We are a bit far from the world, at Makuhari Messe Hall B in Chiba. The convention center is located in the middle of an industrial and commercial area, 40 kilometers east of Tokyo. Next to a giant “mall” – shopping center – as Japan knows how to do, one enters the semi-darkness of the concrete arena.
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It is necessary to remove a blackout curtain, to climb the steps of the removable bleachers. A few footsteps, snatches of words. Like an impression of arriving at the rehearsals of a circus show. This is not the case: the Tokyo Olympics are being played here. The Olympics on the sly.
Presence of the public prohibited
At 10:50 a.m. PST on Thursday, July 29, not many people see the team foilists start their events. The prefecture of Chiba is not under a state of health emergency, unlike that of Tokyo, but is the subject of “Preventive health measures”. And the presence of the public was prohibited.
The journalists did not really make the trip either. They are twenty at most, in front of the four matches which take place at the same time. There are television cameras, but at 3:50 a.m. in France, you really have to be passionate about turning on the set. The evening final will drain more people.
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No matter if the enclosure is empty, destinies are played out in the dark. And silence is rare. There are the warlike cries of the athletes after a fierce struggle. But also, in the shadow of the French, their coaches – placed between two plexiglass windows -, and twelve members of the staff seated in the stands.
As the shoes squeak on the track, “Great Anita, great! “ , “Come on Pauline! “ emerging. In the semi-finals, the Italian clan responds with “Bravisssimo! Avanti! “ (“Well done! Forward!”) And bang on the metal barriers. The transalpine neighbors win the decibel war, but not the iron battle. The French – Ysaora Thibus, Anita Blaze, Pauline Ranvier and Astrid Guyart – fly to the final.
“It’s fencing, we’re not used to seeing 50,000 people in a hall”
“The Games without spectators, that doesn’t change much. It’s fencing, we’re not used to seeing 50,000 people in a hall, reassured the fencer member of the French trio, Pauline Ranvier, in the middle of the day. We have our team and we know that the French encourage us from afar through their screens, that’s the main thing. “
The records of 2016 in Rio show, however, that the audience at fencing matches can also be feverish. “The athletes are perhaps a little less worn, admits the head of the French team, Pierre Guichot, but they are just as motivated, we ignore that. “
For the two-time Olympic saber medalist, the difference may be in the strategy: “We hear everything, so the coach has to pay attention to what he says. We can therefore speak by code. In any case, the athlete cannot say that he did not hear the instructions! “, he smiles.
Between two matches, a troupe of dancers puts on a show on the track. With the press gallery as the only spectator. “It’s sad in view of all the efforts made for the organization of this Olympiad, breathes Mei, a volunteer. We have a superb site and that would have helped the athletes, but we do without ”, she said before putting on a visor over the mask.
On the Japanese foil side, there does not seem to be any bitterness: “Of course, I would have liked to have the encouragement of our spectators, but my friends and my teammates sent me messages which gave me strength”, answers Yuka Ueno. To provide support, some have come. The French foilists, who compete on Sunday 1er August, came to the stands, their lunch in hand, to give voice and encourage “ Paulette “,” Ysa ” and “ Anita “.
These conditions are the lot of most of the competitions of these Olympics. In judo, you can hear the crash of 90 kg carcasses crashing against the tatami mat. The athlete’s groan choked under the weight of his competitor. In the pools, the echo of the slaps the swimmers give themselves on the thighs before the start …
But some sites, outside Tokyo, are spared the closed door. This is the case of Fuji and Izu, where the road cycling and mountain biking events were played. A Japanese audience was able to flock there in good humor, by the thousands. So much so that the Swiss gold medalist in mountain biking, Jolanda Neff, broke down in tears at a press conference on Tuesday July 27: “It’s the atmosphere that I love, I love doing the show, the encouragement, the emotions… For me it’s completely different. “