Departing softballers embrace Tokyo bubble

·3-min read

Australia's softball team are ready to do the hard yards required during a two-month lockdown in coronavirus-ravaged Japan, having waited since 2008 for a chance to compete at an Olympics.

The softballers flew out of Sydney on Monday and will soon arrive in Tokyo, becoming the first of almost 500 Australian Olympians to make a journey that so many thought would never happen.

The squad, starved of international fixtures during the past 15 months, will be based in an Ota City hotel before entering the Olympic village.

Players will only be allowed to leave the hotel for training and games during coming weeks, while even stricter protocols likely await as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prepares to finalise guidelines for its biosecurity bubble.

"We've done lots of training here in Australia to prepare for some of those difficulties we may face in Japan," softballer Jade Wall told reporters at Sydney Airport.

"We know we have to go through lots and lots of COVID testing ... that our movements will be very limited.

"But we're all prepared for it. We will do everything we can to make sure we're safe when we get there and stay safe while we're in Japan."

Australia are hunting their first Olympic gold medal in the sport, having won silver or bronze in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Softball was not part of the 2012 and 2016 Games, while it is also set to be excluded from Paris 2024.

As such, Wall and teammates were understandably anxious as they waited to learn the fate of the Tokyo Olympics.

"A lot of people have been waiting a few years to get that opportunity (to compete at an Olympics)," Wall said.

"We had a lot of mental battles over the last year.

"The biggest thing about this team is we've become very adaptable.

"And we know, doing the gold-medal ready program through the AIS, that adaptable athletes and teams are the ones who succeed at Olympics.

"We're so strong as a unit. I know any difficulties we're going to face, we'll face together."

Calls for the Olympics to be aborted have grown louder, especially after Japan recently extended its COVID-19 state of emergency.

But Australia's Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman declared Monday's journey was an important milestone, reiterating confidence about the Games going ahead but also the protocols in place to safeguard all athletes.

"Every athlete knows this will be a different Games," Chesterman said.

"It's a giant challenge they face but they're up for that challenge.

"Athletes know it is only because of the rules and regulations in place that they have the chance to compete at an Olympics, and that's what they want to do."

Melbourne's coronavirus outbreak has prompted athletes from different sports to shift their training bases elsewhere, with Chesterman noting the cluster highlights the need to be "flexible" and "do what it takes".

"And I know that is what our athletes are up for," he said.

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