Tokyo Games: super sport or spreader?

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They'll be the weirdest Olympics since a demigod wearing a lion skin paced out a running track.

At least Hercules had a crowd when, legend has it, he literally drew a line in the sand to begin the first ancient Olympics in 776BC.

Whether Hercules had a sense of history isn't on record. But Cate Campbell does.

"I definitely feel like every Olympian who gets to compete is going to be a part of history," Australian swimmer Campbell said.

"I don't think that we will see an Olympics like it.

"And to have an extra special spot in the history books is just an honour that you can't really fully grapple with."

Campbell, with Indigenous basketballer Patty Mills, will carry Australia's flag at Friday night's opening ceremony for the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo's Games officially open against a backdrop of a global pandemic, civic resistance and athlete uncertainty.

How will history judge Tokyo's Games: coronavirus count or medal count? Super sport or super spreader?

Campbell and other Olympians are bracing for the strangest Games yet, the first edition of the modern Olympics which started in 1896 to be postponed.

World wars forced the Olympics to be cancelled in 1916, 1940 and 1944.

And the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium, came as the world emerged from war and a flu pandemic that killed more than 50 million people. (Antwerp's 100-year anniversary celebrations were cancelled because of coronavirus).

Now, 11,000 Olympic athletes and staffers are entering a Japanese metropolis which has spent $21 billion on hosting the Games.

But still in a state of emergency and the grip of the virus, Tokyo polls show citizens oppose hosting these Olympics.

Only 22 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga this week told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) his country's pandemic path had gone "sometimes backward".

When Japan initially won hosting rights for the Olympics, the sporting showpiece was intended to lift the spirits of a nation after the 2011 tsunami killed almost 20,000 people.

Olympic visitors were to spend about $2 billion and help create an ever-lasting legacy of Japan as a destination.

Now, no-one is coming.

Except athletes, staffers and broadcast crew - key to delivering the IOC around $1 billion in global rights.

Australia's chef de mission Ian Chesterman said the Tokyo Olympics had become the ultimate reality television show.

"The world is ready to see some joy," he said.

"The Games are always full of great stories of triumph and tragedy, but they are always inspiring. And I think the world is ready for that."

IOC president Thomas Bach said "billions of people around the globe will be glued to their screens".

"And they will admire the Japanese people for what they have achieved under these very difficult circumstances," he said.

Australia is sending 472 athletes to Tokyo, with Olympic officials no longer making medal predictions after a backlash from the troubled 2016 Rio Games.

"The athletes commission made clear to us at the AOC that setting a medal target wasn't helpful; they (athletes) put enough pressure on themselves," Chesterman said.

In Rio, Australia fell well shy of its stated top-five ambition, finishing 10th on the medal table with eight golds among 29 medals - the lowest returns in two decades.

But four-time Olympian Campbell is among a Tokyo swim team privately eyeing the nation's best-ever Games haul at the pool: eight golds in Melbourne, 1956.

"Coming into these Games, no one really knows what to expect," Campbell said.

"If the past year has taught me anything, it's to soak up every moment because you never know when things are going to change."

Campbell and her 4x100m freestyle relay team, or 400m freestyler Elijah Winnington, are tipped to deliver Australia gold on Sunday.

Other swimmers Kyle Chalmers - the only Australian to defend an individual Olympic title in Tokyo - Ariarne Titmus, Emma McKeon and Kaylee McKeown carry gold-medal expectations.

World champion Logan Martin is favoured to win the first BMX freestyle Olympic gold medal and world No.1 Ash Barty is the women's tennis favourite.

Australia's team sports - men's and women's basketball, men's hockey, women's rugby sevens in particular - are also strong medal showings.

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