TOKYO – Journalists on a bus bound for the Olympic Village on Thursday (July 22) were met with a strange – but adorable – sight as their vehicle made a pit stop on the journey.

Two boys, each no older than five, grinning from ear to ear and with cheeks turned rosy red by the Japanese summer, had peered under a metal barricade to grab a glimpse – and a photo – of the bus, which had the words “Tokyo 2020” plastered on its side.

If the boys were this excited at seeing a bunch of journalists from Singapore, Slovakia and the Netherlands, imagine how thrilled they would be if they were to catch a glimpse of American gymnast Simone Biles or tennis star Novak Djokovic.

Unfortunately for the tykes, the chances of that are pretty slim. Tokyo is still under a state of emergency owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and spectators, international and local, are barred from the Games.

The 68,000-capacity Tokyo Olympic Stadium is expected to host less than a fifth of that figure for today’s opening ceremony, with spectators comprising dignitaries, sponsors and officials from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

But the host nation has not come to a standstill during these Games.

As the people of Tokyo continue to go about their daily activities, residents are still keen to be a part of the Olympic experience, despite what the latest polls may say.

Even under the blazing sun as summer temperatures reached a high of 33 deg C, the Tatsuminomori Seaside Park – located next to the Tokyo Aquatics Centre – was a hive of activity yesterday morning with families out in the open as kids dribbled and tackled on futsal courts.

In and around Olympic venues, volunteers and marshals were out in force as they went about their duties with urgency, though also with smiles discernible behind masks and face shields.

Rower Joan Poh will be the first Singaporean in action when she competes in the women’s single sculls at the Sea Forest Waterway this morning, before 22 others across 11 other sports follow suit.

Fencer Amita Berthier, who will take to the piste on Sunday, confessed athletes have not been able to get a full flavour of the Games or the city because they are in a bubble – they shuttle back and forth only from the Olympic Village to the training and competition venues.

But even from her limited interaction with the volunteers and Japanese officials, the 20-year-old said she was charmed by the effort they have put into making the Games work despite all the challenges the pandemic has thrown their way.

“Definitely, the Japanese people deserve a lot of respect,” she said.

While much has been said about Japan and the IOC choosing to forge ahead with the Games during a pandemic, Berthier is just grateful for the opportunity to compete.

“Despite everything, the vibes in the Village are amazing, and I’m excited about my whole journey and process,” she said.

This may be the quietest Games for many, but Berthier and Co are ready to begin.

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