Olympians Have Another Year to Prepare for Tokyo. It’s a Blessing and a Curse.

Written by on March 24, 2020

Steele Johnson, a diver who received a silver medal for america on the 2016 Rio Video games, awoke Tuesday morning to texts from associates saying they had been so sorry that the Summer Olympics had been postponed. They knew how laborious it had been for Johnson, 23, and his spouse, Hilary, to make ends meet as he pursued a gold medal in Tokyo.

When he learn the information, Johnson stated, he felt a pit in his abdomen.

“We’ve had a really, very powerful yr financially,” he stated. “I don’t know if I may sustain a life-style like this for an additional 12 to 15 months of simply diving with out getting a full-time job. It’s laborious to consider making extra sacrifices than we have already got.”

For days, athletes had been voicing concerns in regards to the 2020 Tokyo Video games, worrying that they had been jeopardizing their well being and the well being of others in the event that they continued coaching whereas lots of their nations had been locked down and limiting exercise.

In polls and surveys conducted over the weekend, athletes voted in overwhelming numbers in favor of a postponement.

But when the information lastly got here, it was the last word combined blessing: a lifeline for some and a brand new set of challenges which may be insurmountable due to monetary, age or well being points for others.

Like so many Olympians, Johnson, who has a level in movie and video research from Purdue, lives on a good price range that has no place for cuts. He and his spouse don’t purchase new garments. At house in Indiana, their grocery invoice should keep inside $60 every week. He has labored nights as a driver for the meals supply service Grubhub. His spouse is a marriage photographer.

After he received a silver medal on the Rio Video games, Johnson couldn’t safe a sponsor. He receives a small stipend for being on the nationwide crew, however now will search for work that may carry him by way of to the brand new, unspecified date for the Video games in 2021.

“I’m simply going to should be artistic,” he stated. “I’ll do what I can to assist my household and pay for our meals and our canine’ meals, however it’s going to be a problem.”

Greg Meehan, the Stanford girls’s swimming coach and the pinnacle of the U.S. girls’s crew, stated the postponement left proficient highschool seniors with a tricky selection: forgo school for an additional yr and prepare completely for the Olympics or juggle coaching and the stresses of freshman yr.

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“The timing was good: Go to the trials, hopefully make the Olympic crew after which there’s that pure transition to school,” he stated.

Meehan’s swimmers embrace Katie Ledecky, a five-time Olympic gold medalist who took the longer, bigger-picture view in a message she posted on Twitter after the postponement was introduced: “As we stand collectively to satisfy at the moment’s challenges, we will dream a couple of great Olympics in a ravishing nation. Now could be the time to assist all these working to heal the sick and preserve us all wholesome.”

Ledecky, 23, delay her senior yr of faculty to deal with the Tokyo Video games, and Meehan nonetheless doesn’t count on her again within the classroom till after the Olympics.

“I don’t assume this summer time was going to be one of the best she was ever going to be,” Meehan stated. “I believe she’s going to be higher subsequent yr.”

Laurie Hernandez, a gymnast coaching in Costa Mesa, Calif., noticed the postponement as precisely what she wanted.

She took two years off after successful a crew gold medal and a bronze within the steadiness beam on the Rio Video games, working in leisure. She competed on “Dancing With the Stars” — and received it — and likewise hosted “American Ninja Warrior Junior.”

When she launched into a comeback to the nationwide crew late final yr, many individuals within the sport stated it was too late. Earlier than her fitness center was closed Thursday due to a statewide lockdown, she had been going there six days every week, at the least 5 hours a day, coaching and dashing to fine-tune routines. She was doing all the things and something that might give her one of the best probability at making the Olympic crew this summer time.

“In fact, I’d love extra time to coach,” she stated final week.

For different athletes, a postponement match with what the physician ordered.

Kathleen Baker, 23, who received a gold and silver medal in swimming on the Rio Olympics, has Crohn’s illness, an autoimmune dysfunction that makes her particularly susceptible to the novel coronavirus.

Coaching recently had descended right into a seek for open swimming pools in San Diego, the place she lives. “It’s been everybody fending for themselves, so it’s not what the Olympics are all about,” Baker stated not too long ago.

Sandi Morris, a pole-vaulter who received a silver medal within the 2016 Video games, misplaced entry to her common coaching facility, and thus her finely tuned routine, when the College of Arkansas closed its doorways this month in Fayetteville.

This weekend, Morris — alongside together with her two canine and two birds — had deliberate to drive from Arkansas to Greenville, S.C., the place she’s going to hire a home close to the place her mother and father reside to hold out a makeshift coaching plan at a pole-vaulting pit her father is constructing at a neighborhood soccer subject.

Morris stated she was involved how she would assist herself by way of the pandemic and the postponement, with no alternatives for look charges and prize cash on the horizon.

“What can we do for the remainder of the yr?” Morris stated. “We have to make cash. However that’s what the remainder of the world is dealing with proper now.”

Sheryl Shade, a longtime agent for Olympians and Olympic hopefuls, stated her winter athletes started calling her after the postponement was introduced, anxious that their sponsorship {dollars} had been at stake.

“I instructed them they needed to get in line,” Shade stated. “Everyone’s involved in regards to the funding and the sponsors, who had been just about completed with their campaigns that they’re delivery to Japan. Now these sponsors may need to alter them. Will there be sufficient cash for everyone? It’s too early to inform.”

For Allison Schmitt, a swimmer who was pursuing her fourth Olympic berth, the postponement of the Tokyo Video games is the second deferment she has confronted in a yr. Schmitt, 29, already placed on maintain her pursuit of a grasp’s diploma in social work at Arizona State after she spent the 2019 spring semester finishing the primary of her required counseling internships, an emotionally and bodily draining expertise that she blames partially for a poor exhibiting in final summer time’s world championships in South Korea.

Tuesday’s announcement left Schmitt in a quandary. Does she pause her ultimate yr of college for 12 extra months? Attempt to juggle the pursuit of her diploma and one other Olympic berth? Or does she get on together with her life and go away her swimming aspirations considerably unfulfilled?

“The issue is, can we stretch this one other yr?” her coach, Bob Bowman, stated. “I imply, I can. However I’m unsure she will.”

One look on the Olympic rower Gevvie Stone’s calendar explains her predicament after the postponement. On Aug. 17, eight days after the Video games had been to finish, she is predicted to rejoin her residency in emergency medication at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Heart in Boston after taking a two-year go away of absence.

“There are two methods of this,” stated Stone, 34, who received a silver medal within the single scull on the 2016 Rio Video games. “One, you’ll be able to say, ‘I’ve already taken two years off, what’s one other yr?’ And two, it does appear to be a really anticlimactic finish to my profession, contemplating I heard the postponement information on the radio midway by way of a weight lifting session.”

The Tokyo Video games would have been her third and ultimate Olympics. Now Stone is just not positive her Olympic profession is over, although persevering with to coach would require her to increase the go away of absence.

The coronavirus has made the choice about her athletic future even tougher. She has provided to return to her hospital instantly if the virus reaches a disaster stage in Boston.

“There’s undoubtedly a sense of guilt as a result of I did take the Hippocratic oath,” Stone stated, “and I take my duty very critically.”

For Ryan Lochte, the 2020 Olympics had been presupposed to be about redemption and salvaging his fame after he made worldwide headlines on the 2016 Olympics for falsely stating that he was robbed at gunpoint.

“I used to be dissatisfied,” Lochte, 35, stated of discovering out the Olympics had been postponed. “This was going to be my greatest Olympics. Particularly with all the things that has occurred.”

A 12-time Olympic medalist, Lochte was suspended from the sport for 10 months and dropped by most of his sponsors after the incident in Rio de Janeiro. Two years later, he was suspended for 14 months after posting an image on his Instagram of himself receiving an infusion of a permitted substance by way of an unapproved methodology.

He has since made an effort to show his life round. Lochte married in 2017 and now has two kids, and he returned to swimming full time two years in the past, reuniting along with his former coach, Gregg Troy, on the College of Florida.

Lochte stated that after the postponement announcement Troy instructed him: “‘Effectively, that is only a bump within the highway. For you, you’ve had a variety of bumps prior to now 4 years, and also you’ve overcome them.”

Then there’s the Paralympian David Brown, who has turn out to be the quickest sprinter in his class and was on a monitor on the Olympic coaching middle in Chula Vista, Calif., on Tuesday. Requested what he thought when he woke as much as the information, Brown stated, “Actually, my response was: OK, what time is coaching at the moment?”

He stated the Olympic and Paralympic Video games weren’t the one cause for coaching and competing. “We’re coaching to higher ourselves and to remain on high of the world. Simply because the Video games acquired postponed, this isn’t the time to say there’s nothing to race for.”

Danielle Allentuck contributed reporting.


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