When the national softball team were the first international squad to travel to Japan ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, it would be a wake-up call for many its members.
Arriving in Japan on June 1, the restrictions and measures the Aussie Spirit have had to endure has been tough from their arrival, however, the thought of representing their country has taken precedence.
Since setting up camp in Ota City, 74km from Japan’s capital city Tokyo, the Spirit has had to go through daily COVID and temperature tests along with limited interactions outside of their ‘bubble’.
For many of the 23-member squad who are currently training in preparation for the Games, the shock of COVID measures is a huge adjustment. However, for Spirit captain Stacey Porter, who plays professionally in Japan, it’s not as much of a surprise.
“I think some of the girls have told me they have started dreaming about softball I just said ‘what do you mean I’ve been dreaming about softball for years,” Porter joked.
“It’s definitely an adjustment period I think for the girls but one that they’ve all really been enjoying. Obviously, it’s a very different life than at home 9-5 jobs, it’s a different period of their lives. They seem to be enjoying it which is good.”
The world’s most capped softballer with 441 games, Porter says the time the Spirit are spending in the hotel together has its challenges but believes everyone is managing.
“We can’t leave the hotel unless we are going to the park”, Porter reveals.
While cooped up inside the hotel, Porter says the team has been finding ways to keep themselves occupied involving gym sessions and movie nights.
“We’re all finding things to do indoors. I would say in terms of everybody, I think we are travelling ok. I don’t see any unhappy people,” she notes.
Porter imagines the amount of time the squad is spending together in the bubble will set them up well as the Games rolls around, contributing to a comradery for a group who’s not played together since February 2020.
“It has been an adjustment period, but definitely for us, it will be easier (during the Olympics) given that we have done it for six or seven weeks beforehand,” Porter said.
“There is probably a level of getting to know each other a little better which can only benefit us moving forward which is good.
“I think if you’re an athlete coming into the Games knowing how different it’s going to be, you’re going to expect it to be strange and different and unusual I think everyone will handle that fine.”
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Porter, one of two Aussie Spirit members who have Olympic experience, competing in 2004 and 2008, says the choice by Softball Australia to travel six weeks earlier only assists the team’s chance at a medal placing.
As part of their camp in Ota City, the team have benefited from playing against professional Japan Softball League teams, as well as the Japanese national team. Porter says the key intention of these games is to gather knowledge as a team, opposed to results.
“Our goal going into that game was to get information out of the Japanese national team,” Porter admits.
“We haven’t played an international standard team for nearly two years, so we were very aware of our job against them and obviously we want to peak at the end of this tournament, or this time in Japan.
“Some good signs and some good performances in defence and in offence, not discouraged at all by what happened in the result, and we learnt a bit more about those girls, some promising signs which was good.”
Softball returns to the Olympic Games schedule for the first time in 13 years and the fifth time overall, the first being at Atlanta in 1996.
Japan is the defending champions from 2008 in Beijing however Australia is hoping their time spent in the country at the moment helps them to achieve an elusive gold medal, their best placing being silver at Athens in 2004.
Australia and Japan kick off proceedings in Tokyo, two days before the official Opening Ceremony, adding to the return of the highly anticipated softball fixture. Australia and Japan’s last official matchup was during the 2020 Australia Pacific Cup grand final, a 7-0 win to Japan.
“They’re a nationally recognised team that everyone really knows and follows. I would say that the pressure is on their side,” Porter remarks.
“We are obviously going to face our own type of pressure and we’ve got systems in place to handle all that stuff.
“But I would say yes, being the host country and first event of the Olympic games, I am sure that is something that they’re thinking of.”
Overall, Porter is thankful to Ota City, a supporter of previous Australian softball camps for allowing them to practice under restrictions while also extending that gratitude towards the Japanese locals.
The 23-strong squad is still to be cut down to 15 players at the end of the month before the team moves to the Olympic Village in mid-July ahead of the sport’s July 21 start date.
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