Published 9:34 AM EDT Mar 22, 2020
Nearly three-quarters of the 300 athletes who participated in a town hall with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee support the postponement of this summer’s Tokyo Games.
The virtual town hall on Saturday followed calls by USA Swimming and USA Track & Field, the two federations with the most athletes at the Rio Olympics, to postpone the Tokyo Games because of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has brought much of the world to a standstill. At the end of the two-hour meeting, the athletes and members of the Athletes Advisory Council in attendance were asked three questions:
► Do you support the postponement of the 2020 Olympic/Paralympic Games?
► Do you support the 2020 Olympic/Paralympic Games going on as scheduled?
► When are you comfortable with the IOC making a decision to hold, postpone or cancel the Games?
Seventy percent said they supported a postponement, with an additional 23% saying it would depend on the consequences.
Forty-one percent said they did not support the Games going ahead as scheduled this summer, with another 34% saying it was complicated and they needed more information.
As for when a decision should be made on the Games, 34% said as soon as the IOC has enough information while 18% said they wanted a decision now. Another 23% said no later than April 15.
USA TODAY Sports obtained details of the poll from an AAC representative who participated in the meeting. The USOPC also has sent a questionnaire to a much larger pool of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, asking their opinion on what should be done and whether COVID-19 has affected their training.
The results of Saturday's USOPC survey echo findings of a USA TODAY Sports survey of athletes. Of the 31 athletes who responded to USA TODAY over the weekend, 21 said they wanted the Games postponed. Three more said it depended on the conditions and that it was too early to decide.
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“I would have real moral objections, if the situation was the same as it was today, to competing,” swimmer and five-time Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian told USA TODAY Sports on Friday night.
While conditions have improved in China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, much of Europe and North America remain in the grips of the pandemic. The health-care system in Italy, where nearly 800 people have died, has been overrun, while the number of cases in Spain jumped by 5,000 just between Friday and Saturday.
In the United States, more than 20% of the population has been asked to stay at home. Even before those restrictions were issued, most U.S. athletes found themselves unable to train. Universities and colleges began shuttering their athletic facilities two weeks ago, and USOPC training centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Lake Placid, New York have closed.
Public gyms and pools also have shut down, and there’s no way to know when anything will reopen.
Of the 31 athletes who responded to USA TODAY, 16 said their ability to train has been “severely” affected.
“I can’t really train at all right now,” said Olympic champion wrestler Jordan Burroughs, who is trying to stay in shape by lifting weights and riding his Peloton bike.
“You can’t bike yourself and kettlebell yourself to a gold medal in Olympic wrestling.”
Katie Ledecky, the most-decorated female swimmer in history, is landlocked, unable to find a pool she can use to train. Greco-Roman wrestler John Stefanowicz is using the grass in his backyard as a mat. Six-time U.S. gymnastics champion Sam Mikulak hasn’t been on a piece of gymnastics equipment since Tuesday, and those rings and parallel bars at the park won’t cut it.
“I’ve had a plan for four years to do Olympic-level routines, and right now I’d have to drop back to my basic routines,” Mikulak said. “It’s really throwing a four-year preparation out the window if they keep doing this.”
To this point, the USOPC has followed the IOC’s lead, saying there is no need to make a decision now when the Games are four months away. The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics is scheduled for July 24. More than 600 U.S. athletes are expected to compete in Tokyo.
In a conference call with the news media Friday, USOPC board chair Susanne Lyons said she agrees with the IOC that “more expert advice and information than we have today” is needed.
“We are affording the IOC the opportunity to gather that information and expert advice,” Lyons said. “At this point in time, we do not feel that it's necessary for us to insist that they make a decision."
But the chorus of athletes saying the Games should be postponed and asking both the USOPC and IOC for more clarity is getting louder. On Friday afternoon, USA Swimming sent the USOPC a letter urging it to ask the IOC to postpone the Games. USA Track & Field made a similar request Saturday.
USA Gymnastics has asked its Olympic hopefuls for their opinions, and CEO and president Li Li Leung said they will dictate the federation’s message to the USOPC.
“I’m a lucky athlete to still be able to train. But for most athletes, it’s actually impossible,” hammer thrower Gwen Berry said. “I feel the IOC is being really, really selfish in trying to push it. And there’s no need to push it.”
After weeks of insisting the Tokyo Games would be held as scheduled, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and IOC president Thomas Bach have shifted their message. Abe’s most recent comments did not include a timeline, a first, while Bach told the New York Times last week that “of course we are considering different scenarios.”
But that limbo is causing increased stress and anxiety for athletes, who structure their entire lives around a fixed point on a four-year calendar.
“These conversations are definitely getting had,” Adrian said. “They have to be examining best-case, worst-case and medium-case scenarios, and none of us know. That’s the most frustrating part about this.”