With the Tokyo Games postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, top Japanese fencer Ryo Miyake has swapped his metal mask and foil for a bike and backpack as an Uber Eats deliveryman.
The 29-year-old, who won silver in the team foil at the 2012 London Olympics and was itching to compete in a home Games, said that the job keeps him in shape physically and mentally — and brings in much-needed cash.
“I started this for two reasons — to save money for travelling [to future competitions] and to keep myself in physical shape,” Miyake told reporters.
“I see how much I am earning on the phone, but the number is not just money for me. It’s a score to keep me going,” he said.
Japanese media have depicted Miyake as a poor amateur struggling to make ends meet, but he asked for his three corporate sponsorships to be put on hold — even if that means living off savings.
Like most of the world’s top athletes, he is in limbo as the novel coronavirus forces competitions to be canceled and plays havoc with training schedules.
“I don’t know when I can resume training or when the next tournament will take place. I don’t even know if I can keep up my mental condition or motivation for another year,” Miyake said.
“No one knows how the qualification process will go. Pretending everything is OK for the competition is simply irresponsible,” he said.
In the meantime, he is happy crisscrossing the vast Japanese capital with bike and smartphone, joining a growing legion of delivery workers who are in demand amid the pandemic.
“When I get orders in the hilly Akasaka, Roppongi [downtown] district, it becomes good training,” Miyake said, smiling.
The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics hit Miyake hard, as he was enjoying a purple patch in his career.
After missing out on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Miyake came 13th in last year’s World Fencing Championships — the highest-ranked Japanese fencer at the competition.
The International Olympics Committee has rescheduled the Tokyo Games to begin on July 23 next year.
However, with no vaccine available for the coronavirus that has killed hundreds of thousands worldwide, even that hangs in the balance.
Miyake said that the Japanese fencing team heard about the postponement the day after arriving in the US for one of the final Olympic qualifying events.
With his schedule suddenly free of training and competition, he said that he spent last month agonizing over what to do before hitting on the Uber idea.
“Sports and culture inevitably come second when people have to survive a crisis,” Miyake said. “Is the Olympics really needed in the first place? Then what do I live for if not for the sport? That is what I kept thinking.”
However, the new and temporary career delivering food in Tokyo has given the fencer a new drive to succeed.
“The most immediate objective for me is to be able to start training smoothly” once the emergency is lifted, Miyake said.
“I need to be ready physically and financially for the moment,” he said.
“That is my biggest mission now,” Miyake added.
However, not all athletes might cope mentally with surviving another “nerve-wracking” pre-Olympic year, he added.
“It’s like finally getting to the end of a 42km marathon and then being told you have to keep going,” Miyake said.
As a child, he practiced his attacks on every wall of his house — and he said that his passion for the sport was what was driving him now.
“I love fencing. I want to be able to travel for matches and compete in the Olympics. That is the only reason I am doing this,” Miyake said.
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