No fans in the stands could be a major obstacle for some of the American athletes competing in the Olympics in Tokyo.
As Covid-19 cases rise again in the Japanese capital and the fighting starts in just two weeks, local authorities have pulled the plug on plans for even a reduced number of spectators at major sporting events as well as the opening ceremony.
It concerns gymnastics superstar Simone Biles, who vaulted into fame by winning four gold medals and a bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
“Personally, I thrive under pressure, so I’m a little worried about how it̵
Diver Krysta Palmer, who is competing in her first Olympics, told NBC News that she has already found a way to give herself a psychological boost: She plans to “visualize” the empty grandstands leading up to the games and leaning on his teammates.
“I know there will be all my teammates there who support me,” she said.
Katie Ledecky, a champion swimmer who has already won five Olympic gold medals for the United States, told reporters that the athletes worked hard for five years to get to Tokyo.
“I still think it’s a really beautiful thing,” she said.
But there is no denying that these games will be different, both for the competitors and the millions of people who will line up to see the world’s best athletes go for gold.
“I know this is going to be kind of made for the TV Olympics,” Ledecky said.
Japan, which has 126 million people overcrowded in a country smaller than California, has been far more successful in preventing the spread of Covid-19 than the United States and other developed countries. As of Friday, it had reported just over 812,000 confirmed cases and nearly 15,000 deaths, the latest NBC News figures show.
By comparison, the United States has recorded nearly 34 million confirmed cases and over 609,000 Covid-19 deaths – both world-leading figures.
While approx. 47 percent of the United States is fully vaccinated, only 16 percent of the Japanese population has received both shots, according to statistics compiled by Our World in Data.
The Japanese authorities were worried that the Olympics could turn into an Olympic-sized super-spreader event, and the Japanese authorities had already excluded foreign fans from the game and limited the number of spectators allowed at the major events to a maximum of 10,000.
As Covid-19 cases ticked up again and polls showing that many of his countrymen are still opposed to holding the Games in Japan at all, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday announced a state of emergency in Tokyo, saying the games would continue but without any fans cheer on the athletes.
“We need to take stronger steps to prevent another national outbreak, also given the impact of the coronavirus variants,” Suga said at a task force meeting.
So far, at least three Olympic athletes arriving in Japan have tested positive for Covid-19, as have some employees in the Olympic village, according to published reports.
In interviews with NBC News, former Olympic competitors and sports psychologists said it remains to be seen how the Olympic athletes will react when there is only silence in the stands.
“Competing without a jubilant spectator could be a real challenge for some athletes,” said former U.S. Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk Sell.