met with players, coaches, families, and alumni from the affected programs and have discussed an openness to – and a roadmap for – program reinstatement dependent upon key criteria, including the presentation of new and compelling information and meeting or exceeding required fundraising benchmarks by the conclusion of April.

“I am pleased to share that Men’s Swimming and Diving has been reinstated as a varsity program, effective immediately, following the Board of Trustees’ approval of a recommendation from the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation, which was then moved forward by the Board’s Athletics and Recreation Committee.

#4: Wang Jianjiahe, Yang Junxuan, Zhang Yufei Light Up Chinese Nationals

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Wang Jianjiahe. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

By Andy Ross

Yang Junxuan started the night with a 1:54.57 in the 200 freestyle, lowering the Asian record in the process as she took down Rikako Ikee’s 1:54.85 Asian record from the 2018 Pan Pacs. Yang’s time is second in the world rankings for 2021 behind only Katie Ledecky (1:54.40) as she won ahead of Li Bingjie (1:56.64) with both swimmers achieving their first Olympic berth. Tang Muhan finished in third at 1:57.83 as China could have a run at a medal for the 4×200 free relay, as they last won a medal internationally with a silver at the 2017 Worlds.

Li also returned later in the session to finish second in the 1500 freestyle at 15:58.35 behind Worlds bronze medalist Wang Jianjiahe (15:49.07), who is second in the world rankings behind Ledecky. With the 1500 and 200 free finals falling on the same day, only a handful of women will try for that double as Ledecky perfected that double at the 2015 World Championships, collecting gold in both events. Li looks to potentially join Ledecky in those two finals come Tokyo in 81 days.

Wang should also be a medal favorite in the 1500 as she won bronze in Gwangju 2019 and is seventh all-time.

Zhang Yufei continued her impressive run towards the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo as she won the 200 butterfly on day five of finals from Qingdao with a 2:05.44, putting herself 14th all-time and on top of the 2021 world rankings. Zhang is now fourth all-time in China as she improved on her previous best time of 2:05.49 from earlier this year.

The Week That Was #5: Rikako Ikee Responds to Calls to Cancel Tokyo Olympics

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By John Lohn

Last month, Rikako Ikee continued her feel-good comeback from Leukemia when she qualified for the Olympic Games as a member of Japan’s 400-meter freestyle relay and 400 medley relay. Now, Ikee is defending her intention to race at a home Olympiad amid social-media calls for her to withdraw and oppose the Tokyo Games.

The social-media demands she has faced come at a time when several Japanese cities, including Tokyo, are operating in a State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 80 percent of citizens are opposed to the Olympics being held. More than 200,000 signatures have been collected on an online petition that calls for the cancellation of the Games and suggests that if the Olympics are held, attention to fighting the pandemic will be limited.

Ikee was diagnosed with Leukemia two years ago and battled back to health from the life-threatening disease. She then responded at the Japanese Olympic Trials by qualifying for relay duty after winning the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly. To Ikee’s credit, she responded eloquently to the Internet requests to bypass the Tokyo Games.

“We athletes have, of course, been working hard in order to take part in the Olympics, but I think it is natural that many are calling for the Games’ cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Ikee wrote on Twitter, according to Japan Today. “I share your desire to emerge from this darkness as quickly as possible, but to put that burden on the shoulders of individual athletes is very tough.

“I have a chronic illness, and whether the Games are held or not, I live every day with the anxiety of possibly (being infected with the coronavirus and) becoming seriously ill. Myself and other athletes will accept what happens, whether the Olympics take place or not. And, of course, I will work my hardest if it goes forward. If it doesn’t, I’ll do my best for the next one.”

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