What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Christine Brennan spoke with IOC member Dick Pound, who said the 2020 Tokyo Games would be postponed due to the coronavirus.
It was as much a show of fierce resolve as an acknowledgment of heartbreaking reality.
For two years now, gymnast Alec Yoder has had a whiteboard in his apartment with the Olympic rings and the words “the dream.” above a list of competitions for which he hopes to qualify. On Tuesday morning, he erased the last zero in Tokyo 2020 and replaced it with a “1.”
The date of the Games has changed. The aspirations they inspire have not.
“As an athlete, you have the outlook of, `This sucks. But it is what it is. What can we do to make it better in the future?’ ” Yoder told USA TODAY Sports. “At the end of the day, we’re not going to be able to change it. If we dwell on it, that affects our chance to make that team the next year.”
Postponing this summer’s Tokyo Games was, of course, the right decision. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise at an alarming rate, and almost 19,000 people have already died. In Spain, there are so many bodies that a skating rink in Madrid now operates as a makeshift morgue.
The pandemic is only getting worse and there’s no telling when it will get better. Certainly not in time to invite the entire world to Tokyo for 2½ weeks this summer.
That doesn’t mean the decision by the IOC and Tokyo organizers feels good, though. There’s relief, yes. No more scrambling to train or worrying that they’re putting the health of themselves and those around them at risk by trying to.
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“Honestly, it felt wrong to dance around grey areas of our restrictions to try and find a way to train,” Olympic gold medalist swimmer Nathan Adrian said in a phone interview.
No more stress and anxiety over not knowing if that fixed point on the calendar that you’ve built your life around was going to happen or not.
“I don’t feel like I’m falling behind everyone else that’s training,” six-time U.S. gymnastics champion Sam Mikulak said by phone. “I’ll be able to come back and stay healthy and not have to rush.”
But there’s sorrow and bitter disappointment, too. There are athletes for whom the already narrow Olympic window just slammed shut, even if it is only several months to a year. Others who will have to figure out new ways to scrape and save to pay training.
And still others who will have to look at the plans they’d made for after Tokyo – families, graduate school, “regular” jobs – and make hard decisions about whether they want to put those on hold once more.
“The athletic side of me says this is good. I have another year to prepare and to train and make sure everything I’ve been working toward is even better,” said hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who turns 31 on June 29. “But the mother side of me and my age, I’m getting older and I’m not sure how much more my body can take, honestly.
“Also, I do have a teenage son who’s going to college soon. I definitely want to be an active part of his life before that.”
But there is a tenacity and single-mindedness Olympic athletes have that the rest of us do not. They often talk about not worrying about what’s out of their control and, if anything qualifies, this would be it.
A decision has been made. Wallowing or railing at the fates won’t change anything. Move on.
“It’s like I’ve had this date in the back of my mind for last four years,” pole vaulter Sandi Morris said on the phone. “Finally, this year came and we could focus on the Olympics. … Now I have to put it back in the back of my mind and focus on training and what’s happening here and now.
“It’s disappointing,” she added. “But at the same time, we knew it was inevitable. I’m glad to have an answer. I can make peace with it and make a plan.”
If athletes can make peace with it, then so should fans around the world. Look forward to an Olympics that will be the ultimate test of body and spirit.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.