Tokyo 2020: Wales' Natalie Powell expects safe Olympics

By Tom BrownBBC Sport Wales
Natalie Powell (top) beat Austria's Bernadette Graf to win the women's under 78 kg weight category at the Tel Aviv Grand Prix in January 2020
Natalie Powell (top) beat Austria's Bernadette Graf to win the women's under 78 kg weight category at the Tel Aviv Grand Prix in January 2020

Wales and GB judoka Natalie Powell says she believes the Tokyo Olympics will be safe, as she aims to move a step closer to securing her spot there.

The world number four finished fifth at the Doha Masters in Qatar.

The re-arranged Tokyo Games are due to begin in less than 200 days.

But the city recently declared a state of emergency over rising Covid-19 cases and one IOC member admitted the Games were not guaranteed to go ahead.

Powell says she knows the Olympics will be a very different experience to Rio 2016 but she is confident they can be put on safely.

"I've seen a lot of events going on in what I considered a safe manner with lots of testing and protocols and bubbles," she told BBC Sport Wales.

"So I think we're in a much better place now to hold a safe Games. Japan are fully capable of doing that.

"I would love spectators to be there but that might be a stretch too far. But I would hope the athletes can all be there and compete."

'A business Games'

After feeling like she has been 'training forever', the Welsh judoka finally returned to the mat in Doha.

Pwell lost to world number one Malonga Madeleine in the semi-finals of the Doha Masters and was later beaten by Kosovo's Loriana Kuka in the bronze medal fight.

Before the Doha Masters, 30-year-old Powell had last competed at the Israel Grand Prix in January 2020, where she won gold.

GB Judo make their first round of Olympic selections later this month.

Powell says her strength and fitness is as good as it has been, but she will not know what shape her judo is in until her first fight is under way.

"Judo is much more subjective," she admits.

"It's hard to measure but I feel like I'm in a really good place. I've got some new moves and practised a lot. [Wednesday] will be the gauge."

Powell says she had two tests for Covid before she could fly out and must test negative twice more before she is allowed to fight.

But the 'extra layer of stress' it adds is the price to pay for a safe sporting event these days.

It all adds up to a very different feel to this Olympic year.

"I'm really excited for the Games," continues Powell. "But it's not going to be like it was in Rio or like any other Games beforehand.

"Potentially athletes will have to leave two days after they compete whereas in Rio we stayed another ten days and enjoyed the whole experience. So I feel lucky I was able to do that in Rio.

"I think it just makes this more of a business Games. You're there for one reason only and you've got to deliver."