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As cases in US rise, Tokyo runs test gymnastics event for Olympic COVID-19 safety

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Japan will host gymnasts from the United States, China and Russia as well as 2,000 fans for what’s believed to be the first international event in the country since COVID-19 forced lockdowns around the world.

The four-country friendly gymnastics event in Tokyo on Sunday will be a run-through for COVID-19 safety protocols in the run-up to the rescheduled Olympics. They were moved from July of 2020 to July 23, 2021 and could be hosted without a vaccine ready to be disseminated.

The competition “will be one of the litmus tests for next year, for sure,” Japan Sports Agency chief Koji Murofushi told reporters, via AFP.

The meet will take place with approximately 2,000 fans in attendance at the Yoyogi Gymnasium, which holds around 13,000 people. It was used for swimming in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and will be used for handball in 2021. The city has already hosted fans at events, filling a 30,000-seat baseball stadium last weekend.

The U.S. is sending six national team members to compete: Paul Juda, Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus for the men and Sophia Butler, eMjae Frazier and Shilese Jones for the women.

Athletes take precautions ahead of event

Shilese Jones on the mat after a performance.
Shilese Jones will compete for the United States at Japan's test Olympic event. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Athletes attending the event quarantined for two weeks ahead of traveling to Japan by charter planes. They were kept away from other passengers at the airports and had to test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of arrival in the country, per AFP.

As with professional leagues in the United States, athletes must be tested daily and remain in approved areas that consist of the arena, practice venues and hotels.

The competition will be between “Friendship” and “Solidarity” with athletes of different nationalities on each team.

Positive COVID-19 results tests organizers

Event hosts faced a test of the protocols and plans almost immediately. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kohei Uchimura of Japan tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Several follow-up tests were negative and he has been cleared to participate.

Murofushi said it was something officials need to prepare for.

“We assume these sorts of things can happen,” he said, via APF. “What's important is to have unified measures beforehand.

Japan has mostly closed its borders since the coronavirus outbreak began earlier this year and has approximately 1,800 deaths attributed to the virus. The United States is experiencing another rise in cases, reporting a record 121,504 new cases on Thursday. At least 235,300 people have died, per the New York Times.

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