Pool a hotbed of emotion as under-pressure stars unload

general01 August 2021 10:39| © Reuters
article image
Margherita Panziera © Gallo Images

Tokyo 2020 has not been the coronavirus superspreader event that some feared it might become, but emotions - ranging from the ecstatic to the arguably toxic - have been shared freely in the heady atmosphere of intense competition at the swimming pool.

* Get DStv or Showmax for unrivalled access to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics *

Tears, of both triumph and despair, were shed by many still exhausted swimmers in the mixed zone where they stopped to talk to journalists after their events.

Even the seemingly imperturbable American Caeleb Dressel, the brightest star of the show with five gold medals, went misty-eyed after winning his first individual gold on Thursday and on Sunday, as events drew to a close, spoke of enduring days of nervousness and tension.

Against the backdrop of gymnastics superstar Simone Biles' shock exit from her first event and subsequent absence from competition, mental health was a regular topic of conversations between swimmers and media.

It was all too much for Italian Margherita Panziera, who opened her heart after failing to make the final of the 200m women's backstroke.

"I don't think I showed how much work I have done over the last year. I have always been a very anxious person and it is very hard to handle all the stress," she said, bursting into tears before being embraced by her press attache.

Japan's Yui Ohashi, double gold medallist in the women's 200m and 400m individual medley, spoke eloquently about her battles with depression and said she had learned how to accept it and use it as a strength.

Emotions took on a darker hue on Friday when American Ryan Murphy, fresh from finishing second in the 200m men's backstroke and ceding the Olympic title he won in 2016 to Russian Evgeny Rylov, labelled the race as "probably not clean."

He subsequently made clear he was not accusing any of his rivals on the podium, as a Russian journalist accused him of "ruining the best moment of Rylov's life."

But there were plenty of moments of unbridled joy.

Bruno Fratus whooped with delight after claiming bronze in the 50m final and said he would "stop being a bitch" to himself after nine long years of waiting for a medal.

And British superstar Adam Peaty came close to giving himself a post-competition headache when, after winning gold in the mixed medley relay, he jumped for joy inside the mixed zone room and almost collided with its low ceiling.