Team USA Olympians reflect as Tokyo 2020 approaches

With about three months until the traditional Olympic torch arrives at its last stop in Tokyo, athletes worldwide are preparing themselves to put their best to the test at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

After being delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tokyo Summer Games will occur in July and August, with preliminary events on July 21 and 22. The Paralympics, also delayed, is currently set to take place from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5. Although it is expected for Japanese fans to be in attendance for the events, international visitors will not be allowed to attend the games according to the Tokyo organizing committee.

Athletes from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee expressed their experiences during the uncertainty of the games on Wednesday and added their thoughts of having the opportunity to compete once more during a global pandemic. 

Allyson Felix, four-time Olympian and nine-time Olympic medalist (6 golds, 3 silvers) said that it was a struggle to process her disappointment and the events that transpired when the Olympics were postponed last year. 

“Obviously it was something that had to happen,” Felix said, “there was such a loss of life, loss of jobs and loss of normalcy all around and we were going through it with everyone.”

She also added that it was challenging to maintain the same level of energy and motivation as the year went on. One instance was Felix’s and her coach’s need to improvise for training due to losing access to a running track as the lockdown restrictions of Los Angeles, her hometown, were imposed.

Sprinter Allyson Felix poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 7, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo by Sean F. Haffey, courtesy of the USOPC.

“We’ve trained on the street, we’ve trained on the beach, we’ve trained everywhere,” Felix said. “I’ve gone on runs before in my neighborhood, but I have never sprinted through the streets.”

Felix also mentioned a moment that happened to her as she saw one of her neighbors come out to see what is going on and energetically yelled during one of her runs. 

Fukushima, JAPAN – 25 MARCH, 2021 : The Olympic Torch Relay Grand Start in Naraha Town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan. Photo courtesy of Internation Olympic Committee.

“That was probably one of the most bizarre thing,” Felix said.  

The challenges and the attempts to maintain the momentum and energy for the entire year, Felix also used time during the pandemic to get stronger and more ahead with things; such as bonding with her daughter. 

“It’s amazing and challenging to do both [training and parenting] at the same time,” she said. “I’ll be able to look back and tell her about this journey that she’s been on as well. She’s really helped me find my voice.”

Felix competed in the 2004 (200 m), 2008 (4x 100m, 200m), 2012 ( 200m, 4x100m, 4x400m, 100m) and 2016 (4x100m, 4x400m, 400m) Olympics.

Felix plans that the Tokyo Games will be her last Olympics and will plan to retire at a later date.

For Adeline Gray, now a two-time Olympian in the Women’s Super Heavy Weight division in freestyle wrestling, the pandemic helped shed light on the issues of equality between men and women in sports.

When asked about the next generation of women athletes who look into her journey in the trials, Gray believes that there is a change in the community. 

Adeline Gray (red) wrestles Elena Pirozhkova (blue) in the 63 kg freestyle weight class during the finals of the US Wrestling Olympic Trials at Carver Hawkeye Arena on April 22, 2012 in Iowa City, Iowa. Photo courtesy of USOPC.

“I think a lot of that is just the acceptance of anyone who saw the trials,” Gray said. “We saw a group of young women who had coaches in their corner, had support. [The trials] had women truly embraced in this sport. I think we’re getting there right now with embracing women into these regional training centers, having elite coaches on their team, and opportunities for them to compete in the NCAA level.”

Gray added that all of these changes are only scratching the surface of creating changes in women’s sports.

“We’re still at one-third of the opportunities that the men have in a lot of situations,” she said. “With those comes resources that are financial, having access to facilities. Covid really highlighted the fact that many women don’t have [plan] B and C options.”

When the facility she usually trains at in Colorado Springs closed down, she expressed having a difficult time finding these resources needed in order to practice and prepare for the qualifying trials. 

“If me, a five-time World champion and Olympian can’t find a place or a home, its a challenge to do that,” Gray said. “I know a lot of people who struggled through Covid to find proper training locations. I just hope that, as we move forward, it’s equal in the opportunities that men and women have to have access to facilities, educational opportunities and so much more.”

Gray is the only U.S., male or female, to have won five Senior World titles and is the only U.S. woman to win World titles at Senior, University, and Junior levels.

Featured Image: DOHA, QATAR – SEPTEMBER 29: Wilbert London, Michael Cherry, Courtney Okolo and Allyson Felix of the United States pose after setting a new world record in the 4×400 Metres Mixed Relay during day three of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 at Khalifa International Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images for IAAF)