JAPANESE prime minister Shinzo Abe was the surprise star of Tokyo 2020’s clever segment in the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics on Sunday.
While the colourful and loud party at the Maracana Stadium brought the curtain down on Rio’s Games, it also provided a glimpse of what the world can expect in four years’ time.
In an 11-minute interlude that started with an a cappella rendition of Japan’s national anthem, Tokyo showed it was warming up for the Games with a video featuring Olympic athletes and computer game characters passing a red ball between one another.
It ended up with Super Mario who jumped into a green pipe in Tokyo only for Abe to appear with the red ball, and Mario’s red hat, from the other end of the pipe in the Maracana.
Acrobats and gymnasts in neon suits and illuminated frames then took over, in a routine that showcased Japan’s reputation for technological innovation.
It looked slick and expensive, which are two words you could not often associate with Rio 2016, although it had plenty of energy and passion.
Tokyo 2020’s handover show also worked better as a coherent spectacle than London’s effort in the Beijing closing ceremony, which featured dancers, a double-decker bus and David Beckham.
Abe closed the segment by saying: “See you in Tokyo”, and seeing him so involved will have pleased an International Olympic Committee that is looking forward to a host city with fewer economic and political challenges than Rio presented.
Tokyo 2020’s organisers have been careful to respect their predecessors, saying there is much they can learn from Rio, which is true, but much of that will be cautionary tales about the need to test venues and transport plans, and start selling tickets as soon as possible.
Rio found all of that difficult, largely because of its economic problems, but Tokyo cannot afford to be complacent, particularly with a Rugby World Cup to prepare for, too, in 2019.
Tokyo also have five more sports to accommodate, with baseball/softball, climbing, karate, roller sports and surfing joining the programme.
And like most host cities, Tokyo is keen to use the Games as a catalyst for urban regeneration, which tends to add complexity to the plan.
It will also have a problem the IOC avoided this time, by staging the Games in a southern hemisphere winter. Tokyo will be hot, and there are already some concerns that US television will want early finals for their prime time, which will only exacerbate that problem.
But as Japan proved with its successful co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup, it is a dependable venue, and it has, of course, already staged an Olympics in 1964.
The evidence from Rio also suggests that Japan’s athletes should win plenty of medals, which always makes a huge difference to the success of a Games.