Archive for August 11th, 2021

11
Aug
21

Fatigue, Humidity, Sluggishness – Together

The football competitions at Tokyo 2020 combined the brutal heat of summer, a packed schedule, and coronavirus prevention measures to ensure the participants had absolutely no respite from the first to the last whistle… (日本語版)

There was a tension weighing over Nissan Stadium as the clock ticked down in the second half of regular time and heavyweights Brazil and Spain gamely threw everything they had left at each other, trying desperately to land the knockout blow that would deliver them Olympic gold.

The thickness in the air wasn’t only caused by the humidity or magnitude of the occasion though – these, after all, are players used to playing on the biggest stages and in front of tens of thousands of expectant fans – but as their increasingly frustrated voices echoed around the 70,000 empty seats in the vast Kanagawa bowl it was clear that these young, supremely fit professional athletes were absolutely shattered. 

Indeed, even in the hours ahead of kick-off there was a general sense of fatigue lingering in the bowels of the stadium, with venue staff, volunteers, and media personnel frazzled at the end of a brutal schedule and sleepwalking towards the finish line rather than charging towards it with the feeling of excitement and expectation more usually associated with these kinds of events.

Everyone was so very, very tired.

The previous day Japan had stumbled as well, manager Hajime Moriyasu repeatedly referring to the tiredness and fatigue his players had been battling against – as well as a ruthless Mexico side – after they were roundly beaten 3-1 to miss out on the podium, just as they had done under Takashi Sekizuka at London 2012.

Whereas the group stage encounter against Mexico had seen Japan burst out of the traps and move 2-0 ahead after just 11 minutes, this time they could barely string a couple of passes together and as the game moved into the 11th minute here they were already up against it after an uncharacteristically sluggish challenge from Wataru Endo gifted Jaime Lozano’s side a penalty.

Endo’s overall performance against Mexico summed up the general trend of the latter stages of the football at Tokyo 2020, with one of Japan’s outstanding players of the past year looking out on his feet and struggling to keep up with the flow of the game, let alone dictate it. He was at fault for the second goal in the 22nd minute as well, losing track of Johan Vasquez at a free-kick and allowing the Mexican to tuck home with disbelieving ease from close range.  

Of course, this is meant in no way to single Endo out for criticism, and the same lethargy had also been on display four days earlier as Australia and Sweden did battle in the women’s semi-finals. Two of the the most dynamic teams in the competition saw the second half of their contest drop almost to walking pace at times as the players’ exertions in the heat and humidity of the Japanese summer over the preceding two weeks began to catch up with them.

“It’s getting to the point towards the end of the tournament where everyone’s tired, everyone’s played a lot of minutes,” Australia striker Sam Kerr said afterwards. “It was a hot one today. I don’t know, I feel like this is the hottest game we’ve played since we’ve been here. But it is what it is. Everyone’s feeling tired, they [Sweden] feel the same, they’ve played the same minutes.”

Indeed, her opponent Hanna Glas was in full agreement.

“Especially the last 20-30 minutes, it was really tough because of the humidity and a really tough schedule,” the Bayern Munich defender said. “We only get two rest days, and that’s not what we’re used to in the World Cup or the Euros.”

Such a compact fixture list is always a feature of the Olympics, but the various coronavirus prevention measures meant Tokyo 2020 added an unprecedented mental strain on the athletes (and overseas media and staff) as well, offering them no time or space to decompress between matches. 

“Obviously it’s been tough,” Glas said of the restrictions. “We knew that before we came here – that that was one of the big challenges, together with the warm weather – so we came prepared, but even though you know it it’s still hard.”

Megan Rapinoe of the USA concurred after scoring twice to help her side to the bronze medal against Australia in Kashima on 5 August.

“It’s really hard – I’m sure every team would say that, too, it is really difficult,” the 36-year-old said.

“If it’s a World Cup you have a lot more days between games, but, you know, you can [also] see your family. But [here] we’re just there staring at each other the whole time, and there’s only so much we can do or talk about. We don’t want to talk about soccer all the time, but there’s nothing else going on.

“So I think that part has been really hard. It’s been hard for everyone, just to not sort of have that break has been the most challenging part – probably more challenging than the schedule, to be honest.”

Back in Yokohama, as had been the case 24 hours earlier when Sweden and Canada went the distance in the women’s final, the contest between Brazil and Spain couldn’t be settled inside 90 minutes, and it ultimately took a turbo-charged burst from Malcom – one of the freshest players on the pitch, who had played just 142 minutes before coming on at the start of extra time – to secure consecutive golds for the Seleção with a 2-1 win.

Sport is the pursuit of excellence, of testing boundaries, and while the exhaustion of these Olympics will fade over time and leave only the positive memories, slickly-edited highlights packages, and plentiful history-making achievements, there can be absolutely no doubt that Tokyo 2020 pushed each and every one of its participants to their mental and physical limits – on and off the field of play.




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