LOS ANGELES (AFP) — United States athletes welcomed the decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics, exhaling a collective sigh of relief tinged with disappointment as they began to set their sights on 2021.
As the deadly coronavirus pandemic swept into all 50 states of America, US athletes preparing for the Olympics had seen years of carefully choreographed training plans left in tatters.
Powerhouse swimmer Katie Ledecky, expected to be one of the stars of the Tokyo Games, had been left without a pool to train in as restrictions in California shut down the Stanford University facilities.
Track and field star Noah Lyles — the reigning 200-meter world champion — had been denied regular access to a running track. Instead Lyles, who suffers from allergies and asthma, had been forced to train in a park in Florida.
Lyles and Ledecky’s problems had become all too common for US athletes, who had found themselves torn between the need to comply with local regulations restricting non-essential movement while simultaneously sticking to training regimens designed to help them prepare for Tokyo.
Lyles had no reservations about the decision to postpone the Games — and vowed to be ready for Tokyo in 2021.
“Straight up I’m tired of hearing I’m sorry like my puppy just died,” Lyles wrote on Twitter. “We will overcome this like everything else and then go win the gold in 2021.”
In a later interview with NBC, Lyles said the safety of athletes was paramount.
“Safety first,” Lyles told NBC. “The last thing we want is for anybody to get sick. I can train for another year, but if the whole world goes through a crisis and everybody gets sick, we won’t have an Olympics at all.”
Lyles had already achieved a qualifying standard to compete in Tokyo. But the 22-year-old believes many athletes would have missed out through not being able to train properly had the games gone ahead.
“It would have been very hard for a lot of us to even get a qualifying time,” Lyles said. “That’s the situation a lot of athletes would have been in.”
Ledecky, meanwhile, described an increasingly fraught hunt for facilities after her regular training pool at Stanford was closed.
After seven days without putting a toe in the water, she finally swam over the weekend in a private pool in someone’s backyard.
“At certain points there were times we didn’t know if cancellation was still on the table or if there could be a postponement until the end of this year or some other time,” she told the Washington Post.
“It’s good to have clarity now.”
Ledecky’s US swimming teammate Nathan Adrian, meanwhile, spoke of mixed emotions after learning of the postponement.
“Disappointment, obviously, because we would be training for four years, but then the other side of the coin is relief,” said Adrian, who had been targeting a fourth Olympic appearance.
Adrian, who underwent surgery for testicular cancer last year, is from Washington State, one of the epicenters of the novel coronavirus crisis in the US.