No spectators and limited food choices: What it's like covering the Tokyo Olympics

Venues at the Tokyo Olympics don't have any spectators. AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Once the Tokyo Olympics wraps up, it will be the most successful campaign for a Philippine delegation in recent history. In fact, this will be the first time since 1932 that multiple medals from the Games will come home to Manila.

While our athletes continue to make Filipinos proud, right there with them to share their stories are our very own Carlo Pamintuan and Paolo Del Rosario. Now halfway through the latest Olympiad, how are they feeling to be playing a part in history?

When you first arrived in Tokyo, what struck you the most?

Carlo: It's been a while since I've occupied the same space with that many people. Being in lockdown for so long has made it normal for all of us just to keep our distance so that number of people at the Haneda Airport caught me a bit off guard. We were warned that the process to get in would be long and tedious. We've heard horror stories of people needing as many as 8 hours to get out of the airport. Fortunately, my group did not suffer the same fate. It took us three hours but we had a pleasant time because of the Japanese volunteers with the help of a few Filipinos as well.

The kindness and hospitality of the Japanese people even during these difficult times was what really struck me the most.

Paolo: The protocols stuck out first simply because they began as soon as we landed at the airport. Olympic delegates were separated from the rest of the crowd and my party was put through three hours worth of safety measures before leaving the airport.

It was a sign of how seriously they took the safety measures amidst the pandemic.

Describe a typical day for you: protocols you have to go through, transportation, where and how you eat...

Carlo: Upon our arrival, we needed to take a COVID test. After that, we were given saliva test kits that we needed to submit for the next three days. We also need to log our temperature and general condition on a daily basis through an app.

In terms of transportation, we can go to the venue via the buses reserved for the Olympics or taxis that we have to pre-book. We have to be in a 14-day soft quarantine so we cannot use public transportation yet.

For food, we are only allowed to buy from the Family Mart located right in front of our hotel. When we head out, a guard logs our name and reminds us that we're only allowed to leave for 15 minutes, just enough to look around, buy, and get back. Fortunately, the selection in Family Mart is good.

Paolo: We were taking saliva RT-PCR tests for the first three days and then one every four days. So that's normally how we started the morning before having to board an Olympic chartered taxi, that's typically booked the night before, to go to our respective coverages.

It's been difficult to eat a decent meal to be honest, considering the limitation of only 15 minutes of allowed time outside the hotel a day. Of course the exception is the IBC or competition venue for the 15 minutes, but for the early days food typically involved convenience store meals and the occasional restaurant every so often.

Carlo, this is your second Olympics. This may seem like a silly question, but how different is this one from Rio?

Unlike Paolo, my approved activities do not include going to the venues. As I'm working as a commentator for Dentsu, I, along with Sev Sarmenta, are only allowed to travel from our hotel to the International Broadcast Center. Naturally, there's a feeling that we're missing out on the opportunity to see the world's top athletes perform. But then again, no fans are allowed inside the venues so it's a small sacrifice on our part.

I think another big difference is the atmosphere in the IBC. Back in Brazil, we talked to the other members of the media. We exchanged pins and stories. We hung out in the common areas. Here, everyone's more guarded because of the situation. We pretty much stay with our own groups in our own areas for everyone's protection.

Paolo, describe what it's like covering all these great athletes in these magnificent venues with no spectators.

I could only imagine how the venues would be if there were spectators. It is surreal and awkward to see the pinnacle of sports met with deafening silence.

But for the most part the focus of the athletes is razor sharp. It's a testament to their desire to achieve their respective goals in this Olympics.

How's your Nihongo coming along?

Carlo: I'm still at hello, thank you, goodbye. I've had Japanese people talking to me in Japanese a couple of times already. Let's just say my Japanese is limited to the basic greetings and lyrics to different anime so it's not substantial.

Paolo: 日本語が話せない Nihongo ga hanasenai