Tokyo 2020: Life in the bubble

Published on August 11th, 2021

Megan Kensington

When World Sailing selected the race officials for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, they considered 250 of its International Race Officials in its process to select the 60 people to administer the events. Consideration is an achievement. Selection is an opportunity of a lifetime.

The final list had representatives from 31 nations that were spread across the Technical Delegates, Race Management Team, International Jury, Technical Committee with an additional Event Disciplinary Investigating Officer.

But Tokyo 2020 was no easy gig as COVID-19 restrictions, language barriers, and the field of play offered constant obstacles. New Zealand’s Megan Kensington, a member of the Race Management Team, shares what life was like in the bubble:


Each morning began with dribbling some saliva into a tube and registering the test online, then taking your temperature and registering that on an app. Any time you left your room, you had to wear a mask which was challenging in the heat and not possible if you were eating and drinking.

We met in the lobby of the hotel each morning and was then escorted to a bus by security. Once at the venue, we went through temperature testing and airport-like security before dropping our saliva samples off. It was a bit different to an everyday regatta.

We were restricted to our hotel and the venue. We had Japanese people at the hotel to help us order food, mainly Uber Eats, and to shop for us. Lemons and tonic water were very popular requests. It was discovered that using Amazon and Uber Delivery were the best ways to order alcohol.

Each class had a separate race management team and there were three ITOs per course. My course was the RSX and I was on the finish boat.

I was joined by six Japanese people who had been training in the processes and procedures for months leading up to the Games. I was fortunate that three on the boat could speak some English and after long days on the water together I managed to learn a bit of Japanese as well.

The start sequence was not the standard sequence, instead being the orange flag 10 minutes before the start, class and U flag at six minutes and then a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown using numerical flags for the five-minute start sequence.

All races were started under U or black flags except for the medal races that went back to the P flag. And the Charlie boards for a change of course would show the bearing to the new mark, not a green or red.

We always tried to show the board to the media beforehand if we were on a media course and the tracking team also had to be advised.

Results were sent via an Omega tablet as well as being photographed and sent through. There was a lot of checking of results before they were sent through and then we had to go to the Omega office and check again and sign off the results when we got in.

Our team had a couple of days off during the event and I got to go out on the 49er and 49erFX committee boat on one of those days and the Laser committee boat on the other to watch how other race officers work.

Once again, the language barrier made things a bit more difficult. We were reliant on the Japanese course race officers for information and data.

The race officers had computers on their boats that gave a lot of data, including wind speed across all the courses and temperature and humidity sensors were used to ensure we were not exceeding the cut-off temperatures for racing.

Media were very important in this event, particularly with no spectators. Race officers had to work in with the media a lot to make sure the timing worked for them. At times, racing was delayed giving the media time to get from one race course to another.

Even though we were allowed to walk around the sailing park, we were not really allowed to talk to sailors from our own countries unless we had someone from another country with us.

I did manage a brief ‘hi’ or ‘good luck’ to the New Zealand team but that was it and it was quite a lot harder to recognise people when they were wearing masks.

Wearing your accreditation was also very important to be able to get where you needed to go round the venue.

One of the big challenges was the depth of the water where the sailing took place, with it ranging from 20m to 110m. As a result, anchoring was done in a way I have never seen before.

The committee boats were 40-foot Lagoon catamarans and they had set up two anchors, one for each bow. The anchors were laid by the mark layers and then passed up to the boat. This process took about 15 minutes.

The Japanese teams had done a lot of practice anchoring both the boats and the marks, taking in to account the breeze, current and swell, which was not always easy. At times they had to lay a stern anchor to stop the boat swinging in the current.

All the lines were then weighted down with chain so they were not hit by the boats.

Another challenge was the language barrier. The Japanese teams would be given instructions by their course race officer and we would then have to get them to explain what they were doing.

Fortunately, we gradually got our routines sorted by the time we had done three days of on-the-water practice and started the event. But the language challenge can be more noticeable when the anchor is dragging in 80m of water, 1m-2m swells and plenty of breeze with finishers coming down to the finish.

I never did figure out the Japanese for ‘please use the motor to hold station’ but we got it sorted in time.

Overall, it was a great learning experience and I enjoyed meeting so many experienced race officers from so many different countries. I am very grateful to have had such an experience.


Tokyo 2020 detailsRace informationResults

Race schedule was staggered for the ten sailing events from July 25 to August 4.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Program
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavy – Finn
Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17

Original dates: July 24 to August 9, 2020
Revised dates: July 23 to August 8, 2021

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