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San Diego Olympians react to fans being banned from Tokyo games

As COVID numbers in Tokyo continue to rise
Posted at 6:16 PM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 00:08:45-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- There will be no fans at the Tokyo Olympics later this month, Olympic officials said Thursday. COVID-19 numbers in Japan are continuing to increase, which prompted a declaration of a new state of emergency. Two San Diego Olympians on the USA Water Polo team reacted to the news as they got ready to perform their best in a fanless venue.

In just two and a half weeks, two San Diego County men, 38-year-old Jesse Smith and 27-year-old Alex Bowen will be on the world stage in Tokyo.

"What we are focused on is building trust between each other," Smith said. "We are going to tap into that USA energy and give it the best shot we can."

But that USA energy or any fan energy, for that matter, will not be present this time around. Due to the global pandemic, Olympic officials banned all foreign fans in March. Last month, they announced they would only allow 50% capacity or no more than 10,000 Japanese fans to attend. But with increasing COVID numbers, Thursday, they decided that no fans, foreign or Japanese, would be allowed at the Games.

"The lack of fans and lack of friends and family that are coming along. It's tough, but I feel the support coming from all the way across the ocean," Bowen said.

Smith, a Coronado High School alumnus and 2008 Beijing Games silver medalist, is making history as he becomes a five-time Olympian for USA Water Polo. This is a dream come true for Bowen, a two-time Olympian and Santana High School grad [Santee, CA], who is now playing alongside his idol.

"I was 16, and he [Smith] came back [between his Olympic appearances] and helped out with San Diego Shores [Water Polo Club] for a couple of months, and I was over the moon. It was awesome," Bowen remembered.

The men admitted it is disappointing to play without their families cheering them on. But they are grateful they still get to play for their country with the hopes of bringing back hardware.

"All the Olympians, we are so lucky that we are going to have great connectivity through the Internet, and so it's kind of a continuation of all of the obstacles that everyone in the world has been facing the last 18 months," Smith said.

"It's not always the best team that wins. It's the most resilient," Bowen said.

The men will finish their training in Orange County and Hawaii in the coming days and head to Tokyo. Team USA's first-round match is against Japan on July 25, 2021 at 2 pm Japan time.