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The Tokyo Olympics Are Rescheduled for July 2021—Here’s How Athletes Are Reacting

Kells McPhillips

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Haley Anderson, American Olympic silver medalist in swimming, spent the last weeks of February scouring her California neighborhood for something she straight-up needs in order to do her job: a swimming pool. “My pool was shut down before there were talks of the Olympics being postponed, because of COVID-19, so that was putting a lot of stress on me,” Andreson tells Well+Good. “It was like, if I can’t find somewhere to train, and the Olympics aren’t postponed, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

Now that the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have officially rescheduled the Tokyo Olympics for July of 2021 to “protect the health of the athletes and everyone involved,” competitors like Anderson have breathed a well-earned sigh of relief that they won’t be endangering their lives or the lives of others by training, traveling, and competing—but that doesn’t mean they’re not reeling from the news. Events like the Olympics are a lifetime in the making, and a year setback—no matter how necessary—doesn’t come without a physical and mental toll.

Anderson says that, from her perspective, the sheer uncertainty of the situation has been the most difficult for her to navigate in the whirlwind of the postponement. Right before COVID-19 cases began to escalate on a national level, Anderson was training with the rest of the USA swimming team in Colorado Springs. “It was a pretty intense training camp, and I was swimming two hours in the morning and then lifting and doing some sort of late circuit for like for 30 minutes to an hour. Then I was swimming again two hours in the afternoon,” she says.

Events like the Olympics are a lifetime in the making, and a year setback—no matter how necessary—doesn’t come without a physical and mental toll.

Now, she’s facing a new reality: She simply has no idea when she’ll get access to a pool again. The loss has hit her especially hard, she says, because after earning a silver medal and Olympic spot at the 2019 World Championship, she felt confident going to Tokyo. “Since I was getting some of my best results this past year, I was like, ‘Oh, like this is gonna be great. This is all happening and coming together at the perfect time’,” says Anderson.

Now, more than a year stretches between the open water swimmer and her chance to compete in the Olympics.”The scary thing is we don’t know how long this is gonna last,” says Anderson. “On a normal year, I only take about two weeks off. It’s so hard to get back into shape. But I’m just excited to see my teammates and be back in the water, and I won’t take those moments for granted.”

Even those who have access to equipment as social distancing has taken place have found the postponement and delay in training disappointing. Beach volleyball champion and two-time Olympic medalist April Ross says that just a month ago, she and her teammate Alix Klineman, spent their days in the sand and at the gym, preparing to compete. “Normally, we train on the beach in the morning for about two and a half hours, and then we’ll go into the USA volleyball gym and lift. I lift for another like two and a half hours, which includes conditioning as well. And then, in that same facility, we have physical therapy and sauna training. So we do that for another hour and a half or so. Then we go home and the team and I will do a video session with each other and share notes,” says Ross.

As cases of COVID-19 mounted, Jennifer Kessy—Olympian and coach of both Ross and Klineman—grew more and more sure that the postponement was imminent. “I knew that there was a good chance that it would be postponed, but we were still going kind of full-throttle with training and just trying to prepare for every scenario,” says Ross. When the official announcement came, Ross says she felt “deflated,” but also knew it was the right thing. “You try to wrap your mind around it. You think about what you should be doing now, and about all the work that we have been doing for last couple months. Will that all just going to go to waste? It was a little bit of an emotional roller coaster when that came out,” she says.

“You think about what you should be doing now, and about all the work that we have been doing for last couple months. Will that all just going to go to waste?” —April Ross, two-time Olympic silver medalist in beach volleyball

Despite the disappointment, though, Ross didn’t sit still for long: She says that she’s since cleaned out her garage and stocked it with weights, purchased a spin bike to keep up with her cardio, and—of course—set up a volleyball net in the backyard. “I have a little yard in the front of my house, and I realized I had an old volleyball net. So we’ve strung up that volleyball net and we’ve been playing out there a little bit,” says Ross. “It’s not the same as playing and we can’t really do like training, but it’s fun to be out there playing and keeping a touch on the ball.”

Now that the Tokyo Olympics have been pushed back exactly one summer, Ross is confident that she and Klineman will be able to train for the 365 days leading up to the competition as an even stronger, more aligned duo. “Now, I’m just excited for me and Alix. We have a whole other year to grow and improve and get better as a team and I think that’s good for us.”

Colleen Quigley, two-time Olympian in track and field, says she was hesitant for them to cancel the Olympics at first, but changed her mind once she realized that other athletes—like Ross and Anderson—were having a near-impossible time getting their training in. “When surveyed [by the IOC] 25 percent of Olympics athletes couldn’t do their sport at all, and 65 percent more affected in some way where they had to change their routine,” says Quigley. “And then I started to change my mindset from being like, ‘No, I really don’t want this to happen’ to realizing that actually this might be the best decision.”

Prior to the postponement, she was training with the Nike Bowerman Track Club on the road, in the weight room, and on the track. She’s says that, while she feels lucky that the only thing she needs to train is her two feet, she’s working out alone—without her community. “We have 12 women on our squad. We all train together and we’re constantly talking,” says Quigly. “When I signed up for track club, I wanted a team of women who I could train with every day, and who would push me and help me get stronger and faster and better.”

This morning, Quigly went on an hour-long run by herself, listening to a podcast instead of chatting with her fellow athletes. Still, Quigly doesn’t need a pool or a beach to train—and she feels lucky about that. “When I see other people are having to go through, I still feel super grateful for the amount of training right now that I’m able to do. I’d say it’s like 80 percent of what I normally do,” she adds.

Quigley’s routine now involves solo runs, outdoor fartlek or hill speed sessions, and weight training in her own living room. “We can’t go to the gym, which would usually do like three times a week, so now we’re just doing that at home in our separate living rooms with bands, and yoga balls, and yoga mats. We’re just trying to get in that strength training… at home.”

Because you’re WFH just like these Olympians, here’s a list of workouts you can stream right now and a really important PSA about staying connected with the people you love

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