No meeting fans, no eating out and no sightseeing — life in the Tokyo Olympic bubble could be “challenging” for athletes, the first team to arrive in Japan has warned.
Australian softball head coach Laing Harrow told bioreports his players have been bingeing on Netflix and hitting the gym in a bid to “break the boredom” after landing in Japan on June 1.
He said the players “seem to be in a very good headspace”, despite the severe restrictions, which organisers insist are necessary to hold the Games safely.
But he warned other teams could find life difficult at the coronavirus-postponed Games, with cabin fever a potential risk for athletes who don’t come prepared.
“It is challenging,” Harrow said in an online interview from the team’s base in Ota City, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Tokyo.
“If it’s cards or games that you can play on phones or whatever, you do need to break the boredom up a little, because there is a fair bit of downtime.”
Harrow said his players and staff — who were all vaccinated before leaving Australia — are glad to be training again after spending their first three days cooped up in the hotel.
They have played a series of practice games against Japanese teams, at a venue around a 10-minute bus ride from their hotel.
“We’re quite lucky because we do play games, and we’re at the grounds for a good five, six hours. That takes up a fair chunk of the day,” he said.
– ‘Abide by the rules’ –
But he said it was disappointing that the team are barred from meeting Japanese fans.
The only interaction they have with locals, he said, is when government officials come to their hotel every morning to test for the virus.
“It is a shame, because we’ve been to Ota City a couple of times and it’s always great to interact with the locals,” he said.
“But we can’t do anything about it. We just have to maintain this bubble and we can’t put anyone in jeopardy.”
The ‘Aussie Spirit’ team are restricted to three floors of their hotel, and have their own gym, dining room and meeting room.
They must enter and exit the hotel through a special door, and have a lift reserved for their use.
“I wouldn’t have any idea how many guests are here,” said Harrow.
“We don’t see any guests at all.”
But he said there were no complaints about the restrictions, insisting the team “just follow those instructions and try to abide by the rules”.
– Raring to go –
The team arrived early in Japan because they needed game practice and couldn’t go to the US as originally planned, he said.
And despite the lack of interaction, Harrow said the team “have felt very welcome” in Japan, which he sees “as a positive that people are looking forward to the Olympics”.
“I guess people want to catch a glimpse of us at the grounds,” he said.
“They’re happy to wave and they have smiles on their faces -– not that you can see them because they’re under masks. But they seem very happy to see us.”
Softball is making a fleeting return to the Olympics after a 13-year absence, before being dropped again for the 2024 Paris Games.
Only two of Australia’s players have previous Olympic experience.
The team have won one silver and three bronze medals in the sport, and Harrow says his players are raring to go.
“All the girls and staff have worked extremely hard over the last three years to put themselves in a position to represent Australia,” he said.
“They’re very excited to have this opportunity, and they’re giving it all they can. We are looking forward to it.”