2020 Tokyo Olympics: Athletes Speak Out About Competing in Empty Venues

by Leanne Stahulak

Many athletes thrive off the energy of a crowded, screaming stadium. But for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the pandemic put a stopper on spectators.

People reports that Tokyo declared its fourth COVID state of emergency, which runs from July 12 to August 22. As more athletes and personnel interact at the Olympics, COVID cases continue to rise.

Olympic athletes knew going into the games that there wouldn’t be any international fans to cheer them on. While they understand the protocols in place for people’s safety, they’re still going to miss the fans’ energy.

Olympians ‘Miss Everybody So Much’

“The atmosphere has been hard, definitely,” American skateboarder Nyjah Huston told People. “Even though I skate with headphones on out there, I normally feed off the energy of the crowd. It’s really unfortunate that there’s no fans here.”

Huston’s not the only one to feel the absence of spectators’ presence. After losing to Sweden in Game 1 of the Tokyo Olympics, USWNT soccer player Christen Press said the game was quieter than she was used to.

“It’s been a while now that we’ve been competing without fans and we miss everybody so much,” Press said. “We could hear each other, we could hear our own breath a little bit, but we do feel the support from everyone from our family and fans back home, and honestly the support powers us through.”

Serbian tennis legend Novak Djokovic almost didn’t come to the Tokyo Olympics because the venues would be empty.

“I feed from the energy from the crowd, negative or positive … It’s one of the biggest reasons I keep playing professionally,” Djokovic said. “Without the key element of any sports events, the crowds, the fans, that energy, it’s different. But it is still the Olympic Games.

“I was in a dilemma for a little bit, but I decided to come,” the Serbian tennis player continued. “And I’m glad because there are many more things that are beautiful about the Olympic Games. So I will try to focus on those things.”

Athletes for 2020 Tokyo Olympics Make Most of No Spectators

Team USA veteran softball player Cat Osterman is focusing more on the team’s energy on the field than the missing fans.

“There was excitement on the field for us. We were trying to tap into that excitement that the Olympic Games are happening,” Osterman explained. “It’s a lot of their first times, but let’s use that emotion in our favor – and we overcame the disappointment of not having fans a long time ago, as soon as it was announced that at least foreign fans, our friends and families, couldn’t come.

“We were like, ‘All right, we’re gonna have to generate our excitement and our momentum ourselves,’ so we’ve been prepared for that,” Osterman added. “Unfortunately, back home in the States there were also times when we had to play without fans, so it’s been something we’re kind of used to.”

Several sports have gotten used to empty stadiums over the last year and a half. But the Olympics represent something bigger for so many athletes from so many different countries. So, they’ve taken to replicating the spirit of the Olympics for themselves.

“This team has always done a really great job of creating [its] own energy … I don’t see it being a problem for us to create an Olympic vibe, an Olympic spirit within our team. I don’t see it being a problem for me,” American water polo player Maddie Musselman said.