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Usain Bolt sprinkles stardust on Tokyo Olympic Stadium opening

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AFP

By AFP
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Usain Bolt may not be competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but he took a star turn Saturday in the inauguration of the new National Stadium, seven months before the Opening Ceremony.

The retired Jamaican sprint superstar jogged 200 metres around the track in an exhibition relay race alongside paralympic athletes, in the first public event at the 60,000-seater stadium.

The show opened with a performance of taiko drums that instantly brought to mind the Rugby World Cup, where the players were welcomed into the field to the haunting sound of the drums.

But the biggest cheers of the night were reserved not for Bolt, but J-pop boy band Arashi and Japanese rugby captain Michael Leitch.

“It was a great experience being here running in front of so many people… I was happy because I won’t be getting to compete in the Olympics,” Bolt told reporters afterwards.

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He roundly rejected any thoughts of a comeback, saying: “Am I coming back to running? No.”

“I’m actually in pain right now from the little run I did,” he joked, adding that he was looking forward to attending the Games as a fan for the first time.

The stadium, designed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma, incorporates traditional Japanese design plus a host of features to beat the expected sweltering heat during the Games at the height of the Tokyo summer.

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There is greenery to provide shade and the eaves around the outer perimeter are designed to keep out sunlight and rain and help channel breezes into the stadium.

There are also eight mist spraying facilities, 185 fans and 16 air-conditioned lounges.

The stadium, built on the ground of the 1964 Olympic Stadium, will play host to the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the flagship athletic events.

However, it will not see the climax of the marathon, after the traditional closing event was moved hundreds of kilometres north to Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido, in a bid to beat the heat.

Total construction costs including design and supervising fees came to 156.9 billion yen ($1.45 billion), within budget, according to officials.

However, a previous design by late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid was scrapped in 2016 as the costs had soared beyond $2 billion – causing humiliation to the organisers.

The first competitive sports event at the new stadium will be the Emperor’s Cup football final on New Year’s Day.

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Italy rugby star earns country’s highest award for volunteer coronavirus work

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MILAN, Italy, Jun 3 Italian rugby international Maxime Mbanda has earned one of Italy’s highest awards for his work as a front-line volunteer in the fight against the coronavirus.

President Sergio Mattarella on Wednesday named the back-row forward a ‘Cavalieri al merito della Repubblica’, or ‘Knights of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic’ for working with a volunteer ambulance team in the city of Parma during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It was unexpected news. This recognition fills me with pride,” said Mbanda.

“The credit goes to all the people who have worked hard during this period and who have been doing it for years in silence.”

The honour is awarded to those who have distinguished themselves in the service to the community, including doctors and nurses during the recent crisis which killed over 33,500 people in Italy.

Born in Rome to a Congolese father and Italian mother, Mbanda had been scheduled to face England in the Six Nations for his 21st Italy cap on March 14 when all sport was suspended as the pandemic quickly spread.

Instead, wearing a mask and protective suit, the 27-year-old volunteered as an ambulance driver with the volunteer medical transport group “Croce Gialla” (Yellow Cross) in the region of Emilia-Romagna, one of the areas most affected by the coronavirus.

“When everything was cancelled in rugby, I wondered how I could help, even without medical expertise,” Mbanda, who plays for Zebre Rugby, the Parma club, told AFP in March.

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He said he found the group, which helped transport patients, medicine and food for the elderly during the crisis.

“It was the 70 busiest days of my life,” Mbanda wrote on his Instagram account in May.

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“I transported more than 100 patients, had gruelling shifts where I had lunch in the evening, because I couldn’t take off that suit to avoid the risk of getting infected until I was sanitised,” he wrote.

Mbanda joined a service that transports patients who have coronavirus © AFP/File / ANDREAS SOLARO

“During the most intense period I cried in the evening, as a way to release what I saw during the day which I wasn’t used to,” he added

Mbanda’s father, a surgeon in Milan, was “also on the front line,” he said, adding that, if asked, he would do it all again.

“In fact, I have admitted several times during this period that I regretted not having started earlier and I will advise anyone from now on to try to volunteer,” he wrote.

“For me it was an incredible experience.”

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Amazon to make Premier League matches free-to-air

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LONDON, United Kingdom, Jun 3Amazon will make its four Premier League matches in the remainder of the 2019/20 season free-to-air as broadcasters prepare for the return of the English top-flight.

The Premier League is set to resume behind closed doors on June 17 after being suspended since March due to the coronavirus.

All 92 remaining fixtures will be televised live and Amazon has a small package of games.

Unlike earlier this season, fans will not need a Prime membership to watch fixtures on the online platform.

“Like the rest of the country, we are excited to see the Premier League return to action,” said Alex Green, managing director of Prime Video Sport Europe.

“We will be making all four of Amazon Prime Video’s additional fixtures in the 2019-20 season available free of charge. Fans will not need a Prime membership to view the games on Prime Video.”

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The online streaming service entered the competitive Premier League live rights market in 2018, changing the landscape of British sports broadcasting.

Sky Sports has announced 25 of its 64 matches will be free-to-air on its Pick channel, while the BBC has the rights to screen four games on terrestrial TV.

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It will be the first time the BBC has shown any live English top-flight action since 1988.

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MotoGP set to release revised 2020 calendar next week

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PARIS, France, Jun 3MotoGP is expected to announce a reworked schedule next week for a season it hopes to start in July, championship organisers said Wednesday.

“We hope to present our calendar next week,” said Dorna chief executive Carmelo Ezpeleta in a video on the MotoGP website.

“And it will start, if everything goes well, on the 19th of July in Jerez. The later races will be in the beginning of November, making around 12 to 13 rounds.”

MotoGP promoters Dorna are awaiting Spanish government approval to start the truncated season with back-to-back races at the Jerez circuit on July 19 and 26.

The 2020 season was due to start on March 8 in Qatar but only Moto2 and Moto3 races went ahead before strict quarantine measures were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Several races were postponed while seven have been scrapped.

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“For the four non-European races which haven’t been cancelled, that means Thailand, Malaysia, the United States and Argentina, we have a deadline until the end of July to tell everybody if we continue or stop,” said Ezpeleta.

“That means after two races of this year we will see if the calendar is 12, 13, or any more, with a maximum of 16,” he added, explaining that stringent health measures had been put in place with a view to resuming the championship.

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