Former Olympic marathoner has ‘mixed feelings’ about Tokyo Games without spectators

Former Olympic marathoner Mara Yamauchi has “mixed feelings” as Japan prepares to host the Tokyo Games under extraordinary circumstances due to the pandemic.

Still, she believes athletes will not be affected by the restrictions caused by COVID-19 and the lack of spectators at the majority of Olympic venues. The world’s largest sporting event will be held in Tokyo under a state of emergency.

“When I was in a marathon I was so focused,” the two-time Olympian told the Japan Times in a recent interview online from her home in London. “A lot of times I didn’t pay attention to what was going on. A lot of times after the race people would say to me, ‘Oh, I cheered you on in this place or place. And I have no recollection of hearing or seeing them because I was just focusing on running.

The 47-year-old, who returned to Britain in 2011 after living in Japan for nine years as a diplomat and athlete, is a freelance writer, running trainer and television commentator for Eurosport.

Yamauchi, who competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, was a commentator at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, where the marathon and marches were held around midnight to beat the intense heat and with almost no spectators on the side of the roads. .

She recalled that the runners “have always performed well” despite the unusual environment.

“And I think during this pandemic we’ve seen a lot of sporting competitions go on without fans, or very few fans,” she said. “And of course that’s not a bit normal, which we have all known and enjoyed as a sport. Sport is with the fans watching. But I think everyone just accepts that this is what has to happen under the circumstances.

“And I think if you’re an athlete, you’re mainly there to go out and compete and do your best. You are not there to enjoy fan worship. Of course, that’s cool. But if you are really focused on your performance, you should be able to produce a great performance even if no one is there.

Yamauchi has a similar feeling for athletes and other reps who aren’t able to mingle with others during the two-week extravaganza. While she said “it’s a shame,” Yamauchi said it shouldn’t be a big issue for Olympic participants.

Former Olympic marathoner Mara Yamauchi has “mixed feelings” as Japan prepares to host the Tokyo Games under extraordinary circumstances due to the pandemic. | MARK CLINTON JOHNSON

“The main reason athletes go to the Olympics is to compete. I hope to win a medal whatever, ”said Yamauchi, who holds the second fastest record for a British woman in the marathon in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 12 seconds, behind only former world record holder Paula. Radcliffe. “It’s not a public holiday. You don’t go there to dance and make friends. You go there to compete and perform. If you are lucky enough that your event is early in the schedule, then you can relax, make friends, and have a great time. But it’s not a vacation, it’s a competition. And many athletes dedicate years, decades of their lives to this day or to this occasion. “

Yamauchi noted that she was fortunate enough to be able to participate in an Olympic Games held in her home country in 2012, although the result was far from satisfactory.

Four years after finishing sixth at the Beijing Games, Yamauchi withdrew from competition around 10 kilometers with a foot injury.

“I was able to compete in the Olympics in (my) own country and it was a very rare and special thing for an athlete because most athletes only compete for a limited number of years,” Yamauchi said. . “And it’s just a fluke that the Olympics are coming to your country during this time. So for me, I had this special opportunity, which was fantastic.

Yamauchi, who has known Japan well since living here, feels sympathetic to the Japanese citizens who might have cherished the rare opportunity to have the Summer Games on their soil.

“The best years of my career as an elite marathon runner were in Japan. I took great advantage of being there to face Japanese athletes, to participate in Japanese races. The women’s marathon in Japan is absolutely on top of the world, ”said Yamauchi, who will be commenting on the marathon and walking competitions during the Tokyo Games. “And it was really unforgettable for me and an amazing experience. So all that considered, I think that it’s in Tokyo is really special.

Yamauchi says she was “thrilled” when she found out Tokyo would host the games, noting that the Japanese “absolutely love their sport.” Considering all the restrictions on the games due to COVID-19, Yamauchi laments that the Olympics could not go as planned.

“The Japanese are incredibly generous and hospitable to foreigners – omotenashi. So in all of those ways I thought it would be fantastic. And it’s a shame that this pandemic happened at that time. “

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