Tokyo Olympic athletes look for spirit without roaring crowds

Tokyo – Beloved American gymnast Sam Mikulak flipped the parallel bars, stopped the landing, and kissed the camera. Those who watched the men’s Olympic gymnastics on their home TV knew they had seen magic.

“Beautiful!” Exclaimed the broadcast announcer. “Wow, that was great!”

However, there were almost empty wooden benches around Micrak to accommodate thousands of people. Cheers from the back corner of the stand, Simone Biles and the rest of the women’s team shouted in a lung-filled manner to survive the eerie tranquility of the pandemic Olympic venue.

At arenas throughout Tokyo, athletes accustomed to stopping the deafening crowd roar are looking for new ways to feel the Olympic enthusiasm.

They support each other as loudly as possible. Some people are leaning against the TV screen and trying to imagine a fan in their living room. They are blasting playlists in a behind-the-scenes training room. A few lucky people who are allowed to compete with headphones keep their phones in their pockets for beaty songs that replace the thrill of applause.


But others were surprised that silence was the motivation — not the most prestigious competition on the planet, but like another day at the gym. For them, emptiness paralyzes their nerves and causes them to fully focus on their sport.

“That’s a little nice,” said Micrak, a three-time Olympic athlete who helped the parallel bars routine lead him to the finals. It doesn’t feel like the Olympics to him, but when he stopped the landing and heard the support of his team, he felt it was enough.

“We created our own bubble. We had our own cheering section,” he said. “We have created a unique atmosphere that is what makes us prosper and turn our backs on each other.”

The next day, they returned their favor. The American men’s gymnastics team, like the other players scattered all over Tokyo, stood behind, waving the American flag and yelling at their female opponents before the stadium became quiet again.

At the boat venue of the Sea Forest Waterway, a stand that stretches nearly 2,000 meters (yards) is empty to the finish line. The event is so quiet that rowers can hear the ripples of their wake and the flapping of hundreds of flags swaying in the breeze of the coastline. Usually, the swelling of the chant’s crescendo and the adrenaline rush over the last 250 meters to the finish line are replaced by lung-suffering breathing.


“When you’re hurt across the line, you feel like you’re fainting and you don’t hear the voice of America!” USA! “, Say a little more pain,” said the female rower. Ellen Tomek, who participated in her third Olympics, remembered that people were cheering from her home. “Everyone is rooting for us, but it’s terrible when you’re hurt and sad and can’t find your mom on the stand.”

Other athletes, who aren’t here, are trying to capture the energy of their fans at home, who are rooting for them somewhere in the world.

Japanese gymnast Mai Murakami said she was excited to host the Olympics in her home country because many fans wanted to see her performance in person. She was devastated when even the Japanese were barred from attending.

“I am influenced by the crowd, and it motivates me,” she said through an interpreter. The silence rattled her, she said, and she made a mistake in her bar performance. “This is my first experience without congestion, so I’ve never had it before. I couldn’t imagine what would happen, so I tried not to put my emotions into it.”


She portrayed the fans watching on TV and computers and applauded from all over the city. It brought comfort.

Brazilian beach volleyball player Agata Bednarchuk won a silver medal in front of his home country in 2016. She said the Olympics felt very different.

“In Brazil, we had the greatest support. Many people supported us and we were silent here,” she said with a flat line by hand. “We need to put our emotions into the game because we can’t receive emotions from them. For me, playing with emotions is so important that I need to bring it from the inside out. did.”

Many say they remember their success here. The Olympics have killed millions and threatened to sink them completely for some time, a lifelong dream for many, despite unusual possibilities such as a pandemic that postponed the Games. did.

“I think the Olympics are enough,” said Greek men’s water polo goalkeeper Emmanouil Zerdebas. “I’m a little sad, but I’m happy to be here because it’s my first time at the Olympics.”


At a quiet skateboarding venue, American skater Jagger Eaton occasionally found a mood booster on his right pocket while competing to change music. Unlike other athletes, skateboarders can block silence by wearing headphones during the competition. Eaton entered Men’s Street, the first Olympic skateboarding event, choosing “Rollin N Controllin” as the soundtrack, properly named by rapper Dusty Lokane.

“It put me right in the ditch,” said Eaton, who had a hard time skating for the crowds in the sky. “That’s why I wear headphones. With headphones, you can create your own hype.”

But others are surprised to find peace in silence and to have a stronger connection to sport than the tendency they feel when under pressure.

“Usually when you enter the finish line, it’s deafening when you’re on the line,” said Michelle Sechser, a female rower in the United States. “It’s the hardest part of the race. Your heart is throbbing, your feet are throbbing, your breathing is fast, and it’s absolutely quiet. It’s like Nirvana. “



Associated Press national writer Claire Garofalo is competing in the Olympics in Tokyo. Follow her on Twitter at AP sports writers Jim Vertuno, Jon Lester, Jay Cohen, Josh Dubow and Jimmy Goren contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 AP communication. all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

Tokyo Olympic athletes look for spirit without roaring crowds

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