Jamaica middle-distance runner, Aisha Praught-Leer, has signed with sporting goods giants Puma ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which will be held later this year.

The 31-years-old Praught-Leer is Jamaica’s record holder in the 3000m Steeplechase event and represented the country at the 2015 and 2017 IAAF World Championships, as well as the 2016 Olympics, where she qualified for the final.

In addition, the athlete also captured gold in the event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.  Praught-Leer has, however, contemplated switching events to try her hand at competing in the 1500m. 

The athlete had hoped to make her 1500m Olympic debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but like many others had to set aside those plans as the event was postponed due to the onslaught of the coronavirus.  She has already begun her quest to qualify for this summer's Games by targeting three events, the 3000m steeplechase, 5000m, and 1500m.  She currently has personal best times of 15:07.50 in the 5000m, 9:14.09 seconds in the 3000m steeplechase, and 4:05.52 in the 1500 metres.

Praught-Leer previously represented Under Armour after signing a contract with that brand in 2017, earlier this month, however, she announced via social media that her contract with the company had come to an end.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has dismissed a report that the Tokyo Games will be cancelled as "categorically untrue."

Athletes from all over the world are due to head to the Japanese capital for a showpiece that is scheduled to be opened a year later than orignally planned on July 23.

The coronavirus pandemic prevented the Olympics from being staged last year and there have been growing concerns that it will not be possible for the Games to go ahead in 2021.

An unnamed senior Japanese government source told The Times: "No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it's too difficult. Personally, I don't think it's going to happen."

Yet Thomas Bach, the IOC president, this week told Kyodo News there is "no reason whatsoever" to believe the Games will be called off for a second time due to the COVID-19 crisis and said there is "no plan B" for the Games.

The Japanese government also firmly stated on Friday there is no truth in claims that it has concluded the Olympics will have to be cancelled.

A statement from the IOC said: "We refer you to the strong and clear statement that the Japanese Government made today, saying that the report is "categorically untrue".

The statement from the Japanese government said: "Some news reports circulating today are claiming that the Government of Japan has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus. This is categorically untrue.

"At an IOC Executive Board meeting in July last year, it was agreed that the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would be held on July 23 this year, and the programme and venues for the Games were rescheduled accordingly.

"All parties involved are working together to prepare for a successful Games this summer.

"We will be implementing all possible countermeasures against COVID-19 and will continue to work closely with the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in our preparations for holding a safe and secure Games this summer."

Olympic chiefs have been joined by the Japanese government in denying a report that the Tokyo Games is poised to be called off for a second time.

The delayed Tokyo 2020 event is due to officially open on July 23 and close on August 8, having been put back by a year because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

However, with the pandemic still causing devastation in countries across the globe, there have been concerns that staging an Olympics in 2021 may be impractical.

British newspaper The Times quoted an unnamed senior Japanese government source as saying: "No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult. Personally, I don't think it's going to happen."

That is a perspective that is hotly disputed, with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach telling Kyodo News: "We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo.

"This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these Games safe and successful."

Japan has strict border controls in place in an attempt to prevent travellers spreading coronavirus and bringing new strands of the virus into the country.

The IOC executive board is due to meet on January 27, when it is set to receive updates from the Tokyo organising committee.

A recent poll of Japanese public, conducted by broadcaster NHK, found there was widespread opposition to the Olympics going ahead this year.

The Times said Tokyo would look to host the 2032 Olympic Games.

Yet Australian John Coates, an IOC vice-president and chair of the Tokyo Coordination Commission, says the plan remains for the Games to be held in its current slot.

"There has been no discussion on cancellation," Mr Coates told The Ticket, an ABC radio show.

"At the end of the day, politicians do have to take into account the feelings of those inside their party and the general public.

"But this is not the message we are getting from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga or the president of the Tokyo Organising Committee Yoshiro Mori, himself a former Prime Minister."

In Japan, deputy chief cabinet secretary Manabu Sakai told media that the prospect of a Games cancellation was not under consideration.

He said: "There is no such fact. I would like to deny it. The government is working as one to prepare for the success of the event this summer."

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said it is continuing to plan for the Olympic Games, despite reports the rescheduled showpiece event in Tokyo could be cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 forced the 2020 Games to be postponed, with the Olympics now due to held in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8 this year.

But with coronavirus continuing to wreak havoc globally, there are reports claiming Japan has privately concluded the Olympic Games will have to be called off.

The AOC responded to the reports in a statement on Friday, which read: "Both Japanese prime minister Suga and IOC president Bach have this week strongly reaffirmed their commitment to the Tokyo Olympic Games going ahead in July this year. 

"The AOC is continuing its planning to ensuring the Australian Olympic Team arrives in Tokyo, competes and returns home safe and COVID-free.

"The AOC, Federal Government, Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council are continuing to progress the candidature for the Olympic Games to be held in Queensland in 2032 – and that process continues."

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach also insisted the Games will take place this year, despite surging COVID-19 cases in Tokyo.

Amid growing doubts, Bach told Kyodo News on Thursday: "We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo.

"This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these Games safe and successful."

"You may not like it but sacrifices will be needed. This is why I'm saying, safety first, and no taboo in the discussion to ensure safety," added Bach after hinting at the possibility of reduced spectators.

Bach said: First of all, let me be clear that you cannot compare March 2021 with March 2020 because there is such great progress in science, medicine, vaccination and [virus] tests.

"All this was not available in March last year. Nobody knew yet how really to deal with the pandemic, and now we know much more."

Jamaica track and field star, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, does not anticipate that age will be a barrier to achieving success when the 2021 Olympics finally rolls around.

 At 34, Fraser-Pryce will be one of the oldest women lined up to face the starter's gun, should the event eventually be staged in Tokyo later this year.  The 32nd Olympiad was initially slated to be staged last summer but was postponed due to the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The postponement of the quadrennial event has meant another year of training and preparation for some legendary athletes facing another race, the one against time.  The situation will not be an entirely new one for nine-time World champion and two-time Olympic champion Fraser-Pryce.  In 2019, at the age of 32, she became the oldest female sprinter to win a 100m world title.  In that event, by comparison, silver medalist, Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith was nine years her junior.  Showing herself to be very much at the top of her game in 2020, however, despite the havoc the global pandemic wrought on the international schedule, Fraser-Pryce is clearly in the mood to defy the odds yet again.

“Yes, I’m 33, but if I can come back from having my son and be able to stand on the podium, my age is not going to stop me.  I’m still going to work hard.  I’m still going to be committed and I’m grateful for the years of experience I’ve had,” Fraser-Pryce told the BBC.

"I'm probably older than most of the women in the race but so what? I'm just focusing on getting the job done and being happy."

International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound is uncertain whether the Tokyo Games will be able to go ahead.

After the Olympics were postponed in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, they have been rescheduled for this year, with events due to run in Japan's capital from July 23 to August 8.

However, COVID-19 has continued to surge globally with new variants of the virus forcing multiple countries back into lockdown situations.

The outcome of the debate about whether athletes are given priority access to vaccinations, which have just begun to be rolled out in major nations, could prove decisive.

"I can't be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus," Pound said, per BBC Sport, about whether the Games would go ahead.

The comments from Pound came as Japan declared a one-month state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding regions.

"The situation has become increasingly troubling nationwide and we have a strong sense of crisis," said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who had recently vowed to hold a "safe and secure" Olympics.

Pound, who is the longest-serving member of the committee, added the vaccine debate might be different in each competing nation.

He said to Sky News: "It is a decision for each country to make and there will be people saying they [athletes] are jumping the queue [for a vaccine].

"But I think that is the most realistic way of it going ahead.

"In Canada, where we might have 300 or 400 athletes, to take 300 or 400 vaccines out of several million in order to have Canada represented at an international event of this stature, character and level – I don't think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that.

"Athletes are important role models, and by taking the vaccine they can send a powerful message that vaccination is not only about personal health, but also about solidarity and consideration for the wellbeing of others in their communities."

Olympic athletes should be among those prioritised for a coronavirus vaccine so that the Tokyo Games can go ahead, according to International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound. 

The rescheduled Games are set to get under way on July 23, a whole calendar year after the original starting date, despite concerns over rising COVID-19 cases in host country Japan.  

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will decide on Thursday whether to implement a new state of emergency in Tokyo amid growing calls to take action, which could again put the Olympics in jeopardy. 

IOC chief Pound, the organisation's longest-serving member, believes the best way of ensuring it goes ahead is to vaccinate all athletes beforehand.

"In Canada where we might have 300 or 400 athletes - to take 300 or 400 vaccines out of several million in order to have Canada represented at an international event of this stature, character and level - I don't think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that," Pound told Sky News. 

"It's a decision for each country to make and there will be people saying they are jumping the queue but I think that is the most realistic way of it going ahead." 

Costs for the Olympics have already increased by $2.8billion (£2.1bn) due to measures being put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus.

 

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