The Covid Games: Pandemic and delay take toll on Tokyo Olympics

10:27 am on 21 July 2021

Making it to the Tokyo Olympics hasn't been easy for many of the world's top athletes.

Jackie Gowler, Beth Ross, Kerri Gowler, Grace Prendergast, Kelsey Bevan,  Lucy Spoors, Emma Dyke and Caleb Shepherd. New Zealand women's eight 2019 World Championships.


A year-long delay, and everything that's come with the global pandemic that caused it, has come with its challenges.

For world champion New Zealand rower Grace Prendergast, finally being at the Games was a great feeling.

"There is a bit of a sense of relief.

"I know I've always believed that this would happen because I think you have to do that to get through the training and put yourself in the best place, but in the back of your mind there was always that chance that it wouldn't go ahead.

"So yeah, it's really exciting to be finally here and it's locked, it's happening and we get the opportunity to race."

But the postponement hadn't been all bad news.

Hamish Bond was back for his fourth Games, this time as part of the New Zealand men's eight.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist said the delay had been hugely beneficial for the younger members of their crew.

"Those guys have come on leaps and bounds with that extra 12 months.

"[For] me an extra 12 months was maybe not the, I think I'm OK, I haven't gone backwards, but those guys have definitely taken a massive step on in the last 12 months."

That extra time had also been good for Bond.

Read more:

Despite a glittering resume, and three Olympic campaigns to his name, Bond wasn't too proud to admit his move from the pair to the eight had been far from straightforward.

"I thought I knew how to row but I actually had to learn again because the eight is different.

"I felt I could just turn up and do what I did in the pair but little did I know that I just had to adjust a little bit.

" learnt off some of the younger guys in our crew who do have some experience of the eight."

Rowing was among the first sports to get underway in Tokyo, the Games regatta starting on Friday ahead of that night's opening ceremony.

The first codes kicking off, though, were newcomers' baseball and softball, as well as football.

New Zealand's men's football coach Danny Hay says the strict Covid protocols hadn't been too much of an adjustment for many of the players.

"They've been operating in the UK and Europe and dealing with this on a daily basis.

For us coming from New Zealand, it's a bit of a shock to the system, but we've just got on with it.

The fact that we're not in the Olympic Village, for me, is a bit of a bonus and we're just trying to treat this as normal as possible."

Hay said the heat was also taking some adjusting to.

"The humidity will be a factor, there is no doubt about that.

Probably some of those sides that are used to playing in that regularly will have a bit of an advantage.

But we've brought players in from just about every corner of the planet, so some will be used to those conditions, other not so much.

But we've been here long enough now that we're starting to acclimatise and adjust to that."

The Oly Whites first match against was tomorrow, but their female counterparts were the first New Zealand athletes in action.

The Football Ferns play Australia in Tokyo tonight, with kickoff set for 11.30pm.

The first event of these Olympics - the women's softball clash between hosts Japan and Australia - was set to start at midday New Zealand time.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.