On July 8, officials in Tokyo announced that all spectators will be banned from Summer Olympics events in the city throughout the games, which run from July 23 to August 8, because of rapidly spiking COVID-19 cases. Only around 15 percent of eligible Japanese residents are fully vaccinated against the disease.
The impact of this decision will be profound on all Olympians, including recent Westword cover story subject Adeline Gray, a five-time world women's wrestling champion in the heavyweight category and among the American favorites to take home a gold medal. But the effect will also be felt by Adeline's family, including her sister Geneva, who's serving as Adeline's training partner, and her parents, Donna and George, a Denver police officer.
Donna and George have known for a while that they wouldn't be allowed to attend the games; visitors from other countries were prohibited earlier this year over COVID-19 concerns.
"When they announced no foreign spectators, I was saddened by the news," Donna notes, "and truly as it gets closer, it is getting more difficult to not be going with her to watch her compete. But I keep telling myself that at least they are not canceling the Olympics, and at this point that is what matters.
"The announcement that there will be no fans is also difficult," she adds. "Adeline has a lot of fans in Japan, but let's be real: Female athletes are used to competing in empty stadiums. So the effect should not be much."
The situation with Geneva, who graduated from Chatfield High School (which Adeline also attended), is more complicated.
"Geneva does get to go to Japan as Adeline's training partner," Donna confirms, "but she won't have access to the actual venue. She will not be able to warm Adeline up, because only two training partners are allowed for all six U.S. competitors. As the heavyweight, she will be warmed up by Maya Nelson, a Colorado girl from Denver East. We have known her since she was little, and she is Tamyra Mensah-Stock's appointed training partner."
Mensah-Stock is a fellow world champion who wrestles at 68 kilograms, and Donna reveals that she will also assist Adeline, "along with her personal coach, Nate Engel, and USA coach Terry Steiner."
Donna says she's "bummed that Geneva will not be able to experience Japan and will be restricted to the hotel, with little ability to see the country. George and I went to a World Cup competition in Japan a couple of years ago and found the people and the country charming."
While their travels will be curtailed, at least Adeline and Geneva are unlikely to catch COVID-19 while in the country; they've both been vaccinated "and everything I've read says this will protect them," Donna says.
With a trip to Tokyo out of the picture, Donna and George are planning to take part in a watch party during the time Adeline is scheduled to wrestle — between 6 p.m. July 31 and 2 a.m. MDT on August 1. "Adeline is ready to compete," Donna says, "and I truly believe that she is just glad to have the chance to bring a gold medal home to the USA."
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