Paris on call: after Tokyo, the Olympians aspire to the 2024 Games | Olympic Games


They will always have Paris.

This thought, full of promise, was a lifeline for athletes to cling to as they faced, as best they could, the groves of restrictions during the pandemic-stricken Tokyo Games that have badly ruined their Olympic experience – and left some hungry for more.

Forbidden to take family and friends with them to Japan, playing in empty arenas and not having the right to sightseeing in Tokyo, some athletes found themselves dreaming of the Olympic rendezvous in the French capital in 2024. If the coronavirus is tamed by then, the Paris Games could quickly become board games. Already, there is a palpable pent-up desire among athletes to catch up with Tokyo and its disappointments.

“When Paris arrives, I’ll be like ‘OK, wow, like it’s a whole new energy. This is it,” said American skater Mariah Duran. meal.

For now, Parisian officials say they are betting the pandemic will be over when their turn comes. “Normally, we can party,” the mayor of the city, Anne Hidalgo, told French television on Sunday, when Tokyo handed over the baton.

But if the coronavirus still ruins the best-laid plans, then Tokyo has served as a model for how to host the Olympics even as infections rise. He reduced games to their most essential ingredient: competition. No spectators. No party in the whole city. Very little mixing between the Olympians and their hosts. Paris officials were watching closely and say that if they hope for the best, they will also plan for the worst.

The hardest part for many Tokyo Olympians was not being accompanied to Japan by loved ones who had no choice but to watch them compete on television. American surfer Carissa Moore said it was “a huge challenge” to be separated from her husband and his “strong and consistent voice”.

Moore eventually found his place to win gold in the early days of surfing as an Olympic sport. As painful as the separation was, Tokyo was also a learning experience for the Hawaiian. “I am very proud of myself, to be here and to stand on my own feet,” she said.

Traveling without her parents for the first time at the age of 17, American skater Brighton Zeuner made up for it by staying closely connected even during her competition, video calling her father from the Olympic skate bowl “between every run I have. made”.

To limit the risk of infection, organizers also urged athletes to arrive in Tokyo no earlier than five days before the competition and leave within 48 hours of the end – a quick turnaround that further truncated the Olympic experience. .

Belgian skateboarder Axel Cruysberghs, who competed in week one, and his wife skater Lizzie Armanto, who competed in week two, passed each other like boats in the night. As she took off for Tokyo, her flight home to their home was 20 minutes from landing.

“It worked for our puppy,” she joked. But these weren’t the fairytale Olympics they had planned before the pandemic.

“We were hoping to be here for a month together and, you know, I could see his event and he could stay for mine,” Armanto said. “But because of COVID and everything …”

Armanto left Tokyo without having decided whether to return to Paris. In a live Instagram broadcast of the Olympic residential complex where athletes were largely confined when not training or competing, she battled cabin fever, complaining about rooms that “looked a bit like at a prison “and wanted the organizers not to prevent athletes from going there to watch sports other than their own in their free time.

“I’ve been around the perimeter a few times because what else are you doing here?” Armanto asked.

Not being able to pass the time on sports venues was a common complaint.

“It’s something that I would have loved to experience as an Olympian, to see my other teammates, other than the wrestlers, compete,” said Elias Kuosmanen of Finland, who wrestled in the Greek heavyweight category. -romans.

At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Canadian volleyball player Nicholas Hoag practiced gymnastics and track and field on rest days, went out for drinks with his teammates and soaked up the Olympic experience. But on days without a game in Tokyo, “I watched TV pretty much all day, I watched all the sports.”

Another Canadian volleyball player, Ryan Sclater, said the pandemic matches were “a real mix of amazing things and weird things” and somewhat blunted by social distancing and mask wearing. Athletes were urged not to mingle with their teams and to avoid “unnecessary”, high-five hugs and handshakes – advice they often ignored in the heat and joy of competition.

“We don’t connect quite the same way we normally could,” Sclater said. “It’s funny to be so close to all of these amazing people who are here to compete but not really know them the same way you might at different Olympics.

But because the pandemic has delayed Tokyo by a year, Paris is only three years away instead of the usual four.

“It’s exciting, yeah, to think about being able to do that again,” Sclater said. “To see even more the beauty and freshness of the people who come together and who can truly connect with the Olympics.”

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