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Tokyo Olympics May Not Be Covid-Ready, but Massachusetts Olympians Are Ready for Tokyo

Terianne Falcone

These Olympians plan to culminate their comebacks in Tokyo.

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The flags of the 2021 eventCreative commons license

Molly Seidel of Cambridge, Massachusetts, will be running in the Tokyo Olympics.

She'll live in an Olympic Village bubble complete with strict protocols; for example, the athletes are advised not to "high-five" or otherwise celebrate physically. The Olympics Committee has decided that all foreign athletes must leave within two days after their competition. Seidel will compete at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and head home by Tuesday.

Along with thousands of others, she won't be participating in either the opening or closing ceremonies. And she can't visit Tokyo during her time off.

It's going to be an odd Olympics.

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Molly Seidel - X-country Women's 6KPhoto: Ian Robertson, Creative Commons

"The Olympics comes with a lot of pomp and circumstance around it," said Seidel, who'll be a first-time Olympian. "One of the realities of hosting the Olympics in a pandemic is that we won't get to experience that. It's definitely a disappointment, more so that my family won't get to be there. But I recognize that just getting to hold the Games right now is a privilege. It's not a right."

She didn't compete in the 2016 Olympic trials because of a sacral stress fracture; she also checked into an intensive eating disorder recovery program and learned to better manage her OCD. She then spent two more years in therapy.

"With OCD, you just have this anxiety all the time and feel like you can't control anything, so you develop patterns and behaviors," she said. "I would compulsively knock on things in specific patterns because you feel like you have some control over the universe. Over time with running, it developed into turning my eating or my running into a control mechanism."

Seidel placed second at last year's U.S. Marathon Olympic trials even though it was Seidel's first official marathon. Sports commentators and fans alike were astonished by the outcome and proud and glad for her win, securing her a spot for the Japanese games.

Seidel has made a comeback regardless of the outcome at the July games.

Another Massachusetts resident sabre fencer, Eli Dershwitz, is looking forward to Tokyo 2021. Despite a disappointing showing in the 2016 games -- he was out after the first round -- the medals and wins he's racked up since now rank him number two fencer for men's sabre in the world.

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Dershwitz demolishes competitionCreative Commons, photo taken by Whatsup6624

Harvard fencing coach Peter Brand recalls the first time he saw Dershwitz fencing; Eli was eight years old. "Actually, my kid was fencing him," Brand said. His son was 12 years old and quite experienced. The boys were competing for first place in a local match. "It was something else to behold," he said. "This little guy, Eli, in there just shrieking.…Frankly, my son had a real tough time with Eli. It was impressive. I saw him, and I said, 'Who the hell is this kid?'"

His accomplishments are impressive. He is only the second male sabre fencer to achieve number one status (only for a short time), and the only one to do it while enrolled full-time in college.

Brand summed up by saying, "He's one of those cases where you see an athlete like this, if you're lucky, once every generation. I've been doing this for 40 years, and I've never seen anybody like him."

Dershwitz also enjoys the creative aspect of the sport. "I love how, no matter what you do, your opponent can do something, and then you do something else to try and win a touch. No two touches are the same."

Meanwhile, Japan's low vaccination rate and the accompanying high infection rate mean the hospital system in Tokyo is highly stressed. "It will not be possible for hospitals to provide any special treatment for those involved in the Olympics," Naoto Ueyama, the head of the Japan Doctors Union, told journalists at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. "They will be having the same treatment under the same rules that are available to the Japanese people."

Ueyama also warns that the event could be a superspreader and that the event could even create a new variant of COVID-19. He does not think health officials have correctly considered the fallout from having thousands of foreign athletes and support staff in the country.

Many distinguished Japanese medical journals continue to plead with the Olympics committee to cancel the games. In fact, the government's main medical adviser Dr. Shigeru Omi has said it's "abnormal" to hold the Olympics during a pandemic. To date, only 5% of the Japanese population are fully vaccinated. The country's second-largest newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, is also opposed to the Games, with the public in large part agreeing that the event must be called off. In fact, over 10,000 volunteers have dropped out.

But the Olympics Committee is determined to continue with the Games, citing the efficacy of the Covid protocols that have been put in place.

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Tokyo Olympics countdown clockPhoto: Gilbert Sopakuwa / Flickr

The irony regarding the protocols is that over 150,000 condoms will be given out to the athletes. This tradition started at the Seoul games in 1988 to raise consciousness about AIDS and HIV. The Internation Olympic Committee has decided to carry on the tradition. The organizers say that every participant is told to bring the condoms home rather than use them at the Olympic village.

Will the athletes, and the staff who support them, do as they're told? After hearing their stories, we can imagine that Molly and Eli will, but the thousands of others? This reporter has doubts.

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I've moved back to this area after living abroad for 15 years. Both the landscape and the people are beautiful. People are kind to each other here in Northampton, MA. Thus, as I get reacquainted and go see all the cool stuff, I shall share with you! And, I have fun stories from abroad!

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