The 2021 Tokyo Olympics finally kicked off on Friday, July 23, and the opening ceremony got off to an artistic start. The first person viewers saw in the Olympic Stadium was a lone woman running on a treadmill. Eventually, other athletes surrounded her connected by light projections signifying their invisible connection to one another. You may be wondering: Who was that woman running on the treadmill at the Olympics? Arisa Tsubata has an emotional backstory.
The 27-year-old Japanese nurse spent over a year training around her day job to prepare for the Olympic boxing qualifier in hopes of competing at this year’s Olympic Games. However, her Olympic dreams were destroyed when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to cancel the boxing qualifier (which was supposed to occur in June 2021) and choose 53 athletes according to their world rankings since 2017.
Tsubata only began boxing about three years ago, and she was unable to qualify even though she won the national Japanese boxing championship for the middleweight division in 2019, per a May 13 Reuters report. This Olympic setback was even more devastating given that she quit her job at a major hospital in January and took a new one at a lower-paying psychiatric clinic in order to focus on training. According to Reuters, Tsubata said, “It’s very disappointing,” adding, “I had been working so hard for a year after the postponement of the Olympics, and it’s so frustrating that I don’t even have the right to compete.”
This heartbreaking rule change certainly hasn’t been the only controversial aspect of this year’s Olympic Games. They’re being heavily scrutinized around the world because of COVID-related issues in Japan, such as a recent state of emergency and record number of cases in Tokyo (where infections haven’t increased this much since January 2021). Japan also currently has a low vaccination rate, having vaccinated just over 13.4% of its total population. Still, the country has managed to keep cases far below the numbers counted in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Japan has done so by enforcing mandatory quarantines for foreign visitors, and placing great importance on mask-wearing and social distancing.
Although there’s a lot of uncertainty heading into the 2021 Olympics and Tsubata said the virus could threaten the Games going on as planned, she still believes holding the event is worth it. “As an athlete, considering fellow athletes waiting for this moment, and especially seeing my chance being taken away, I definitely think the Olympics should happen,” she said, per Reuters.