Tokyo Olympics: Runner in first leg of torch relay drops out

Homare Sawa, captain of Japan's women's football team, which won the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, was one of those kicking off the torch relay on Thursday.

One of the first runners in the Tokyo Olympics torch relay has dropped out of the event.   -  AP

One of the first runners in the Tokyo Olympics torch relay has dropped out of the event scheduled for Thursday, the Games organising committee said on Wednesday.

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Homare Sawa, captain of Japan's women's football team, which won the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, was one of those kicking off the torch relay on Thursday.

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Her former coach Norio Sasaki told a press conference she had decided to pull out, citing health reasons.

On Thursday, the J-Village in Fukushima will house the starting ceremony for the Olympic torch relay, kicking off a countdown to the Games in Tokyo - the first ever organised during a deadly pandemic.

Members of the Japanese national women's football team will use the Olympic flame, flown in from Greece, to light the torch. But the ceremony - originally planned for thousands of fans as a celebration of Japan's recovery - will be closed to the public.

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The first section of the relay will not have spectators, and as some 10,000 runners take the torch across Japan's 47 prefectures, including far-flung islands, onlookers must wear masks and socially distance.

The four-month event has been hit by several high-profile runner cancellations as celebrities have pulled out, citing late notice and worries about drawing crowds during the pandemic.