With no spectators in the Tokyo stands, the Olympics still launch for television audiences worldwide

Shrouded in uncertainty and a year late, the 2020 Summer Olympics (that’s what they’re still, officially, being called) get going with as much anticipation as any in recent memory.

CBC, TSN, Sportsnet and NBC will provide wall-to-wall coverage on all 33 sports; among them are swimming, diving, basketball, golf, gymnastics, track and field, beach volleyball, and boxing, plus new sports karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing, along with the newly reinstated baseball and softball.

More than 11,000 male and female athletes from 206 countries will be at these games, the status of which were in doubt due to the pandemic. At this writing, arenas and venues in the Japanese capital were set at 50 per cent capacity, up to 10,000 spectators. But despite the anxiety and all the restrictions in place, Mike Tirico, NBC’s primetime studio host for the Olympics, thinks Tokyo will make for a fine host.

2020 Tokyo OlympicsNBC“This is one of the great cities in the world,” he says, “and I think tourists from around the world would’ve come to the games. I think that’s just the unfortunate part of this timing for the host city. You know, you plan seven years out for the games and this would’ve been such a spectacular games. And as you know, there’s so much culture...”

“Having said that, I think they’ll put on a great games,” he continues. “The venues were, according to the IOC, more ready and prepared than any city that hosted the Summer Games, so we were really in for a great games. From a preparation standpoint of the venues, the facilities for the athletes, I think that’s going to be still as good as possible.”

In the weeks prior to these Olympics, Tirico has been crisscrossing America, taking in qualifying events in various sports and making note of athletes to watch. And he’s also looking at the big stories. In particular, Usain Bolt’s absence means there will be a new fastest man in the world. (Several pundits point to Canada’s Andre De Grasse, winner of three medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, as a contender.)

Tirico sees U.S. gymnast Simone Biles adding more medals to her collection and the American swim team dominating as well. And in soccer, the U.S. women’s team will look for a modicum of redemption for their deflating loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals in Rio 2016 when they face that country early in competition.

“Coming off the success of the World Cup,” Tirico says, “I think the likes of Megan Rapinoe and everyone else [have]become extremely popular athletes in this country. And they’re just one example of what I think is the overall strength of Team USA in Tokyo and that is the women’s teams... It really will be a lot of the focus of the coverage and of America’s best medal chances coming from many of those women.”

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics begins airing Friday, July 23rd at 3:30 a.m. on CBC & TSN, 3:55 a.m. on NBC and 4 a.m. on Sportsnet Pacific