Los Angeles – U.S. swimming stars Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel vowed Thursday that the decision to bar spectators at the Tokyo Games over COVID-19 concerns won’t affect them during competition.
Freestyle great Ledecky, a five-time Olympic gold medalist who is targeting a remarkable range of events in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500-meter freestyle, said the decision shouldn’t take away from glory of the games, even though she knows the Olympics will have a significantly different flavor.
Ledecky noted that when the 2020 Games were postponed for a year as the pandemic raged, it wasn’t clear if they would ever, in fact, be held.
“It was kind of a dream that the Olympics would still happen, we had no idea if there would be a vaccine or if the case count would start going down,” Ledecky said in a virtual press conference from the U.S. team’s training camp in Hawaii.
“I think even though we’re not having fans this summer the world is still coming together — athletes and coaches and volunteers everyone is getting together in this one city for the opportunity to pursue their goals that they’ve worked for five years.
“And I still think that’s a really beautiful thing,” Ledecky added. “I know this is going to be kind of a made-for-TV Olympics.
“I hope that everyone around the world tunes in and still enjoys it and recognizes the beauty of the work that all of these athletes have put in for these five years.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers and government officials announced on Thursday that fans would be banned from Olympic events in the capital, which will be under a state of emergency throughout the games.
The Tokyo Games will be the first to take place largely behind closed doors.
When asked about the decision to bar fans and the pandemic fears that continue to press on Tokyo, Dressel said that retired swimming great Michael Phelps had counseled the current crop of U.S. Olympians to focus on things they could control and he was taking that advice.
Dressel said, he is preparing to follow all of the required anti-virus protocols, but otherwise will try to keep his focus on swimming.
“Right now, the goal for everyone on this team is to swim fast,” said Dressel, who will chase his first individual Olympic gold in the 50 and 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly — all events in which he is the two-time defending world champion.
“I fully trust Team USA, the staff, that they’re going to take care of us, that we’re going to be safe.
“So I know there are things going on, yes I’m aware of them. I don’t want it to sap energy from me because the goal at hand for me is to swim fast.”
U.S. men’s head coach Dave Durden said he didn’t think the lack of spectators in the stands would impact performance.
“I feel like we have raced in that environment for the past year,” Durden said. “It’s something that our athletes have been comfortable with.”
Ledecky said the presence of the world’s best swimmers would be more than enough motivation.
“I haven’t faced anyone from around the world since 2019, so it’s great that we’re getting this opportunity and I know we’re not going to take it for granted.”
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