Just two weeks before the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, Japanese athletes and staff stoically accepted Thursday’s decision to bar spectators from events in the Japanese capital and three neighboring prefectures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It doesn’t alter my focus,” said badminton player Nozomi Okuhara, who won Olympic bronze in the women’s singles event at the 2016 Games. “I’ll prepare so I can give my best performance.”
Men’s soccer player Yuta Nakayama admitted he had imagined playing in a “home game atmosphere,” but acknowledged such decisions could not be based solely on athletes’ feelings.
Women’s gymnast Aiko Sugihara, whose floor exercise involves urging the crowd to clap along, said public health was a priority.
“Citizens’ lives and health are (most) important,” she said. “It would be great if people do that (clap along) while watching on TV.”
Judoka Shohei Ono echoed Okuhara’s sentiment, saying a lack of fans will have “no impact” in his bid for a second straight gold medal in the men’s 73-kg category.
Freestyle wrestler Sosuke Takatani, appearing in his third straight Olympics, said the decision to exclude spectators left him uneasy since it marked a departure from what the organizers had been saying.
Men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase runner Ryuji Miura said, “It’s sad and must be disappointing for fans who have been looking forward (to watching in person). There’s nothing for me to do but try my hardest and get results.”
Japan surfing manager Tomijiro Munakata said the loss of home fans will be sorely felt when the sport makes its Olympic debut, but backed his surfers to maintain their focus.
“It’s disappointing, but saving lives and preventing the spread of the virus is paramount,” he said. “Having a home crowd would have fired them up, but this decision shouldn’t affect their motivation.”
Japan’s sport climbing head coach Hiroshi Yasui believes the decision needs to be accepted when the very staging of the games is at stake.
“Of course it would have been a huge encouragement for athletes to have spectators. But the biggest thing is it’s not a cancellation,” he said. “We have to do the best we can in whatever environment we’re placed in. I hope the climbers do not get distressed by all these developments.”
Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita was hopeful his athletes will rise to the occasion.
“(Athletes from) all the countries will be competing under the same conditions so we’ll take it as is. It’s all about each athlete giving their best,” he said. “They will be under lots of constraints but I hope they can execute everything they’ve trained to do.”
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