A Japanese boxer who worked as a nurse on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, but lost her chance to compete at the Tokyo Olympics because of the virus, found herself in a starring role as the Games finally got underway Friday. Arisa Tsubata spent five long minutes pounding on a treadmill in a virtually empty Olympic stadium as dancers fanned out around her at the start of a peculiarly somber Tokyo Opening Ceremony. Spectators and dignitaries, led by Emperor Akihito, later observed a moment’s silence for those who died in the pandemic—allowing noisy anti-Olympic protests outside the stadium to be heard.
Tsubata, a 27-year-old middleweight, became a national champion in the ring after only two years in the sport. Her hopes of qualifying for the Games were dashed, however, when the Asian qualifying event was canceled because of the pandemic and slots awarded strictly according to world rankings.