Olympic athletes’ hopes and dreams were officially put on hold when officials postponed Tokyo 2020 until July 23, 2021. Of course, many athletes were already struggling to train with the closures of training facilities and shelter-in-place orders. Three months later, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) now looks to reopen those facilities with new safety guidelines.
A numbers game
The USOPC is trying to figure out how to accommodate hundreds of athletes safely while still enabling them to train at the highest level. Some facilities will be limited to as few as 15 athletes at first with increased capacity as time goes on if there are no cases or disruptions.
Athletes will primarily live and work together with little contact with the outside world. They will need to self-quarantine for up to 14 days or until they test negative for coronavirus.
Of course, the twin priorities of training and staying healthy are at odds due to the highly contagious nature of the virus. The nightmare scenario would be for an outbreak to occur at a training facility, potentially decimating entire teams or groups of sports. For example, the bobsled, luge and skeleton athletes may all train at the same place.
Fewer spaces mean there will be hard decisions about who gets to train at the facility, which is vital for athletes who earn much less than major sports professionals or athletes with lucrative endorsements. The limited space also creates a pecking order where the committee’s top priorities (likely higher-profile sports) get preference.
The other option is for the athlete to train elsewhere. This may appeal to some worried that group living increases their chances of contracting coronavirus, but some sports involve a team or require more infrastructure provided by organizations.
Change and unknowns are the only guarantees
These are unprecedented times for athletes and sports organizations, and there is no predicting how the lead up to the Olympics will go for athletes. Health experts predict that there will be surges in the number of cases in the coming months as people grow less vigilant about social distancing, so the risk likely remains high until scientists find a vaccine or a cure. Nonetheless, the spirit of competition is a powerful aspiration and one that will push athletes forward until they are forced to stop.