A car could be the star of Japan’s Olympic torch relay

Japan has finally arrived at the sad realization that it will have to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics due to the coronavirus chaos, though it hasn’t given up on the idea of starting the torch relay on time later this week.

But in an unexpected turn of events, the Tokyo Games organizing committee now says it plans to transport the flame inside a car instead of having athletes, celebrities, and local heroes run with it as per tradition, according to Kyodo News.

The idea is that sticking it in a car will keep the crowds off the street as few people will want to head to the highway to see it whiz by at 70 mph. It’s thought this will help to reduce the number of infections of the coronavirus (formally known as COVID-19), which, at the time of writing, doesn’t appear to have taken hold in Japan in the same way that it has in some other countries around the world.

Of course, carrying an open flame inside a closed car would be a logistical nightmare, and probably result in the vehicle arriving at its destination on fire. That’s why the Olympic flame will be carried not with the torch but instead inside a small lantern, with the car transporting it along each of the 47 relay routes across the country.

It’s not yet clear what kind of car will be taking the flame on its historic cross-country drive. At one end of the scale, it could be a Japanese electric supercar, while at the other end it might be a more modest, locally built Kei car. We hope it’s the latter, though it’s likely to be something in between.

As you might expect, the place at the end of each route has a special event planned to welcome the flame. But it’s not certain if these will go ahead as thousands of people would likely show up, just as they did for the flame’s first public appearance in the country last weekend — hardly what you want if you’re trying to avoid more virus infections. But then, if there’s no torch running, and no torch events, there would seem little point in driving the flame across Japan.

Continuing with the relay events would at least ensure that various places along the route will still gain publicity through local media as Japan uses them to throw the spotlight on different parts of the country. Indeed, carrying the iconic flame across the nation in a car may end up bagging the relay more attention than expected.

If they have to abandon human participants this time around, you’d have thought the committee would’ve brought Honda’s humanoid robot out of retirement, giving the organizers a chance to show off some of Japan’s technological prowess. But then again, the spectacle of Asimo running along while holding aloft the Olympic flame would surely bring chaos to the streets, and more chaos is something we could all do without just now.

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