Texas Athletes Adapt To A Postponed Olympic Games

Mar 25, 2020

From Texas Standard:

Vincent Hancock had planned to practice on Tuesday. The Fort Worth resident is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in skeet shooting. Following a routine is part of his success, and practicing on Tuesday was part of the routine. But then he got to the range.

“I shot one round and … I was like, you know what, it’s not even worth it for me to be out here right now because I’m not into this,” Hancock said.

After learning that the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo would be postponed until 2021, Hancock felt completely deflated. He understood that moving the games was the right thing to do for public health. As coronavirus cases increased across the globe, Japanese, Olympic and Paralympic officials faced pressure to at least postpone the event. But when the announcement came on Tuesday, it completely derailed Hancock's finely tuned training plan he developed to ensure peak performance in late July.

“I’m just going to have to rethink everything now,” he said.

It’s a feeling that Olympians and Paralympians from across Texas share. Deja Young is a Paralympian from Mesquite who competes in the 100- and 200-meter dash. She felt her heart sink when she heard about the postponement.

“I just feel a sense of loss,” she said. “I feel unsure about what’s next, and a little anxious.”

Young has spent most of the last two years living and practicing at the Olympic Training Center near San Diego. Most of the resources at the facility are now closed, but the track is open, so Young has been practicing. As rumors started circulating that the games could be pushed back, though, she found herself losing steam.

“You can kind of feel that sense at the track sometimes, with everyone there,” she said. “It’s kind of like, Man, we’re here, but why?”

It’s not that she’s unhappy or ungrateful for the opportunity, it’s just hard to maintain focus with so much uncertainty in the air.

But the announcement of the postponement did give some athletes, like Michelle Carter, a sense of relief amid the letdown.

“Not knowing, you’re holding your breath, trying to still keep in mind – The Olympics could [still] be … let me still train as if," Carter, a shot-putter, said. "But now that we know for sure that it’s going to be next summer, it’s like, OK, OK, cool.”

But having more time doesn’t mean that training will be any easier. Carter won Olympic gold in the shot put in 2016. But right now, the Red Oak native can’t get into a gym to lift weights – an important training component for a shot-putter.

Her normal throwing spot, the Jesse Owens Memorial Athletic Complex in south Dallas, is now being used as a social services center because of the coronavirus. So Carter is practicing at DeSoto High School in the meantime. She's fine with the adjustment.

“I just need a shot put ring and a toe board, and I’m good to go – and open space,” she said.

The coronavirus has made practice tougher for other athletes, though. Kaitlyn Eaton is from Houston, and plays on the U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team. At the moment, no one on her team has a place to practice. She’s used to playing basketball every day, but hasn’t been on a court in over a week and a half. With no access to weights, Eaton said her team’s trainer advised everyone to lift canned food or milk jugs.

Like the other athletes, Eaton is disappointed, but says that postponing the games was the prudent thing to do. And she said for her, there is a silver lining.

“You’re with this team for so long – four years – and then after Tokyo, the sad part is it comes to an end. Some people retire, some people don’t come back. So this just gives us an opportunity to be together one more year, which is something to celebrate,” she said.

Digital story edited by Caroline Covington.