Elite athletes, stereotypically, thrive on routine. Each day has a training plan, each mile has a goal, each meal has a calorie count.
So when the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were postponed Tuesday until 2021 because of concerns related to the coronavirus, the decision was met by most qualified and aspiring Olympians first with relief and then with renewed anxiety. Many began to fret over how it might affect their training, qualifying and sponsorships.
A few, however, have taken a lighter, more glass-half-full approach to the year-long wait for their chance at Olympic glory.
Exhibit A: Lolo Jones. The two-time Olympic hurdler who is attempting to make a comeback after missing the 2016 Games had perhaps the perfect response to the news.
“Someone order me a damn pizza I got another year before I gotta be ready for the games,” she posted on her Twitter account. She later posted a meme of her pouring candy into her cereal bowl with the hashtag #breakfastofchampions.
Pizza and candy can tie an athlete over in the short term, but a few of Utah’s Olympians said they think the delay could actually help their chances in the long run.
Climber Kyra Condie said the joint decision by the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Organizing Committee helped put her at ease. She can do most of her training at home on a hanging rack similar to the one Alex Honnold worked out on in his campervan before climbing El Capitan in the film “Free Solo.” And she’s optimistic the delay will allow her to make up media appearances — which are key to stoking sponsorships — that she had to skip while social distancing.
“Aside from obviously being the right decision, I think a lot of things that could be good could come from it,” said Condie, who moved to the Salt Lake Valley from Minnesota after making the U.S. Olympic team last November. “I had to cancel a lot of media opportunities because of the virus. ... This will give me the ability to create the hype I wouldn’t have been able to if they had been held this summer.”
Other athletes say the move buys them time to work on the finer points of their craft. Rower Kathleen Noble falls into that category.
Noble can row fast enough to compete in the Olympics. She secured her berth for the Tokyo Games in women’s single sculls last October, becoming the first Ugandan rower in history to qualify.
But Noble says can’t row well, not technically anyway, she says. The technician for the Huntsman Cancer Institute competed with the Princeton University crew team, but that was in sweeps, where she paddled with just one oar and had teammates to lean on. Now she competes in scull, where she alone is responsible for two oars as well as the balance of her boat.
On the bright side, she now has no less than nine months to perfect those finer points before racing for a medal. Plus, since she has the boat to herself, she’s looking forward to some otherwise rare training sessions on the Great Salt Lake.
“It will be a good time to work on technique,” she said. “I can stop stressing about the workout side and just focus on doing low, technical rows.”
Katie Zaferes, a California triathlete who is seeking her second Olympic bid after winning the 2019 ITU World Championship Series, also plans to make the most of the extra time. She said she doesn’t believe she has come close to hitting her peak and the delay could help her close in on it.
She took it a step further, however. She found a bright side to the entire coronavirus ordeal.
“It has also provided perspective in meaningful things in life and human connection,” she said in a text. “We’ve gotten such valuable, meaningful time with family and friends that I probably took for granted before but am much more appreciative of now.”
Of course, the risk does exist that the deadly virus will still be rampant by next summer, which is the latest the IOC said it would be willing to hold the 2020 Olympics. If the Games again get thrown into limbo, will these optimistic Olympians still be able to keep their chins up? Will Jones still be joking about binging on pizza?
Noble thinks not.
“If it lasts that long,” she said, “the Olympics being canceled will be the least of my concerns.”