Those headed from Berks to the Olympics aware of uniqueness, potential perils of these Games

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Jul. 22—The reports of positive COVID-19 tests among Olympic athletes and officials in Tokyo increases by the day.

Earlier this month, officials banned Japanese fans after previously prohibiting foreign fans.

With the opening ceremony coming up on Friday, the debate continues to swirl about whether these Games, already delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic, should be held at all.

Three Olympic discus throwers who were in Berks County training at Garage Strength in Maidencreek Township in the days before leaving for Tokyo are well aware of the uniqueness and potential perils of these Games.

"It's going to be a different Olympics compared to anything anyone has ever experienced or ever seen," said CiCi Onyekwere, who will be going to her first Olympics representing Nigeria. "I think if we just get used to it being different and do our best to follow the Japanese rules and the IOC rules, it will still be an enjoyable moment for everyone."

Alex Rose is a Michigan-born athlete who represents Samoa. He still is allowed to go to Japan because he lives in the United States, but Samoan officials are not allowing domestic athletes who qualified travel to Tokyo.

"I feel so sad for those athletes who've been working their butts off for the past four, eight, 12 years," said Rose, who will be the country's flag bearer Friday. "So I'm going in with a chip on my shoulder to compete and make them proud as well, because they lost the opportunity that I was given."

Rose competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He's witnessed all the pomp of the festivities that will be lacking in these Games.

"When you think about competing in the Olympics, you don't think about meeting in an empty stadium," Rose said. "So it's going to be the most unique Olympics of all time, I think. And at this point, I'm just happy they're still happening.

"So, yes, it sucks that my wife and my family aren't going to be there watching me or really anyone will be there watching me. However, I can't help but feel relieved that the Games are still going on, and that trumps everything."

Sam Mattis, a first-time Olympian for the United States, said he was "highly encouraged" but not mandated to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

He said he is/was required to get a COVID test 96 hours before leaving for Tokyo, 72 hours before leaving, at the airport when leaving, at the airport upon arrival, then every day while in Japan.

"It's definitely mixed emotions, because obviously as an athlete we want the Games to happen," Mattis said. "But more than anything, you want them to be safe. You know, it would be great if we could have the normal Olympic experience. That can't happen. That's fine. I just hope that they're able to run it fairly safely."

Dane Miller, the Schuylkill Valley grad and founder of Garage Strength, is headed to his first Olympics as a coach. He said he feels privileged to be able to go and that in a way it's a validation to be there when so many are restricted from going.

"Honestly, I think this is going to be a very historical event," he said "And that's where it's like, 'Dude, I don't care.' You're a part of something special. It's not traditional. It's not the standard Olympics-like feeling. But it's a very unique situation. And it might not ever happen again. And hopefully it never happens again."

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