Tokyo 2020: Olympic torch relay finally begins in Japan

A year later than planned and despite an ongoing global pandemic, the torch relay for the delayed Tokyo Olympics finally got under way in Japan on Thursday.

The 121-day relay signals the start of the build-up to this summer's Games, which were postponed from 2020 by coronavirus.

The torch was lit during a ceremony in Fukushima and will be carried by 10,000 runners across Japan before the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the Games' opening ceremony on 23 July.

But, as expected, this year's torch relay will be one with a difference.

Thousands of people have lined the streets for the event in previous years but, because of virus restrictions, spectators were banned from this year's launch ceremony.

A small number of fans were allowed to watch the relay's second section, but face masks were compulsory and cheering banned in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Last week it was announced international fans will not be allowed to travel to the Games.

Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto said she hoped the Olympic flame would serve as "a ray of light at the end of the darkness".

"This little flame never lost hope and it waited for this day like a cherry blossom bud just about to bloom," she said, speaking at the launch ceremony.

Azusa Iwashimizu
The rose gold torch was lit at a ceremony in Fukushima, held at a base for the response of the 2011 nuclear disaster
Azusa Iwashimizu and team-mates
Azusa Iwashimizu, one of Japan's 2011 Women's World Cup-winning footballers, was the first to carry the torch, accompanied by former team-mates.
Azusa Iwashimizu passed the torch to student Asato Owada
Iwashimizu passes the flame to Fukushima high school student Asato Owada
Olympic Torch relay
Fans were able to watch the later legs of the relay but were not allowed to cheer
Olympic Torch ceremony
Events were held along the route of the torch relay
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