They will always have Paris.
That thought, full of promise, has been a lifebuoy for athletes to cling to as they coped, as best they could, with thickets of restrictions at the pandemic-hit Tokyo Games that severely crimped their Olympic experience — and left some hungry for more.
Some athletes were prohibited from taking their family and friends to Japan. They had to play in empty arenas, and they were not permitted to sightsee in Tokyo. The Paris Games could soon become the party games if the coronavirus can be controlled by then. Already, there is palpable pent-up eagerness among athletes to make up for Tokyo and its disappointments.
“When Paris happens I’ll be like, “OK, wow! This is a whole new energy.” Mariah Duran, a U.S. Skateboarder, said that this was it. “Maybe I needed to have the appetizer before I could eat the entire meal.”
Paris officials claim that they are betting the pandemic will end when it comes their turn. Anne Hidalgo (Paris’ mayor) said on Sunday that “normally, we can party” after Tokyo received the baton.
But if the coronavirus is still ruining the best-laid plans, then Tokyo has served up a model of how to hold an Olympics even as infections are surging. This reduced the games to their core ingredient, competition. No spectators. There is no city-wide partying. There is very little interaction between Olympians, their hosts. Paris officials were closely watching and said that they hope for the best but also have plans for the worst.
Many Tokyo Olympians found it difficult not to be accompanied by their loved ones to Japan. They couldn’t watch them on TV, so they had to travel alone. Carissa Moore, an American surfer, said that it was a “huge challenge” to be separated from her husband and hear his “strong constant voice.”
Moore eventually found her feet and won gold in surfing’s Olympic debut. Although it was painful, Tokyo was a valuable learning experience for Moore. She said, “I’m proud of myself, being here and standing on my own two legs.”
At 17 years old, Brighton Zeuner traveled without her parents. She made the most of her experience by video-calling her father at the Olympic skate bowl “between each run I did” and staying in touch even while she competed.
To reduce infection risk, organizers asked that athletes arrive in Tokyo no later than five days prior to competing and depart within 48 hours. This was a quick turnaround that further reduced the Olympic experience.
Axel Cruysberghs (Belgian skateboarder) and Lizzie Armanto (skateboarding wife), competed in week one. They were able to pass each other like ships during the night. His return flight to Tokyo was only 20 minutes away as he took off.
She laughed and said, “It worked out well for our puppy.” It wasn’t the fairytale Olympics they had planned for before the pandemic.
Armanto stated that they had hoped to be together for a month and that he could attend his event while I could watch his and he could stay for ours. “But COVID, and all…
Armanto left Tokyo without having made a decision about whether or not she would like to return to Paris. In an Instagram livestream, Armanto was complaining about cabin fever in the Olympic residential compound, where athletes were confined when they weren’t competing or training. She also wished organizers hadn’t banned athletes from watching other sports during their downtime.
Armanto said, “I have circled the perimeter quite often because what else can you do here?”
A common complaint was not being able pass the time in sports venues.
Elias Kuosmanen, a Finn who wrestled in Greco-Roman heavyweight, said, “That’s something that I would like to have experienced as Olympian, to watch my other teammates compete.”
Nicholas Hoag, a Canadian volleyball player, took part in track and field and gymnastics on the off days. He also went out with his teammates for drinks and soaked up the Olympic experience. On days when there were no matches in Tokyo however, Hoag said that he watched TV all day and saw all the sports.
Ryan Sclater, a Canadian volleyball player, stated that the pandemic games were a “real mix of amazing and strange things”, and that they were somewhat diluted by mask wearing and social distancing. The athletes were told not to mix with other players and to avoid giving “unnecessary” handshakes, high-fives, and hugs — which they often ignored during the heat and joy of competing.
Sclater stated that “we aren’t quite connecting in the way we normally could.” It’s funny to be so close to these incredible people, but not getting to know them as well at another Olympics.
Paris now has a three-year wait, instead of the usual four due to Tokyo being delayed by the pandemic.
Sclater stated, “It is very exciting to be able to do it again.” To see more of the beauty, coolness and connection of people to the Olympics.