By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike finally inaugurated on Saturday the Aquatics Centre for next year’s rescheduled Olympics, seven months after it was supposed to open.
The Aquatics Centre was due to officially open on March 22 but that event was cancelled over coronavirus fears. Two days later the entire Tokyo Games was postponed until 2021.
Organisers hope to welcome the world’s top swimmers and divers to the centre next year, as well as up to 15,000 fans. Organisers have yet to decide, however, whether supporters will be allowed into venues during the Games.
The opening ceremony, with hundreds of officials in attendance, struck a hopeful tone. Koike was keen to stress that the $523 million Aquatics Centre will benefit Tokyo residents as well as Olympic athletes.
The ceremony was followed by diving and swimming exhibitions by Japanese athletes, including Rikako Ikee, whose battle back from leukaemia has been seen as a reflection of the Games’ own attempt at resurrection.
"There have been some unexpected things such as the postponement, but we need to hold a successful Games," Koike said.
"I really hope that the wonderful swimmers can unleash their powers and the world’s top swimmers exhibit great performances at this centre.
"By seeing Ikee in a healthy condition and her energetic swim (today), I have received courage."
All of Tokyo’s Olympic venues were built or renovated on schedule for the Games, ready if they had gone ahead this year.
Organisers are now focusing on how to stage the world’s biggest sporting event amid a pandemic next July.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Tom Hogue)