illustration credits: Cecilia Romero

Every four years, the Summer Olympic Games come around like clockwork, and citizens from around the world gather to cheer on their nation and their favorite athletes. For some of these athletes, qualifying for the Olympic Games is a life-changing incident, and the opportunity to travel abroad to compete among the best of the best is a one-time event, marking the culmination of years of seemingly futile preparations. For a handful, the Olympics were essentially an accident, or a decision made on a whim for athletes qualifying earlier or later in life than previously planned. But for all, the Olympics are a big commitment physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially.

Aside from two war periods during which the Olympic Games were cancelled altogether, they have been held every four years since their conception. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee issued a statement declaring that they are postponing the Tokyo Olympic Games to Summer 2021, the first time in history that such a decision has been made. So now we ask: What happens when a worldwide pandemic brings these renowned games to a standstill? Olympic athletes from the disciplines of softball and climbing have responded to a handful of questions answering what many have been wondering. Softball and climbing, among a handful of others, are two sports in the unique situation of not being regulars in the Olympic Games. Softball makes its return to the Olympic stage after being discontinued following the 2008 Games, and Sport Climbing would have made its Olympic debut in Summer 2020, now to be debuted in 2021. Thus, the athletes from these sports have a unique perspective on how the postponement of the Olympics will affect the Games.

First, we need to introduce the athletes. Climbers interviewed include Team USA’s Kyra Condie (age 23) and Colin Duffy (age 16), and Team Canada’s Sean McColl (age 32). Each of these climbers qualified for the Tokyo Olympics at a different event. Sean McColl qualified for Tokyo in August 2019 after a 10th place finish at the IFSC Combined World Championships in Hachioji, Japan. Condie qualified next, at the Toulouse Olympic Qualifying Event in December. Lastly, Colin Duffy qualified at the beginning of March in the Pan-American Championships in his first adult international competition. The softball players interviewed, Monica Abbott (age 34) and Cat Osterman (age 37), both members of Team USA which qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in August 2018 after winning the 2018 World Championship.

Question 1: What was your initial reaction to the Olympics being pushed into 2021? Were you in favor of this decision?

Condie: I was definitely in favor of the decision, especially given that the other option would be to cancel the Games. I feel good about being able to train for another year, but I really feel for the athletes who were planning on retiring after the games or are in situations that aren’t as lucky as mine.
McColl: I was happy they were postponed as the Canadian Olympic Team said a couple of days prior that they wouldn’t send athletes in summer of 2020. The postponement meant I would most likely remain an Olympian.
Duffy: Initially, I was pretty relieved when I had heard the Olympics were postponed. At the time, I wasn’t sure how I would be to train properly with gyms being closed and obviously the spread of the Coronavirus was very worrying for traveling. I was also relieved as this gives me a whole year to train and prepare as opposed to a few months. This allows me to take some downtime now before planning out my training. I’m in favor of the decision, as it benefits everyone’s health and works well for my preparation.
Osterman: I was prepared for the decision. The USA Softball tour was halted on March 11th, and when I got home, I knew at some point this would be the ultimate fate. It needed to be. You cannot tell athletes to continue training as if things are going to go in July, when we are not able to continue to train. It was the right decision for our health and our training.
Abbott: I had mixed emotions. A little disappointment about the plan, training, and process that I had committed too was disrupted but I was grateful and excited for the opportunity to still have the games! Was I in favor? I think it had to be done.

Question 2: How will this extended time frame affect your training running up to the Olympics themselves?

Condie: I’ve definitely already changed my training. With over a year until the games you really have to pace yourself to not overdo it and get injured. I’m focusing on maintaining strength right now and developing skills, hopefully with more of an emphasis on strength building when the world cups and the Olympics get closer.
McColl: The extended year doesn’t change much for me as I operate very much in yearly programs. The Covid epidemic however has definitely changed things, for most if not all athletes. It’s a great time to be malleable as an athlete.
Duffy: I will have more time to plan out my training and I’ll be able to spend more time focusing on each discipline over the course of the year. This would have been much tougher if the Games were still in 2020.
Osterman: It just adds time to training. As a team, hopefully, we will be able to use this time to train more together. We don’t have tapering and peaks as much as other sports, so it just adds months to our time frame, that’s all.
Abbott: Well, everything sports wise is messed up right now, so it’s more seeing when the world will let competitions start again. 

Question 3: How does this affect your plans for the next year? Any significant changes?

Condie: I luckily was already planning on doing the world cup circuit next year and competing on an international level. I didn’t have plans yet to go back to grad school or retire so I think overall this doesn’t affect my plans for next year too drastically.
McColl: The changes I’m looking at once the Games were postponed are more if there will even be a 2020 World Cup Series. Once they decide if and when those competitions will happen, then I get to make the decision on whether or not I use them to test and compete.
Duffy: The postponement definitely has a big impact on my schedule. I likely won’t be able to get into a climbing gym until late May so getting back into peak shape could take awhile. On the other hand, I’ll get more world cup experience, assuming those events resume towards the end of the year. While it’ll be a slow start getting back to climbing and this has a big effect on some of my plans, it’s all for the better.
Osterman: It affects a lot, but especially financially. I was starting to put things in place for what life would look like after July. I was trying to plan a new career avenue, and now I have to put that on hold to train. While training, I have to figure out how to make money, and keep providing for our family. Also, we were talking about possibly trying to have a child, and that has to be put on hold.
Abbott: It just puts your life on hold another year.

Question 4: Do you believe that there are any groups of people that will be given a greater advantage by this extended timeline?

Condie: I think those of us who are already qualified are definitely in a good position. If I had to still be training for a qualifying event, which many people still are, I think the position is a lot tougher. I can focus all of my energy on the games and my preparation for them while others have to focus on still qualifying.
McColl: I’m sure we can debate this, as I myself can debate both sides of the argument. The only clear advantage would be athletes that still need to recover from injuries sustained even early 2020.
Duffy: I think having an extra year will be just as advantageous for each person. It balances out how much time each athlete gets to prepare as some competitors qualified last summer and while others were going to qualify just months before the Olympics.
Osterman: There’s no one to my knowledge that is gaining an advantage. I believe the world as a whole was hit with COVID19, so at some point, we have all been at a disadvantage with it. Personally, we are one of the few teams that have been completely named already, so it allows us to train with a purpose, and not with a tryout looming ahead.
Abbott: I’m not sure.

Question 5: What complications do you know of that will arise/have already arisen from the shift in Olympic date?

Condie: I think there are more than I can possibly imagine, but the biggest impact on my family and friends have been rescheduling their tickets/accommodation/flights for the Games. I also know there are a lot of complications with the venues, but I’m sure they’ll figure it out.
McColl: I read an article and a paraphrased caption from the economist they were interviewing was that if he had an hour to explain the consequences of moving it a year, he still wouldn’t have enough time to explain everything. In short, there will be endless complications, yet if there is a city that can pull it off, it’s Tokyo!
Duffy: It’s too early to tell what complications are going to arise, with the shift in dates. The biggest problem currently is that I don’t know when I’ll be able to access a climbing gym, but I’m not sure of any complications regarding the Games themselves.
Osterman: The main complications arise from COVID and the unknown of when we can return to a sense of normal more than from the delay of the Olympics. The Olympic postponement only caused complications with travel plans. United wasn’t the easiest to get refunds or credits for those flights to use for next year. 
Abbott: Financial I think is a big concern, and preparation/competitions the rest of 2020 and into 2021 are all questions now. 

Question 6: Overall, do you think the extra year will be beneficial or detrimental to your performance in Tokyo?

Condie: I think this can definitely be a benefit to my performance. I’m looking forward to having an extra year to focus on my weaknesses and hopefully be fitter than ever going into Tokyo.
McColl: A bit of both really.
Duffy: I think having an extra year will be very beneficial to my performance in Tokyo. Being only 16, the changes gives me more than a year to develop my skills in each of the disciplines and I will hopefully get more experiences on the international stage. If world cups resume this fall, I’ll get more opportunities to compete against other Olympic athletes than I would have otherwise. With all this in mind, I’ll be more physically and mentally prepared than I would have been this year. 
Osterman: For me personally, I think it will be beneficial. I came out of retirement, and have not had as much game time as some others, so this gives me more time for that.
Abbott: I think performances will be similar.

Each of these Olympians comes from a different life experience. Colin Duffy had been planning on qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games, and didn’t even realize that 2020 was a possibility until his performance at the 2020 USA Combined Invitational, which earned him his invitation to the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier. For him, the extra year gives his body more time to fully mature to the point of the older competitors. Others, such as Cat Osterman, had retired, gone into coaching the sport, then decided to come out of retirement to qualify for the Games. For her, the extra year causes everything in life to be put on hold for yet another year, changing a lot of plans. For all of them, this next year is definitely going to be different than originally expected. But they all agree that they’ll be better and stronger for it. I’ve met most of these athletes personally, and can attest to how incredible they are. And so, we all anxiously await the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games, featuring these outstanding athletes.

Michelle Patten (sophomore | mathematics)

The end result of when the integers decided to climb rocks.