Olympics-Party-free Tokyo will be heaven for the socially distant: NZ runner Willis

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FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's flag bearer Nick Willis holds the national flag as he leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Strict COVID-19 rules will kill the party vibe at the Tokyo Olympics Athletes' Village and that is just fine for New Zealand's veteran middle distance runner Nick Willis, who will relish some peace and quiet before competing at his fifth Games.

Athletes will check in soon before their event and check out quickly after to limit social interaction, which will stifle the partying opportunities for those who might prove a nuisance to their neighbours.

While no curmudgeon, 38-year-old Willis will not miss being woken by noisy athletes coming home after a big night out as he prepares for his tilt at a third Olympic medal in the 1,500m.

The lack of distractions could even lead to better performances in the track and field events, United States-based Willis told Reuters in a video call from his Michigan home.

"I actually think people are going to perform at a really high level and a greater depth because there won’t be the same distractions that athletes from all the different sports face," he said.

"Track and field, it can be quite challenging because we’re in the second half of the Games.

"So you get all the swimmers partying it up in the second week of the Games, and coming home from the parties at 4 a.m. outside of your apartments, making a hell of a noise.

"So there’s not going to be any of those distractions this time round so that will be quite nice.

"Some (athletes) walk around like they’re in Disney World and some are there like they’re there for business and business alone."

'QUITE A MIRACLE'

It is pretty clear which camp Willis falls in to.

The clean-cut Kiwi became the oldest man to win an Olympic 1,500m medal when he claimed the bronze at Rio and he has not ruled out bettering that record at Tokyo.

"I would be the first to admit that would be quite a miracle if I were to be able to (medal) but once you’re in that position you forget about everything else and the adrenaline kicks in and your eyes light up and you get that taste for it again," said Willis, the 2008 Beijing Games silver medallist.

"I’d love to be in that position but I know I’m going to have to be doing everything I possibly can just to have a chance of being in the final.

"And if I can get into that ... and you're on the start line, there’s always the chance, right? That's more my approach this time round."

The Olympics are due to start on July 23 after being postponed last year because of the pandemic but authorities have put Tokyo in a state of emergency due to a surge of infections.

Surveys have shown a majority of Japanese respondents want the Games put off and prospective Olympians, including tennis players Roger Federer and Naomi Osaka, have voiced concerns.

Willis said he understands all the arguments against holding the Games but has no fears for his safety after completing his vaccination course last Thursday.

"If I’m vaccinated then I’m not worried at all," he said.

"The main concern that if someone tests positive and then there’s contact tracing, then someone could be taken out inadvertently from being able to compete because they have to then self-quarantine.

"But from my understanding, if you’ve been vaccinated it doesn’t matter if you’re around someone who’s able to transmit because it’s not going to have any effect on you and your ability to transmit as well."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)