For Japan, medal bonanza could put some shine on tarnished Games

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective mask, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, walks past a large-scale reproduction of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games medal at Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower in Tokyo, Japan, July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - A record medal haul may be the only silver lining for host nation Japan at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as the Games have been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic and tarnished by a string of scandals.

Japan is expected to take 60 medals in Tokyo, an increase of around 50% from its record of 41 at the Rio de Janeiro Games, according to predictions from data company Gracenote.

That would be welcome news for the organisers - and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga - given the event's unpopularity. Opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of the public opposes hosting the Olympics during the pandemic.

Some early medal wins would reverse a recent trend of seemingly endless negative headlines. On Thursday, organisers fired the director of the opening ceremony over his past comments about the Holocaust, the latest in a series of scandals for Tokyo organisers.

One of the best chances for an early medal are in Judo, where Funa Tonaki will be competing in the lightest weight division for women and Naohisa Takato the lightest for men.

Japan also has a shot at an early medal in swimming and in skateboarding, which is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

The first finals for judo will be held on Saturday in the Budokan stadium. The 25-year-old Tonaki will be competing in the women's 48 kg category while Takato will compete in the men's 60 kg class.

Tonaki is ranked third in the world in her class, while Takato is fourth, according to the International Judo Federation's world rankings.

In skateboarding, the 22-year-old Yuto Horigome, ranked second in the world, according to World Skate, is a contender for gold in the men's street event, which takes place on Sunday.

A day later, it will be the turn of Aori Nishimura, who turns 20 at the end of this month and is also ranked second in the world, to take a medal in the women's street event.

Other early medal contenders for Japan include individual medley swimmer Daiya Seto and judo athletes Hifumi and Uta Abe - a brother and sister - who will be looking to leave their mark on Sunday.

The Games, due to begin on Friday with the opening ceremony are being held without spectators and under unprecedented conditions given the pandemic.

(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by David Dolan and Hugh Lawson)

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