TOKYO – Cheers and shouts of “Banzai!!” echoed across Tokyo just after sunrise as thousands of people started celebrating the city’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics, beating rivals Istanbul and Madrid despite concerns about a nuclear plant leaking radioactive water.
A slight favorite ahead of the International Olympic Committee’s vote in Beunos Aires, Argentina, Japan’s capital defeated Istanbul 60-36 in the final round. Madrid was eliminated in the first round.
More than 1,200 dignitaries and Olympic athletes crammed into a convention hall in downtown Tokyo at 5 a.m. local time Sunday to usher in the start of the buildup for the Tokyo 2020 Games. Shouts of “Banzai” – a typical Japanese celebratory yell after big victories – filled the hall when the winning bid was confirmed.
“This is a credit to the efforts of the entire nation,” said bid ambassador Saori Yoshida, a three-time gold medalist in women’s wrestling. “The chance to see the highest level of sport live is a great chance for everyone and as an Olympic athlete I’m thrilled.”
Tokyo, which promoted its bid as the reliable choice at a time of global political and economic uncertainty, had been on the defensive in the final days of the campaign because of mounting concerns over the leak of radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
In the final presentation before the vote, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave the IOC assurances the Fukushima leak wasn’t a threat to Tokyo and took personal responsibility for keeping the games safe.
Thousands of residents celebrated at Komazawa Olympic Stadium, a soccer venue when Tokyo last hosted the Olympics in 1964. Across town in the Shibuya entertainment district, late-night revelers marked the occasion with cheers of “Nippon! Nippon!”
Tokyo’s bid to host the 2016 Games was hampered by lukewarm public support, but that wasn’t a problem this time. Benefiting in part from Japan’s strong showing at the London Olympics, Tokyo had a 70 percent approval rating.
“As a mother, I am thrilled that this will give the youth of Japan the chance to experience the thrill and the excitement of the Olympics,” said Wakako Tsuchida, who won the gold medal in the women’s 5,000 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The news will also be welcome on the economic front. Abe’s “Abenomics strategy” is aiming to fuel a lasting recovery from years of stagnation. Japan’s economy grew a slower-than-expected 2.6 percent last quarter as companies wary over the prospects for a sustained recovery kept a tight rein on investment.
The mass circulation Asahi Shimbun issued a special edition to mark Tokyo’s victory.
“Having Tokyo win is a bigger thrill than winning a medal at the Beijing Olympics,” said Nobuharu Asahara, a bronze medalist in the men’s 4x100 relay in Beijing. “Staging the Olympics here in seven years will be a great opportunity to express to the world the wonderful aspects of Japan.”