Yearender: Chinese athletes focus on Tokyo Olympics amid COVID-19 pandemic

BEIJING, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) — The past year has been one like none other for the sporting world, with a number of sports events either cancaled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese athletes have been grappling with the unprecedented situation as they prepare for the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games.

The Tokyo Summer Olympics, rescheduled for July 2021, will award medals across 339 events in 33 different sports.

According to China’s State General Administration of Sport, Chinese athletes have won Olympic qualification in 155 events across 20 sports such as archery, equestrian, diving, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, and table tennis.

Olympic qualifying events in 25 sports, including shooting, weightlifting, wrestling, judo, boxing, track and field, swimming, and gymnastics, have not concluded yet.

Wang Yun, an official with China’s General Administration of Sport, said the Chinese teams have paid close attention to the competitions and tried their best to turn risks into opportunities.

Training behind closed doors was a routine for Chinese athletes in 2020.

“Life is really boring here. There is nothing new besides the training,” said Rio 200m individual medley bronze medalist Wang Shun, who has been training at the National Aquatic Training Center in Qiandao Lake, Hangzhou with the Zhejiang provincial team since March.

Wang’s coach Zhu Zhigen echoed that the COVID-19 outbreak was mentally challenging for athletes.

“The athletes were in low spirits after a long time of living right inside here. There was also a potential crisis because it was hard for athletes to fully mobilize themselves, so their training efficiency and self-discipline were affected,” said Zhu.

A lot of games were suspended, so it was difficult to guarantee the quality of training without regular competitions. Moreover, some athletes began to suffer from anxiety and depression to some extent.

In late September, China’s female epee fencer Xu Anqi competed in the national fencing championships for the first time since the outbreak.

“I have not fenced competitively for nearly nine months. Always practiced at home. Everybody feels kind of depressed,” said the 28-year-old Xu.

The postponement posed even bigger challenges for senior athletes as it was difficult to keep their spirits up.

Wang Yun said relevant departments had taken various measures to reduce the impact of the epidemic, as national teams faced training fatigue, psychological anxiety, lack of competition, and other problems after long-term closed training.

China was the first country to strictly contain the epidemic, thus Chinese athletes can prepare for the games with more peace of mind. Young athletes can further hone their skills.

Frenchman Hugues Obry, head coach of China’s national epee team, said Chinese athletes have an advantage in the preparation compared with foreign athletes.

“Many people abroad can’t train, or even get around in their country. So we have an advantage, and we’re going to take advantage of that,” the coach said.

Wang Yun said we must keep a clear head and look at the pros and cons of the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.

“We should make full use of these advantages and strive to maximize the benefits of one year’s ‘time bonus’ so as to gain better results,” said Wang Yun.

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