U.S. Olympic discus thrower Sam Mattis took a reasonable view earlier this month of what awaited him and his fellow athletes in Tokyo, trying to stay safe in a pandemic amid a local state of emergency yet competing in an environment like no other he has seen.
“I’m vaccinated, so I feel a certain sense of protection and safety,” the Penn graduate said, “but I’m sure if you bring in 11,000 athletes from across the world, I’m sure there’s going to be at least one positive case.”
The opening ceremonies aren’t until Friday, but dozens have tested positive for COVID-19. Two alternates on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, Kara Eaker and Leanne Wong, tested positive after arriving in Tokyo. Others such as basketball players Bradley Beal and Katie Lou Samuelson, and tennis player Coco Gauff pulled out prior to traveling to Japan because of positive tests.
As athletes arrive, here is what they’re seeing and thinking:
Julian Venonsky, a Malvern Prep graduate and coxswain of the U.S. rowing men’s eight: ”We are under some extensive protocols like only being allowed either in the [Olympic] Village or at our racing venue, always masked and distanced from others as much as possible. We are tested every day and complete daily health screens as well. Frequent hand-washing and sanitation is required, especially in the dining hall where we are separated from one another by Plexiglas dividers when we eat.”
Summer Rappaport, a Villanova graduate who is competing in the triathlon: “It’s clear that the [U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee] and the Tokyo Organizing Committee are prioritizing the health and safety of all Games participants as well as the Tokyo public. It’s exciting to finally be here on the ground, and I’m grateful that our whole USA triathlon team has arrived safely. From here on out, I’ll be completely focused on training and preparations while continuing to follow all the COVID safety precautions.”
Jake Hoyle, a member of the U.S. fencing team and a graduate of Strath Haven High School: “COVID is catching fire here. Didn’t expect so much so quickly.”
Venonsky: “The organizers and volunteers here are very serious about the mitigation efforts. However, it has not once felt like a burden. Everyone is incredibly professional and has been extremely friendly, kind, helpful, and we can always notice the big smile underneath their masks as they help us with our ongoing quest to learn some Japanese.”
Patrick Tiernan, former Villanova distance-running standout competing for Australia: “I think I’ve done everything protocol-wise to be able to get to Japan. So for me the biggest concern is mostly getting there, and I think that’s a lot of people’s issues wherever they’re coming from. ... I think once we’re in the Village, it’s going to be a pretty good setup. From what we’ve heard, most of the athletes going, or a large majority, have been vaccinated. It’s going to be pretty much like a bubble in itself, kind of like how the NBA bubble was. So I think it’s actually going to be run pretty well.”
Mattis: “It seems like they’re pretty dead set on having it, and they’ve put a lot of money into it, and I think that talks louder than anything else. So we’ll see what happens, but hopefully they’re able to pull it off safely.”
Venonsky: “Since this is my first Olympics, I’m not sure what a ‘normal’ Village experience is like to compare it to. But so far the atmosphere has been great, even if that means catching up with old friends from college or meeting someone new at least six feet away.”