Tokyo 2020 marked one year to go to the postponed Olympic Games with a moving ceremonial event behind closed doors at the new National Stadium in Tokyo
On Thursday (23 July), what should have been the eve of the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, there was a flicker of hope on the field in the hollow stadium embodied by the Olympic Flame, cradled by an athlete synonymous with hope in these times of a global pandemic, Ikee Rikako.
Ikee and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee issued an emotional, powerful message urging the world to unite and find inner strength in looking forward to the Games.
"Originally, right around this time tomorrow, we would have been right in the middle of an extravagant Opening Ceremony for Tokyo 2020 at the National Stadium. And it was my dream to be a part of the Games, " said Ikee, who was diagnosed with leukaemia last year.
"But overnight, the future you thought you had changes just like that. It was a difficult experience," the swimmer added in her message streamed live worldwide and aired on the stadium's main screen.
"A year on today, in this exact same place, I pray the flame of hope burns brightly."
Tokyo 2020 President Mori Yoshiro echoed Ikee's sentiments about hope carrying the world through a mounting, unpredictable global crisis.
"In this difficult situation, athletes are training with their eyes on the future and those whose work supports society are fighting on the front lines every day," Mori said in a statement.
"I believe humanity's solidarity will lead us to the end of this long dark tunnel, to a moment of pure joy when athletes from all over the world gather on the Games' stage."
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach reiterated his firm commitment to staging the Tokyo Games despite the "mammoth task" that lies ahead.
"With our Japanese partners and friends, we agree that we have to adapt the planning of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 to the requirements of the global crisis, while maintaining the unique spirit and message that define our mission," Bach said.
"We can, together with the Organising Committee, turn these postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 into an unprecedented celebration of the unity and solidarity of humankind, making them a symbol resilience and hope - showing that we are stronger together".
Ikee calls on athletes to unite
"When I was first asked to do this, I wasn't sure if I was right for it," Ikee said.
"I was worried I was not fit for a role as big as this but as the discussion went on, I thought there will never be another opportunity like this and started looking forward to it."
In March, more than a year after being diagnosed with leukaemia, the 2018 Asian Games MVP took her first dip in the pool. Recently, the Tokyo native has been able to ramp up her workouts to a point where she can keep up with her teammates and is even eyeing a potential competitive return this fall at a collegiate meet for Nihon University.
Ikee, who has turned her sights to Paris 2024 for her Games return, said it is nothing other than her love for swimming that has gotten her this far.
"For me, I wanted to get back in the pool. It's that desire which helped me get through treatment, which was not easy," she said.
"For athletes, watching a goal as big as the Games vanish right before their own eyes must have left a gaping hole beyond words can describe. I know how that feels because of what I have gone through with leukaemia.
"One year from now, it would be magnificent if the world is capable of holding the Olympics and Paralympics. The year from today isn't a year of postponement but a year of positivity."
Tokyo dedicates resources to "delivering a safe Games"
The Games in Tokyo are set to stage a record 33 sports between 23 July and 8 August next year with the Paralympics following between 24 August and 5 September.
Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko, who is leading the city's fight against a second wave of COVID-19 infections, also re-issued her resolve to contain the coronavirus by next summer. The daily number of cases in Tokyo has topped 300 for the first time after 366 new cases were reported Thursday.
"There is now only one year to go to the opening of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on 23 July 2021", said Koike, who was re-elected to a second term in office earlier this month.
"Response to the novel coronavirus disease is a challenge facing all humankind. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will continue to dedicate its resources to fighting this battle and delivering a safe Games".