A year ago, Australian rower Molly Goodman was stuck training indoors and wondering what would happen next as COVID-19 put the Olympics on hold.
On Saturday, as Games officials announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the Olympic Village, she was part of a 147-strong contingent of Australian Olympians bound for Japan.
Competitors from swimming, hockey, women’s wateropolo, men’s beach volleyball, badminton, weightlifting and table tennis were also on the flight from Cairns.
Australia will have a team of 488 athletes in Tokyo, its largest for a foreign Games.
Goodman, who will compete at her second Olympics in the women’s eight, said on the Cairns tarmac that the Games finally were feeling real.
“It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come and what we’ve been through in the last year – this time last year, we were all at home, training on the ‘ergos’ indoors. It’s been a quite the journey,” Goodman said.
The confirmed COVID case was not the only shadow being cast over the Olympics by the coronavirus, with 14 other new cases raising fresh doubts over promises of a “safe and secure” event.
The latest cases are a blow to the local organisers and the International Olympic Committee, who have insisted the Games will not become a super-spreader event.
Village on alert
Organisers confirmed that a visitor from abroad and working for the Olympics had tested positive in a routine check on Friday. The person’s nationality was not revealed due to privacy concerns.
The other cases included two members of the media, seven contractors and five Games personnel.
The case at the athletes’ village, a 44-hectare site built on Tokyo’s waterfront, is particularly worrying as the majority of the 11,000 competitors will be staying there.
IOC President Thomas Bach, facing unprecedented opposition to an Olympics days before it starts, acknowledged widespread concerns in the Japanese public but urged a warm welcome be extended to the arriving athletes.
“We are well aware of the scepticism a number of people have here in Japan. We ask and invite the Japanese people, humbly, to welcome and support the athletes from around the world,” Bach told a news conference.
“We are also confident once the Japanese people will see the Japanese athletes successfully performing in the Olympic Games then the attitude may become less emotional.”