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The No-Fun Olympics: How Athletes Are Preparing For Tokyo And Its Strict COVID-19 Rules

Sydney McLaughlin turns 22 three days after the 400m hurdles final, in which she could win Olympic gold and even lower her current world record.

“Try to find a cupcake, and then blow out the candles yourself”, McLaughlin said

Welcome to the no-fun Olympic Games, where celebrations and camaraderie will be muted by strict rules and regulations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Navigating the Tokyo Games can be anything but a piece of cake: masks and social distancing – 2 meters (over 6 feet) – are strictly necessary. You cannot hug at the celebration. Eating in large groups should be avoided. Alcohol should be consumed in the room – and alone. Family interactions mostly boil down to video chat.

Not exactly the once-in-a-lifetime experience that many athletes have dreamed of.

Celebrations and camaraderie at the Tokyo Olympics will be muted by strict rules and regulations due to the coronavirus.

PHILIP FONG via Getty Images

Celebrations and camaraderie at the Tokyo Olympics will be muted by strict rules and regulations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It will feel like a really cool prison in my head. It’s like you’re going to be very excited but still in jail, ”said American archer and three-time Olympic medalist Brady Ellison. “But when we get there, it might not be as bad as we think, right?”

The long rulebook – a guide to “playing safely and successfully” – is full of cannot and don’t. Errors and their consequences range from warnings to fines and maybe even worse – deductions? – for about 15,400 athletes who will take part in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Athletes accept strict restrictions – do not shake their hands, do not walk around the city, if possible, eat alone – calmly. Because there is a big positive side: they finally got the green light to compete after the Tokyo Games were postponed for a year due to COVID-19.

“They sacrifice a lot,” said Gregg Popovich, coach of the US men’s basketball club and the San Antonio Spurs. “They cannot take their friends or family back to Tokyo. This is a huge sacrifice and I think they deserve a lot of credit for that. “

On the other hand, athletes have become masters of flexibility.

“I think the pandemic taught me not to wait and always expect this constant unknown,” said US female volleyball player Jordan Larson, who is heading to her third Olympics. “It will certainly be different from our past experience. But I also think we’re going to look back and think, “Wow, remember that time we played at the Olympics in the midst of a pandemic?” “

Another wrinkle to overcome: homesickness. Most family members will only be allowed to offer support through phone calls and video chats.

“It will be sad for a lot of families and friends,” Larson said, “simply because it’s such a special moment in life.”

Still, everything is set for the gold medal-worthy social media appearances. Let the singing and dancing begin with TikTok posts that weren’t at the 2016 Rio Games.

“I feel like it will be an Olympic Games with a lot of social media, given the fact that everyone will be stuck in their rooms,” said American 400-meter hurdler Rye Benjamin.

To fill the downtime between workouts and competitions, participants turn to a variety of activities:

– American high jumper Vashti Cunningham plans to catch up with the Japanese anime series Naruto on Netflix.

– Paralympic cyclist / barista Oksana Masters intends to open a coffee shop in his room, bring lots of coffee beans – and his own grinder – to serve other athletes and keep them “in good condition with caffeine,” said the eight-time Paralympic medalist.

– Sylvia Fowles will spend some time in Tokyo exploring the morgue. The 2017 WNBA MVP and three-time U.S. women’s basketball team gold medalist should be ready after the Olympics. “I’m just looking forward to being able to participate in national councils,” Fowles said.

– Norwegian 400m hurdles world record holder Carsten Warholm will go to the old school and bring a DVD.

– USA women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly has games like cornhole.

– Allison will connect to virtual channels in her room and will play at such famous courses as St. Andrews in Scotland and Augusta. His rounds will provide a little physical activity because he will swing a golf club that serves as a game simulator.

“It would be nice to move a little,” Ellison said. “You kind of turn into jelly when you have to sit in a hotel room.”

To stay locked up Jourdan Delacruz and The US weightlifting team trains in Waikiki, trains Tokyo time (wakes up late) and in a converted hotel ballroom.

Plan: Travel to Japan a few days before her event, compete, and then return to Hawaii, where her parents, brother and cousin will be waiting. Then watch the rest of the Tokyo Games with family and teammates.

“I was really looking forward to seeing other athletes from different sports,” Delacruz said. “At the moment, I’m just very grateful that this is happening at all.

On the celebration (for a medal or just in general): Keep a safe distance – and alcohol is prohibited in public areas of the village. If athletes want to drink, they are told to “drink alone” in their room.

One of the symbols of the festive atmosphere of the Olympics is the long-term distribution of condoms. In Rio, for example, officials distributed 450,000 people through vending machines with signs that read “Celebrate with a condom.” This time, athletes will be given 150,000 condoms just on their way home.

When talking about leaving home, athletes are asked to pack up and leave no later than 48 hours after the end of the competition.

“It’s very strict. You can’t be a tourist. ”- American rower. Grace Luchak said. “I don’t think we can stay and watch all the rowing events end.”

A completely different Olympics, of course. Everyone is just trying to get the most out of an unprecedented situation.

“We will be sick … from afar,” said Nancy Smith, mother of American volleyball player David Smith. “It’s not the same thing. But we’re grateful he left.”

AP Sports writers James Ellingworth, Teresa Walker, Jenna Fryer, and Josh Dubow, and AP basketball writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.

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