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Crews competing on the Sea Forest Waterway with the Tokyo Gate Bridge as a backdrop.

From August 7 to 11, the newly developed Sea Forest Park was home to the 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships, organized by the World Rowing Federation (FISA).

This is part of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee’s initiative – Ready, Set, Tokyo – to ensure that venues selected or built for the upcoming Summer Games are progressing well in terms of readiness. One of over 50 test events being held through May, 2020, the rowing test event is an actual world championship  for 18 years or younger. In this competition, approximately 550 athletes from fifty nations competed in this 5-day event.

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Looking west towards the start of the 2,000-meter course, with one of many planes taking off from Haneda Airport.

The name Sea Forest Park is a vision of what the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has for their property: a verdant forest on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. This waterway, designed for the rowing and canoeing competitions at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, forms a perfect rectangle, nestled between two pieces of reclaimed land and two connecting bridges. One of the few salt water regatta courses in the world, Sea Forest will continue to serve as a venue for rowing and canoeing competitions post Olympics.

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The competition on the sea, with a bit of the forest in the background.

I visited Sea Forest Park on the final day of the junior championships. And it was hot, the mid-day temperature hitting 34 degrees Centigrade (93 degrees Farenheit), with little green or shade in sight, particularly the grandstand at the finish line. There was one area for spectators off the grandstand where people could sit under a tent and view the competition on a large screen that broadcasted the races live.

This is a test event, so it’s likely that by the time the 2020 Olympics roll around, there will be more covered areas. In the meanwhile, there were opportunities to test a wide variety of things: the execution of races every 10 or 15 minutes, transportation of spectators to and from the Tokyo Teleport area of Odaiba, security allowing and stopping people from entering particular areas, awarding of medals and raising of flags.

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Rowing is a difficult sport to watch if you’re just a casual observer. The course is 2,000 meters long, which means that you’re staring off into the far distance trying to pick up the movement of very small boats. But as they get closer to  where the crowds are waiting, and the announcers’ voices, blaring through the speakers, informing us which boats are in front, the crowd noise grows. The spectators are there for their teams.

What I could observe, all went smoothly. More importantly, that is what FISA President, Jean-Christophe Rolland observed as well.

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We are the champions!

We are very proud to have this excellent new rowing course. The installations and fittings are remarkable. I would like to recognize the significant investment in this project.

Sea Forest Waterway_Google Maps
Sea Forest Waterway on Google Maps
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Odaiba Beach

We were shocked when we read about the levels of water pollution in Guanabara Bay that sailors and rowers competed in, and saw the waters of the diving pool turn a sickly green during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

And yet, here we are a year later, and we learn of the significantly polluted waters of Tokyo Bay, the intended site for triathletes and open-water swimmers.

According to Inside the Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government conducted a water quality test in Tokyo Bay over a 21-day period, which is a sample size as long as the actual Games themselves. The results, which were shared at an October gathering of the IOC Coordination Commission in Tokyo, showed “levels of E. Coli up to 20 times above the accepted limit and faecal coliform bacteria seven times higher than the permitted levels.

This Asahi News article quoted organizers as saying that “an inflow of raw sewage caused below-standard water quality in more than half of tests conducted.” Officials explained that “heavy rain caused overcapacity at sewage processing plants, and some of the untreated sewage flowed into Tokyo Bay,” and that “they are considering such measures as installing triple layers of a screen that can block the flow of coli bacillus.

 

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Sign at Tokyo Bay’s Odaiba Marine Park listing prohibitions, including one against swimming.

 

Is there any consideration to move the venue for the triathlon and the open-water swimming events?

Sports Director of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, Koji Murofushi, shut that idea down, stating that “measures will be taken so that we can provide an excellent environment for the sports.”

The truth of the matter is, there have been signs in the area planned for the Olympic events for years warning people not to swim in the bay. Will the organizers figure out to clean up this act? We’re a little more than a thousand days away. Tick tock.