TOKYO, Aug 9, (AP): They’ll 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. Barred from bringing family and friends with them to Japan, playing in empty arenas and not allowed to sightsee in Tokyo, some athletes found themselves day-dreaming about the French capital’s Olympic rendezvous in 2024.
If the coronavirus is tamed by then, the Paris Games could quickly become the party games. 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, like this is a whole new energy. This is it,’” said U.S. skateboarder Mariah Duran. “Maybe I had to have the appetizer before the whole meal.” For now, Paris officials say they’re betting that the pandemic will be over when their turn comes. “Normally, we’ll be able to party,” the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said Sunday on French TV when Tokyo passed 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. It pared the games down to their most essential ingredient: competition. No spectators. No city-wide partying. Very little mingling between Olympians and their hosts. Paris officials were watching closely and say that while they hope for the best, they’ll also plan for the worst. Toughest for many Tokyo Olympians was not being accompanied to Japan by loved ones who had no choice but to watch them compete on TV. American surfer Carissa Moore said it was “a huge challenge” being separated from her husband and his “strong constant voice.”
Moore ultimately found her footing to win gold in surfing’s debut as an Olympic sport. As painful as separation was, Tokyo was also a learning experience for the Hawaiian. “I’m very proud of myself, to be here and stand on my own two feet,” she said. Traveling without her parents for the first time at age 17, U.S. skateboarder Brighton Zeuner compensated by staying closely connected even during her competition, videocalling her father from the Olympic skate bowl “between every single run I did.” To limit infection risks, organizers also asked athletes to arrive in Tokyo no earlier than five days before competing and leave within 48 hours of being done – a rapid turnaround that further truncated the Olympic experience.