Benefield: Kim Conley among athletes pondering Olympic delay
Kim Conley remembers the precise day she saw her vision for her 2020 Olympic dreams take a dramatic left turn. It was that day, mid-month, when major sporting events were getting postponed, then canceled altogether, one after another in a cascade of updates, pings and Tweets as the coronavirus pandemic grew before our eyes and took out just about everything in its path.
“It was Thursday, March 12,” Conley, a 2004 Montgomery High School grad and two-time Olympian, said from her current outpost in Flagstaff, Arizona. “I was constantly getting ESPN updates on my phone.”
The update she didn’t get? The International Olympic Committee’s decision on the fate of the summer games in Tokyo. The decision that would affect her life and work, her dreams and day-to-day actions.
“I kept going, ‘Are the Olympics going to be among them?’ ” she said of the constant cancellations and postponements. “It didn’t really make sense to me that they were being so stubborn.”
In fact, the IOC didn’t make the official call to postpone until Tuesday, until well after athletes and officials and entire national teams (we see you, Canada) condemned the committee’s seeming wait-and-see approach. The games will now be sometime in 2021 (but still be called the 2020 games, don’t ask) but it’s unclear exactly when.
To be fair, moving a thing such as the Olympics is not easy lifting. Billions of dollars are at stake and thousands of athletes will be affected, not to mention the people and government of the host country, Japan. For perspective, consider this: The games have never been postponed and they have been canceled just three times, all for world wars: In 1916, 1940 and 1944.
The track and field as well as swimming world championships were already scheduled for 2021. Holding the Olympics in the spring is possible but poses some logistical challenges with other major sports.
For now, all we know — all athletes really know — is that training plans, dreams and schedules that have for months and years all been laser-focused on games that were to be held July 24-Aug. 9 must now be recalibrated in a major way.
For Conley, who turned 34 two weeks ago and is a contender in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, a yearlong wait could be devastating. Or, she says, it could be a gift.
And at least it’s definite. No more openly wondering what the IOC will do.
“I really just felt relieved,” she said of the moment she got the news this week. “I felt like the writing was on the wall.”
To postpone for a month or two would have wreaked havoc. And for athletes who don’t have access to gyms and pools and other places of training, how fair would that be?
“It’s the Olympics, it’s the entire world coming together,” she said. “We don’t know how (coronavirus) is going to grow and spread. You want every athlete to have a fair build-up.”
And it takes a lot of the guesswork out to have it a full calendar year in the future.
“I think a year is much cleaner,” she said. “Our normal system is to have summer championships anyway. That feels right.”