Coronavirus in Oklahoma: What's a gymnast to do when your Olympic dream's a go but your gym is closed?
NORMAN — Yul Moldauer spun his legs around the pommel horse, Allan Bower swung from the high bar and Genki Suzuki held tight to the still rings.
Normal stuff for the former OU gymnasts with Olympic aspirations.
But these past few days have been anything but routine.
“It’s actually been kind of crazy what’s been going on,” Moldauer said.
Amid the coronavirus cancellations, many seasons have been wiped out, cut down at the height of the excitement. But for Olympic hopefuls, the end goal remains intact. Even though qualifiers have been affected, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have not been canceled or even suspended.
Training, then, goes on.
But like everything these days, it is different
For several days, the OU alums with Olympic aspirations had nowhere to train. With the university shutting down athletics like many other schools, facilities closed. That meant the former Sooners who decided to stay in Norman and train with Sooner coach Mark Williams found themselves locked out of their training facility.
Gymnasts with no gym.
Last Thursday when the NCAA announced it was canceling winter and spring sports, Williams suspected the situation for his Olympic hopefuls might be about to change.
“I don’t know what this means,” he admitted when he delivered the crushing news to his team Thursday afternoon, “but it seems like we’re headed towards maybe having facilities closed.”
Friday afternoon, that suspicion became reality when OU athletic director Joe Castiglione met with all of his coaches and informed them of the facilities shutterings
Williams, who was the head coach of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team and may well be on the 2020 staff once it's announced, asked about his Olympic hopefuls, if they might still be able to use the Viersen Center.
“We want to do what the right thing is,” Williams said, “but right now, they’re saying the Olympics is still a go.
“And it’s not like we can go down to the park and do gymnastics.”
The specialized nature of the sport makes it difficult to find suitable alternatives, but with Williams’ help, Moldauer, Suzuki, Bower and Colin Van Wicklen began exploring options over the weekend. For a time, they thought the U.S. Olympic Training Center might be a possibility, especially for Moldauer, Bower and Van Wicklen who are current members of the U.S. men’s national team, but the facility in Colorado Springs has gone on lockdown.
“You’re not allowed to go in or out,” Moldauer said.
Returning to home gyms was another possibility, and of the four gymnasts training with Williams, Van Wicklen opted to head back to his home gym in Texas. But soon after he made the drive from Norman to Houston, Cypress Academy of Gymnastics closed.
He put out an all-call on social media and found another gym, but he may return to Norman.
That’s because Bart Conner, the former Sooner and Olympian, has opened his gym to Williams and his Olympic hopefuls.
“We didn’t do anything hard,” Moldauer said of working at the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy on Monday and Tuesday. “We got stretched and did a lot of conditioning and just swing on every event just so your body’s going again.”
The bigger challenge in coming days may actually be mental.
Even though the Olympics are still on as planned, international events have been postponed and canceled in recent days. Could the U.S. championships or Olympic trials be next? What might that mean for the Olympics?
Could all this be for nothing?
“It’s definitely mentally challenging at times because sometimes you kind of lose hope,” Moldauer said. “You’ve just got to put your head down and work, and whatever comes, comes.
“You just kind of block it all out and just do your thing and be the most prepared you can.”
Williams said, “It’s hard to be a hundred percent committed when you just don’t know. … I’ve got to keep them motivated and on track that if it does come about, we’re ready.”
Williams told his guys to give the new set-up a few days. Even though the equipment at Bart Conner is similar to what they use at the Viersen Center, the feel is different. So is the vibe and the set-up in the gym.
Doesn’t mean it’s bad, but for elite-level athletes, small changes are noticeable.
And clearly, these past few days have brought big changes.
They may continue at Bart Conner. They may decide to do something different. But at least for now, they are working.
They are hoping, too.
“We’re just trying to make it all function so that we don’t feel like we’ve given it up yet,” Williams said. “Until we know more, we want to stay in touch with what we do.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.