TOKYO >> A Mongolian team training for the Tokyo Paralympics has been stranded in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, for more than three months, with no prospect of returning home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The athletes have received encouragement from locals, and the team now refers to Yaizu as its “second hometown.”
Yaizu served as a host city for the group, a team of four athletes, its coach and manager. They have been training at a stadium in the city since Feb. 14.
To secure a position at the games, the team was set to compete in an international championship scheduled for March 11 in the United Arab Emirates. Then the competition was canceled because of the pandemic. To make matters worse, flights to Mongolia were canceled and the country’s chartered flights were full, leaving the team stranded in Japan.
Since then, the athletes have been training at a hotel in the city where they are staying. According to team member Enkhbaatar, the group tries to keep positive. One thing that helps is talking to their families via video conferencing.
Yaizu locals have also been a source of support. After seeing news reports about the group’s challenges, nearby residents have offered tokens of friendship to encourage them, sharing strawberries, sweets and portraits of the athletes.
“Unlike Mongolia, there’s an ocean here, and we now like Yaizu so much because it’s warm and you can see Mount Fuji,” said Garmaabazar, a middle-distance runner. “We want to say that we’ve found our second home country.”
Meanwhile, said Kazuko Suzuki, chair of the city’s international friendship association: “We consider them part of the community. We hope they’ll enjoy the sea and make a lot of memories here.”