Storm Nepartak threatens to end ‘smooth’ start to Olympics

Typhoon disrupts scheduling of Irish rowers including single sculls favourite Puspure

Ireland’s Sanita Puspure on her way to winning the women’s single sculls quarter-final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP

Ireland’s Sanita Puspure on her way to winning the women’s single sculls quarter-final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP

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Just when it seemed Tokyo was perhaps lacking a big name to help get these Olympics properly off the ground here it comes headed straight for us. Watch out for typhoon Nepartak!

It might prove mild compared to everything else that has hit these Games over the last 16 months – postponement in the face of Covid-19, resignations and dismissal of several chief organisers, fear the whole cursed thing would collapse – and among the now soulless empty venues in a city still in a state of emergency it begs again the question: what has Tokyo done to deserve this?

Sunday here unfolded under another sweltering hot sun, the severe weather warning for early Tuesday suggesting it’s the calm before the storm: Nepartak – originally the name of the once famous Kosrae warrior, the year’s eighth typhoon – is currently in the sea near Minamitorishima Island, southeast of Tokyo and heading north. There will be rain, there will be wind, there will surely be more Olympic events postponed.

Exposed

It’s already wiped out the entire Olympic rowing schedule for two days, Monday and now Tuesday too, given the properly exposed nature of the Sea Forest Waterway down in Tokyo Bay. That’s played some minor havoc with the scheduling of several Irish rowers, including Sanita Puspure, who underlined her status as one of the medal favourites in the women’s single sculls with victory in her quarter-final earlier on Sunday. There could be a storm brewing in that race too by the way.

Several other Olympic outdoor events on Tuesday are now awaiting further updates from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), who are well versed on such matters: triathlon, beach volleyball and baseball are among those scheduled for Tuesday, and may yet be blown down the line.

It’s not all bad news. Earlier on Sunday, down at Tsurigasaki Beach about 100km east of Tokyo, more than a century after Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku first pushed for its inclusion at the Games, surfing made its Olympic debut under reasonably calm conditions.

Now, Nepartak would certain bring the big swells that all surfers want, likely some 7ft waves though, although if it proves too windy that event could be stalled too. The Duke would have agreed too.

“Everyone can say they know the ocean and they have advantages or whatever, but every wave is different,” said Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi, whose father grew up surfing the same beach, and is one of the home favourites. “It’s about adapting, about who can surf the best in every condition, and I think the winner will be well deserved.”

For Puspure, Sunday was her bogey race: she’d failed to navigate the quarter-finals of the women’s single sculls in both London 2012 and Rio 2016, only this time it proved clear and straight water, the Irish rower winning her way through to the semi-finals with room to spare.

Under some pressure – Puspure admitted to that afterwards – she started somewhat cautiously, sitting in third after 500m, before gently and then decisively hitting the front, winning in 7:58.30, just over a second clear of the American Kara Kohler. “I’ve a few more days off now, so it’s just taking one day at a time, doing the training, focus on the details,” said Puspure, the 39-year-old mother of two. “There is a little bit amount of pressure, obviously, it’s not too bad.”

Banned

Although if that looked comfortable, Hanna Prakatsen, representing the Russian Olympic Committee (Russian being partly “banned” from the Olympics, remember) came out in the next race and won her quarter-final in 7:49.64, nine seconds faster. Prakatsen, now 28, formerly of Belarus, emerged from the proverbial nowhere to win the European title in the event in Italy in April (taking the title from Puspure, who didn’t compete).

Originally, Russia were banned from Tokyo completely. As recently as Friday, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) said it intervened to stop several Russians from competing based again on evidence from the Moscow testing laboratory that was shut down in 2015.

In the aftermath of that, Wada originally imposed a four-year ban, which would have meant no Russians in Tokyo, only for a panel of three Court of Arbitration for Sport judges to impose a two-year slate of punishments in December. Part of that deal is they’re officially competing for ROC (the acronym for the Russian Olympic Committee), the word “Russia” banned from their uniforms.

Gold winners from Russia will not hear their national anthem on the podium but instead a piece of piano music composed by Tchaikovsky. Prakatsen may not be too bothered, we’ll see.

In the meantime Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga and Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike also met on Sunday to discuss the Olympics being held in the capital against the Covid-19 countermeasures. In a nearly hour-long meeting at the prime minister’s official residence, they also agreed to continue preparations for the Paralympics kicking off next month, Koike later told reporters.

Koike also said they agreed the Games are going “very smoothly”.

Well, watch out for typhoon Nepartak!

Tokyo 2020

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