KONG, China
coronavirus has destroyed the Tokyo Olympic dreams of some Chinese athletes and
disrupted the preparations of others, forcing them to miss tournaments and
train in strict isolation — sometimes in masks.

Games organisers are adamant that the outbreak, which is
centred on the Chinese city of Wuhan and has killed more than 2,100 people,
will not derail one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar.

But it is likely to compromise the performance of the
Chinese team, which numbered 416 at the Rio 2016 Games and has been top three
on the medals table at every Olympics this century.

There are no known cases among Chinese competitors, but the
virus outbreak coincides with a critical stage in their build-up to the
Olympics, which begin on July 24.

In one stark example, China’s women’s football team resorted
to doing stretching exercises in the corridor of a Brisbane hotel after they
were quarantined ahead of an Olympic qualifying tournament.

China hopes that rival countries will open their doors to
its athletes to compete in qualifiers as some nations, including Australia,
have issued strict restrictions on arrivals from China.

“There will be over 100 Olympic qualifying tournaments
around the world between February and April,” said Liu Guoyong, a
vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC), according to the Xinhua
news agency.

“The IOC has asked various international sports
federations to provide all possible assistance and convenience to Chinese

– Dreams over –

Despite their disrupted build-up and missing star player
Wang Shuang — who was not allowed to leave her home city of Wuhan, and was
videoed training alone on a rooftop while wearing a mask — China’s women’s
football team managed two wins and a draw in Australia.

They will face South Korea over two legs for a spot in
Tokyo, but the “home” match will need to take place abroad.

The Olympic qualifying tournament was moved from Wuhan at
short notice because of the virus, which has obliterated China’s sporting
calendar and forced hundreds of millions of people indoors to stop it

At least the women’s football team’s Tokyo hopes are still

The women’s handball team’s campaign ended when they
withdrew from a qualifying tournament in Hungary next month, saying they could
not organise training in the face of the deadly virus. 

China were also forced out of a World Cup gymnastics meeting
in Melbourne — which offers qualifying points for Tokyo — because of travel

Olympic qualifying tournaments in boxing, basketball and
sailing have all been moved out of China.

China topped the medals table when it hosted the 2008
Olympics, but fell to third, behind the United States and Britain, at Rio 2016.

Tokyo was supposed to be the Games when China — spearheaded
by decorated swimmer Sun Yang, who is awaiting a Court of Arbitration for Sport
ruling over a missed drugs test — strikes back.

– ‘Nobody can get out’ –

Liu, of China’s Olympic committee, is confident that
athletes will be able to prepare properly for Tokyo and state media has painted
an image of them gamely ploughing on with their training routines. 

But the all-powerful badminton and table tennis squads have
decamped to Britain and Qatar respectively, while the judo team missed the
Paris Grand Slam in a blow to their Olympic build-up.

China has ordered its teams at home and abroad to train
behind closed doors to guard against the virus.

“Unless there is an emergency, nobody can come onto the
base and nobody can get out,” Cao Zhongrong, coach of China’s modern
pentathlon team, told local media by telephone. 

The pentathletes have been holed up at a Beijing university
but were to fly out to Egypt this week, and after that will continue their
Olympic preparations in Europe.

The squad is not allowed to use an athletics track and field
because they are outside the self-imposed exclusion area. They run on
treadmills instead.

Team members have their temperatures checked repeatedly
through the day and have to wear a mask while equestrian training.

“I treat this as a special training under hypoxic
(deprived of oxygen) conditions in special times,” Luo Shuai, who has
already qualified for Tokyo, said.


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