If the sacrifice required of people around the globe to stay at home and absorb the economic blows during the coronavirus outbreak is substantial, and it most certainly is, consider the difficulties for athletes who have spent hours upon hours, days upon days, weeks upon weeks, months upon months, years upon years training for the Tokyo Olympics and now they cannot compete for another year — until 2021.
Everything for which they’ve been working, the chance at taking advantage of and displaying that work, has been shoved into a corner, stowed away until the coast is clear, the landscape safe not just for themselves, but for the thousands, the hundreds of thousands, of people who want to congregate to celebrate diverse competition in the spectacle of Olympic sport.
And based on the responses of most of those athletes, they get it.
They understand the gravity of COVID-19 and the importance of doing all that is possible to beat the effects of this virus before they take their positions to defeat any of their fellow competitors in the Games.
They worry for themselves, but also have loved ones to be concerned about.
All of it seems so commonsensical, except when you think about how driven these athletes are, how single-minded they are, how in climbing to the pinnacle of their individual disciplines they must give up darn-near everything en route.
I once interviewed an Olympic athlete who trained in one form or another for 12 hours a day pretty much over the span of two years, studying every bit of food consumed, every activity participated in, every aspect of living in order to prepare for and then peak at just the right time for his competition. If memory serves, he finished fourth in his event, just off the medal stand.
A survey was once taken of a smattering of Olympic hopefuls who were asked whether they would take a gold medal if it meant their lives would be shortened to 50 years, many of them said they’d go ahead and take the medal. That’s how motivated some of these folks are.
When so many of them responded to the postponement of the Games this past week with the proper attitude, the proper perspective, namely concern first for the welfare of others, it was encouraging.
American cyclist Kate Courtney tweeted out the following: “Our time will come. These dreams are not canceled, they are just on hold for a moment. Hope and heartbreak can live side by side.”
British diver Tom Daley, who said when he first heard about the postponement, he “felt numb,” said: “Waiting one more year to reach for our dreams is well worth the sacrifice to help keep people safe. Yes, I’ll be another year older, and my body will feel that, but I promise to work my tail off to make TeamGB as proud as I can when the time comes.”
Two-time Olympic super-heavyweight judo champion Teddy Riner, of France, who turns 31 next month, said: “First, we have a more important fight to win.”
For younger athletes, the delay is just that, an elongated obstacle to clear coming into the prime of their careers, but for more veteran athletes, like Daley and Riner, as well as many others, especially those in specific sports like gymnastics, dominated so often by the young, it calls into question their endurance through one more year of aging and training.
But three-time gold medalist Tianna Bartoletta, a 34-year-old American track athlete, posted this message: “Dreams have NOT been canceled. Only delayed. Stay in it. Stay safe. Stay focused.”
While some athletes had had their training interrupted by the spread of the virus, making it more difficult to physically prepare as facilities were closed down, not to mention the mental distraction given the seriousness of the pandemic, others had powered forward in their circumstances, ready to ramp up to their national qualifications.
Now, they are ramping back down.
This much is certain: Those competitors who find the fortitude, the mental wherewithal, the physical abilities to keep working, keep training, keep focused, keep motivated, keep their skill and strength will deserve the spoils of competition they reap, should they be fortunate enough to do so. In that way, the Olympic champions crowned in Tokyo in the summer of 2021 will have more than proved themselves worthy of the medals to be hung around their necks.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.