In the spring of 2020, everybody’s life got turned upside down by the virus. Athletes were no exception. We saw our biggest competition and (dream) biggest platform for exposure getting delayed with no certainty that it would happen 2021. Luckily for viewers, fans and athletes the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were still held this summer. I was fortunate enough to qualify in March of 2021 but couldn’t even imagine how different my experience would be comparing to my previous Olympics in Rio in 2016.
First, just getting to Japan was not only cumbersome it was also a very long process. There were several hundred documents needed to be filled by every National Organizing Committees (NOC’s) outlining the individual itinerary for each single athlete and staff. The documents had to describe how everyone were going to arrive in Japan, the testing strategy and method, competition and trainings plans. Just getting out of the airport upon arrival took between 4-5 hours because every document had to be checked and a PCR-test had to return negative. This is in very sharp contrast to a pre-Covid world where no visas or piles of documents were required.
After arriving to Japan, we were lodged in a training camp for 10 days in the Prefecture and city of Nagano – a city about 3-4 hours from Tokyo. We were not allowed to leave the hotel premises except to eat in the team area or to train. For us, this felt somewhat strange since our team was completely vaccinated and we had daily PCR test for Covid-19. This ‘bubble’ concept was similar in the Olympic Village where the daily Covid-19 tests continued.
However, the experience in the village was more similar to the previous Olympics since the village itself was a bubble, and not only the buildings you lived in. This meant that over 10,000 athletes each day would dine in the huge dinning hall. Here you could meet people from every part of the world and partake in the tradition of exchanging pins with whom you like. I even got a pin from the country of Palau, which is one of the smallest countries with less than 20,000 citizens in the Pacific. These small meetings and exchanging smiles and greetings with both old friends and new acquaintances is something that makes every Olympics special. This time it was even more precious as in the past two years almost no interactions between sport communities and various cultures were possible. Naturally, there was a lot of safety measurements in terms of mask, social distancing and sanitizing procedures however in the broader sense the ‘life in the village’ was similar.
I can say with full confidence that all athletes were relived that the Games happened this year. This was a pressure valve to all of the uncertainty we have experienced in our livelihood the past year with limited mobility and competitions. Even without spectators the Games and the venues in Tokyo were extraordinary and world-class. I can only imagine how special these Games would have been if there had been no COVID and there had been spectators filling every seat in every stadium.
The past three years of preparation and training for the Olympics will undoubtedly be useful in my studies and time at Sloan and future career. It goes (almost) without saying that in professional sports you need to have a positive growth and learning mindset in order to reach the biggest stages and performances. You have to be ready to work through adversity, when the goal seems unreachable, because the dream and aspirations are too big to fail. This delayed gratification together with the global outlook gained from the Olympics have taught me how to engage in a diverse and inclusive world.