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Tokyo 2020 is a trip into the unknown for German athletes

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-07-16 14:24
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A reminder for social distancing is seen at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Main Press Center during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan, July 16, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

BERLIN -- The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is turning into a journey into the unknown for German athletes.

"We don't know what we can expect as it seems a trip into the unknown," six-time dressage Olympic champion Isabell Werth said.

The 51-year-old spoke about "a great anticipation" among all 434 German athletes but expressed concern due to the circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Travel restrictions and strict hygiene measures come along with challenging border controls. In addition, the performance level of competitors seems uncertain as several pre-Olympic competitions were canceled or run with a minimum of participants.

Coaching staff traveling to Japan in advance of the majority of the German team reported about several hours they had to spend at the Tokyo airport to get through entry formalities.

Dressage head coach Monica Theodorescu spoke about nearly eight hours of standby time. Others spoke of up to 13 hours.

Werth spoke about the concerns among Japan's population due to thousands of foreign athletes and coaches entering the country. "I hope we are welcomed warmly and don't feel uncomfortable."

Werth said she hopes not to receive her "return ticket for the plane already when arriving."

While most of the team's members stay in the Olympic village, the horse-riding fraction is located in a hotel near their competition side.

Athletes, spouses, officials, and coaches enter a sort of bubble and are not allowed to use public transport or taxis.

The German riding-equiped hired cars, including drivers staying in the same hotel until the team's departure. "Many things we have to sort out when in Japan. At present, it appears like driving by sight," said Dennis Peeler, head of mission of the German equestrian association.

With sightseeing, visits to restaurants and other competitions prohibited, German coaches have prepared for unusual entertainment programs.

While coach Theodorescu recommended "two thick books," show-jumping coach Otto Becker and eventing coach Hans Melzer plan to introduce card games "most of the younger athletes might have never heard of."

While Werth is to travel in a plane with the German horses placed in specially equipped containers costing up to 22,000 euros per horse, football coach Stefan Kuntz has to deal with a disappointing number of rejections by nominated players.

Clubs refused to send their best performers, and players preferred to attend their clubs' pre-season preparation. So instead of the 22 allowed, only 18 players found their way to the Olympics.

The first German athletes (basketball, hockey, and taekwondo) will arrive this Saturday in the hermetically sealed Olympic village.

The decision of the IOC and Japanese authorities to ban spectators has caused various reactions among German athletes.

Shot-putter Christina Schwanitz hoped athletes cheer each other to create some atmosphere "as we all face a new situation." Schwimmer Marek Ulrich said no one expected the Olympics "we are used to, but to run the games without spectators is a sad thing."

Gymnast Elisabeth Seitz said most athletes are happy that the Games is taking place. To cancel it again would have been a real shock for most athletes, she said.

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