Slovenian Janja Garnbret, the world’s top female climber, is staying calm and focused despite the COVID-19 pandemic playing havoc with sports events around the world and plunging preparations for the Tokyo Olympics into chaos.
The 21-year-old is one of about 10,000 athletes preparing to compete at the Tokyo Games, which organizers insist will go ahead as scheduled from July 24 even as the global sports calendar has ground to a halt due to the pandemic.
Garnbret, the reigning two-time world champion in the combined climbing event set to make its Olympics debut in Tokyo, has qualified for the Games already, but others are not so lucky.
So far, 15 of the 20 Olympic spots for the women’s event are filled and two further qualification events have been canceled.
With a little over four months to go, all Garnbret can do is keep her head down and train at home in Ljubljana.
“Right now, we are a little bit, how to say, scared or worried if the Olympics will take place or not,” Garnbret told reporters by video call last week during a break from filming with her sponsor Red Bull. “My trainings are going full speed onwards. I am not stopping the training because of that” coronavirus.
Even if the Games were pushed back by a year, Garnbret said she would adapt.
“Every year I am training hard for the competitions and every year I am in the same ritual: I start to train hard in December and then I train hard the whole winter,” she said.
“So, I think if it was postponed then it wouldn’t be such a problem because I would be training hard anyway,” she said.
One possibility being floated is that the Games are held without spectators, but Garnbret wants a full house to watch her bid to win climbing’s first Olympic gold.
“It would be hard if the Olympics was postponed for a year, but it would also be weird to have an Olympics without spectators because that is the charm of the competition, to have everybody clapping, cheering and supporting you,” she said.
“If the Olympics will [go ahead], then they will be super good and if they will be postponed for a year, then what can we do?” she asked.
“There is no point in stressing over it,” she added.
In Japan, the Olympic flame arrived to a scaled-down welcoming ceremony yesterday.
The flame, enclosed in a special lantern, landed on a charter flight at the Matsushima Air Base in Japan’s north in a muted affair after organizers canceled plans to invite 200 schoolchildren.
Former Olympic judo champions Saori Yoshida and Tadahiro Nomura lit a ceremonial cauldron in front of a few dozen officials and guests.
“Children had planned to welcome the Olympic flame, but we decided to scale it down, giving priority to their safety,” Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori said.
A nationwide torch relay is scheduled to start on Friday next week, starting from the J-Village sports complex in Fukushima.
Organizers have scaled back the relay, closing daily ceremonies to the public and urging spectators to “avoid forming crowds” along the route.
Additional reporting by AFP
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