Behind-the-Scenes: What it was like at The Tokyo Olympic Games

Maria Sakkari Qualifies for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics

I vividly remember the day that Maria Sakkari officially qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics which, due to Covid, were delayed to 2021.


Maria was mid competition at Wimbledon so we were eagerly awaiting the announcement in the players’ lounge of the All England Club in Wimbledon, London when the acceptance list finally went live on the WTA portal.


It was a moment of triumph after all her hard work – Greece’s Maria Sakkari and her compatriot Stefanos Tsitsipas were about to become Olympians as long as they didn’t catch Covid in the six weeks before we got there!

Three Hour Airport Pre Olympic Security Checks

Traveling to Tokyo for the Olympics was an experience unlike any other. While the anticipation and excitement initially filled the air, it was soon replaced by a more somber mood, as we were required to go through multiple lines of security checks three hours long when we disembarked from our All Nippon Airways flight.


From having to present our pre-flight tests and vaccination records to taking yet another Covid test – there was a mixture of fear and hope that weighed heavily in the air.


Despite all this, I was determined to make it to my ultimate dream destination of Tokyo Olympic Games!

The Olympic Village

My first visit to the Olympic Village was an unforgettable experience. It was like stepping into a miniature city, with athletes from different parts of the world living side by side.


Every corner I looked in seemed to be bustling with people from different cultures, speaking various languages and all united by their common desire to compete for the honour and glory of their nation.


But if you thought you had arrived at festival you might not have been mistaken! The village was buzzing with excitement; it felt like we had discovered the epicenter of an Olympic Village Coachella!


Everywhere there was music playing, people exchanging stories about past competitions and just generally having a great time. The atmosphere was electric and it brought me back to that moment when we heard: “Excuse me, where are Maria Sakkari, Tom Hill, and Giorgos Panagiotopoulos?”


Our hearts had raced with anticipation as we raised our hands in unison before soon finding out we had passed all necessary tests and were cleared to take a bus to the Athlete Village.


This promised to be an incredible experience that I will never forget!

All Nippon Airways Flat Bed to Olympic Cardboard Bed

We had travelled from Greece, in style, on comfortable All Nippon Airways flat beds with every whim catered for by attentive professional staff.


Our next sleep, at the Olympic village was rumoured to be on cardboard beds! The rumour turned out to be true, but luckily were not supplied as flat packs.


It is amazing how much thought went into designing such a sustainable and cost-efficient solution for the athletes staying in the Olympic Village and I was pleasantly surprised to find these eco-friendly beds very comfortable.


Made from recycled paper, they were a great way to reduce plastic waste in the Olympics while ensuring that everyone had a good night’s sleep.


I was initially skeptical about what it would be like to sleep on such an unconventional bed but after trying it out myself, I can confirm that it is just as comfortable as any traditional mattress or frame.


Maybe one day it will be the norm.

Come Dine With Us Behind Glass

As Covid restrictions forbade us to leave the site, the go-to spot in the Olympic Village became the athlete’s restaurant. With delicious cuisine from all over the world, this place had something for everyone – no matter your taste buds! But it wasn’t just food that made this place so special.


The atmosphere in this restaurant was electric! Here, athletes and staff would gather after training or competition to share stories of their Olympic experience while forging strong bonds with their fellow Olympians. It truly felt like family coming together here – a feeling you can only have at the Olympics.


As much as the restaurant offered a great atmosphere, it also came with a few challenging safety precautions. All seats in the restaurant were divided by COVID safety glass on three sides, making it difficult to hear what others at the table were saying. With so many athletes gathering in close quarters, the noise level was always quite high – but that just added to the Olympic spirit!

The Unofficial Olympic Stockmarket – Pin Trading

Trading pins has become a popular tradition among athletes at the Olympics. This practice first began as an informal exchange among friends and teammates, but soon grew to be a memorable part of the Olympic experience for athletes from all corners of the world.


It’s an exciting way to commemorate each Olympics and build friendships with fellow athletes that can last a lifetime.


Each pin is unique and often tells a story about its owner – making it even more special when exchanged between two Olympians.


I was given a small bag with pins from the Greek Olympic Committee so I made it my mission to trade pins with as many people as I could.


This was a great way to connect with people from all around the world and it also provided us with a nice keepsake of our time in Tokyo.

On The Squat Rack with Rudy Gobert

At most WTA/ATP tournaments, I “try” to workout everyday after getting back from the site and before dinner. Key word: try.


At the Olympics, however, it was VERY easy to find motivation to workout. You would walk around the gym, kitted out in all the latest Techno Gym equipment, watching the best athletes in the world train.


The atmosphere was amazing, and I made sure to take full advantage of it. I remember doing squats on the rack next to Rudy Gobert, an NBA All Star, and thinking “Wow, how am I here?”.

The Games Room

After you’ve killed your workout, you could go down the escalators into the game room.


Every gamers fantasy was in this room! Arcade machines like none you had seen before and for the more staid of us around one ping pong table! Yes one table for the whole village.


One night I watched Luka Doncic & the Slovenian basketball team play ping pong. They weren’t great but I was still too nervous to ask them for a game or even trade pins!


An opportunity I couldn’t pass up on was a chance to have a photo with Ryder Cup Hero and my favourite golfer on the PGA Tour, Tommy Fleetwood!


Rumours abounded that the British Olympic Squad had been provided with the full works – extra playstation consoles and who nows what, all we knew was that as this was in their building it was out of bounds for the rest of us.

The Olympic Rings

The final hangout place inside the Olympic Village was the Olympic Rings.


Most nights it was very crowded with all the athletes and their teams waiting to take pictures.


I waited until the final night to go there with Maria & Stefanos, which turned out to be lucky for me as I managed to meet Matisse Thybulle, one of my favorite NBA athletes.

A Dream Come True

The Olympic village was a unique and exciting experience even for me as a coach. From the cardboard bed that surprisingly turned out to be quite comfortable, to all of the fun places to explore such as the Athlete Restaurant, the Games Room and Olympic Rings; I had plenty of opportunities to meet new people from around the world while enjoying my time at this once-in-a-lifetime event. The Tokyo Olympics will always hold a special place in my heart – it was truly an unforgettable experience!

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Tom Hill

WTA Gold Coach

Tom Hill is a professional WTA tennis coach with a wealth of experience and a proven track record of success. He has worked with some of the top players in the world, helping them to improve their game and reach new heights in their careers.

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