Olympics: Fans gather along route to cheer triathletes, defying calls to stay home

Fans and local residents try to catch a glimpse of the men's triathlon event.
Fans and local residents try to catch a glimpse of the men's triathlon event.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Sports fans gathered along the route of the triathlon on Monday (July 26), grabbing a rare opportunity to see live competition at the pandemic-hit Tokyo Games despite calls from organisers for spectators to stay home.

Athletes have been competing in front of mostly empty stands after spectators were banned as part of Covid-19 countermeasures in Tokyo, which is in a state of emergency amid rising infections.

For Olympic fans, the spectator ban ended their dream of seeing athletes compete in the flesh on home soil.

But at the open-air triathlon route on the island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay, fans assembled in defiance of Olympic staff carrying signs that read: "To prevent the spread of infection, we ask that you refrain from spectating roadside."

"I think the risk of getting infected is extremely low, almost equal to zero," said 35-year-old finance worker Masao Kitada, who was standing by the roadside. "The Tokyo Games are very special, so I can't miss this chance."

The men's triathlon was won by Norway's Kristian Blummenfelt, who broke clear in the run leg to take gold.

"There are not that many people here, so the atmosphere is quiet, but it's spectacular to see the athletes," said spectator Gerald Lies, 45, from Germany.

Mr Hisashi Onitsuka, 61, works in insurance and had a ticket to the triathlon prior to the ban. "I got a day off at my company and came here to see if I'm able to have a glimpse," he said.

The host nation, where polls have shown widespread opposition to holding the Games during a pandemic, is on a gold run with five gold medals, just behind China with six. The success has organisers hoping that enthusiasm for the delayed event will rise among the Japanese public.

"We need to keep saying that people need to refrain from coming," Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya told a news conference on Monday.