Tokyo Olympics: Torch design, corruption allegation, death of superfan, robot assistants

TOKYO, Japan—The summer of 2019 is still eons away, hyperbolically speaking, but the fanfare surrounding the upcoming 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan has, within a stretch of a few days in March, reached a fever pitch. Several news reports indicated Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda would step down from his post in light of bribery allegations. Takeda also announced he will give up his seat on the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

            Takeda’s announcement, which was made on March 19, came just hours ahead of the unveiling of the torch design for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. The design was based on the Torch Relay concept, “Hope lights our way.” Olympic officials stated the torch was designed with a cherry blossom motif.

            “Uncle Olympics,” meanwhile, has reportedly died at the age of 92; Japan’s Olympics superfan had attended each Summer Games since 1964, according to a news report published on

            The superfan, sadly, will miss out on Toyota’s Human Support Robot, a wayfinding robotic assistant who will guide spectators and workers during the Games.

Tsunekazu Takeda

            Takeda will not renew his presidency of the Japanese Olympic Committee after his term expires in June, as allegations of corruption have started to make its rounds in the current news cycle. The 71-year-old steps down despite denying the reported allegations.

            Tokyo’s Olympic bid team reportedly won the Summer Games in 2020 through payoffs disguised as a payment for consultancy payments. Takeda, who was questioned by French prosecutors about the payments in December 2018, has maintained the payments were legitimate, according to The Guardian.

Tsunekadu Takeda as a horse rider in Olympic competition.

Tsunekadu Takeda as a horse rider in Olympic competition.

            Two payments totaling at least $2 million were made to Black Tidings in 2013, according The Guardian. An account where the funds were deposited was reportedly connected to a powerful member of the IOC, who also had a vote in the 2020 Games host city decision.

            The Japanese Olympic Committee commissioned an independent panel to investigate any illegal activity committed by Takeda and others; the panel, according to news reports, did not find any wrongdoing, but the process was considered flawed.

Takeda, who is the great-grandson of Emperor Meiji, competed in the 1972 and 1976 Summer Games; he specifically competed as a horse rider in Show Jumping. He was named to the Japanese Olympic Committee in 1987 and became the organization’s president in 2001.

Torch Design

            A bit of good news broke only hours after Takeda’s announcement: the IOC unveiled the design for the 2020 Games torch, which will be used as part of the Torch Relay en route to Japan. The torch was designed with a cherry blossom motif.

            “The concept is designed to bring the Japanese people together around messages of support, acceptance and encouragement of one another, while also reflecting the Olympic flame’s ability to promote peace and hope to the world,” the IOC said in an official statement about the design. “Not only do Japan’s famed cherry blossoms happen to bloom in March, coinciding with the start of the Olympic Torch Relay, but the shape of the torch also resembles a Japanese traditional ‘Sakuramon’ cherry blossom emblem.”

Photo courtesy IOC

Photo courtesy IOC

            Five cylinders, representing flower petals, highlight the design. Flames will come out from the top of each petal and unite at the center. The aluminum technology used for the torch is also used to manufacture Japan’s bullet trains.

            “The construction of the torch also incorporates sustainability by using aluminum waste from temporary housing that was built in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake,” the IOC’s official statement read. “While the materials were once used to help rebuild lives, they will now be used to spread a message of hope and recovery.”

Photo courtesy IOC

Photo courtesy IOC

Uncle Olympics

            Tokyo hosted the Summer Games in 1964 - the same year Naotoshi Yamada attended his first Olympic competition as a spectator. Yamada, who would earn the nickname “Uncle Olympics,” had attended every quadrennial Games ever since. Uncle Olympics, sadly, won’t be at the 2020 Tokyo Games as he reportedly passed away. He was 92.

            Yamada reportedly died of heart failure on March 9. He founded and operated a wire rope manufacturing business, but later expanded his business operations to include hotels and real estate holdings. Yamada had attended 14 consecutive Summer Olympiads, each time donning a gold hat and red jacket. His passion for attending the Summer Games every four years helped make him a national figure.

Robot Volunteers

            Organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Games and Paralympics unveiled two robots and a powered exoskeleton, The Verge reported on March 15. Toyota will provide up to 16 robots at various venues during the Summer Games next year, according to The Verge. The robots will help attendees and workers find their respective ways around each venue, help collect trash and assist the disabled, among other tasks.

            Toyota’s robots could be available on the open market, for the general public to purchase, by 2030, The Verge’s reporting continued.

            The exoskeletons, which are being made by Panasonic, will be used at local airports and other non-sporting venues to assist with heavy lifting and similar activities. Panasonic is calling the exoskeletons as Power Assist Suits.