SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s softball squad left Sydney for a pre-Olympic training camp in Japan on Monday, prepared for a very different Games experience but as determined as their predecessors to return home with a medal.
The squad will be among the first foreign athletes to arrive in Japan for the July 23-Aug. 8 Tokyo Games, which were postponed for a year and are still being overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Outfielder Jade Wall said that had not lessened the excitement for a squad which has been unable to play a competitive game since February 2020 because of the global health crisis.
“We just can’t wait to get there,” the 32-year-old told reporters at Sydney airport.
“We know it’s going to be a long trek over there, we know we’ve got to go through lots and lots of COVID testing but we’re all prepared for it.
“We know we’ve got one goal in mind. I know that any difficulties we face, we’ll face them together.”
Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman said Australia would send a team to Japan that was “to all intents and purposes fully vaccinated” and that he was comfortable with the levels of health protocols in place to protect athletes and locals.
“It’s an exciting time for all of us involved in the Olympic team because it’s another key milestone that we pass to have our first athletes heading off to Japan,” he said.
“This group of athletes have had a very difficult time over the last 15 months but now it’s very real for them. It’s certainly a giant challenge that they face but they’re up for that challenge, they want that challenge.
“They want to get over there and continue the very proud tradition this team has at the Olympic Games.”
Australia have won medals in each of the four previous Olympic softball competitions, bronzes in 1996, 2000 and 2008 and a silver in 2004.
They will be using their camp in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, to train against teams from the highly competitive Japanese league as they prepare for softball’s return to the Olympics for the first time since Beijing.
“We had to go through a lot of mental battles over this last year and I think the biggest thing for this team is that we’ve become very adaptable,” Wall added.
“And we know that adaptable athletes and adaptable teams are the ones that will succeed at the Olympics.
“We haven’t been there for 13 years so there’s a lot of people behind me who have waited a long time to get that opportunity.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)