2 Years to Tokyo Olympics

July 24 marks 2 years to the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. For 17 days, the world's top athletes will compete in the largest games ever; 33 sports, 339 events. People here in Japan are working to get everything ready to welcome athletes and visitors from across the globe.

It all begins at the new National Stadium. Officials are planning to complete construction around November next year. Other venues are really beginning to take shape, like the Olympic Aquatics Centre, where pools will be built soon.

But organizers have some challenges to work on. One of them is recruiting volunteers. Officials are briefing organizations to try to get them to help enlist more than 110 thousand. But in one survey, only 15 percent of respondents said they're interested. Recruitment will begin in September.

The city is also in a state of renewal. New developments are popping up and are expected to get a lot of attention.

Beyond the capital, organizers want the Olympics to showcase the reconstruction after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in the country's northeast. They've decided to start the torch relay in Fukushima. Local people say they want the world to know that they have recovered from the disaster. One woman said, "I think it is good to send a message to remember the disaster."

The Olympic flame will start its journey on March 26th, 2020, lasting for about 4 months around Japan.

As for the events themselves, organizers have released most of the competition schedules. With the recent heatwave here, there's been some concern about what that will mean for the Games, but organizers say they're taking the intense heat and humidity into consideration. So, for example, marathons will start before the day heats up, at 7 am.

The Tokyo Olympics will feature five new sports intended to attract a younger audience, including skateboarding, surfing, and "sport climbing.”

Since these sports were officially added, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of facilities for them, as well as people practicing them. Today we're going to take a closer look at climbing. The number of young people taking up the sport has risen because Japan is home to a number of world-class climbers. NHK World's Hiro Morita went to a climbing gym and has this report.

Morita: Sport climbing involves going up walls using your hands and feet on these “holds.” It can be challenging stuff, as the holds are strategically placed. Climbers need to figure out the best route and how to use their bodies to get them higher. When climbing was chosen as an Olympic sport a couple of years ago, more gyms in Japan started offering it, and its popularity is growing. For the games, it will be separated into three categories aimed to test different skills.

First, there's bouldering, where competitors try to complete as many climbs as they can. Then in lead climbing, competitors try to get as high as they can within a time limit. The wall is more than 12-meters high. In speed climbing, it's a race to the top. Climbers also use a 15 meter wall. The men’s world record is 5.48 seconds.

Originally, each of these was a separate event, so athletes would specialize. But in the Olympics, all three are combined, so athletes have to perform well in every category.

Of the three categories, Japan's national team has been coming in first in bouldering. 14-year-old Hana Kudo is an up-and-comer. She earned a chance to compete at the Youth World Championships this summer.

I asked her how she feels about competing in her first youth world championships.

Kudo: I'm tense. I have to compete in all three categories so I'm training for all of them. Until now I’ve concentrated on bouldering, but if I want to win the combined event, I need to practice lead climbing and speed climbing. But there are very few facilities where I can practice, so it’s difficult. I’m shorter than adults and not as strong, so my challenge is to use what abilities I have to make up for that. Next month I’ll be competing in Youth World Championships, where I’ll face foreign opponents for the first time. I want to use that experience to build up my strength to compete in the Olympics in two years.

Kudo is one of the athletes to watch out for as we get closer and closer to the games.

We'll have plenty more coverage of the lead-up to the Olympics in the weeks and months ahead.