Jenni Carlson: Olympic dreams on hold — as they should be — due to coronavirus pandemic
My Olympic dream is on hold.
Tuesday morning, the International Olympic Committee decided to postpone the 2020 Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic. After insisting for weeks the Games would go on as scheduled in late July and early August, the IOC and the Olympic organizing committee in Tokyo changed course and announced a one-year delay.
They listened to the outcry from athletes.
They listened to reason.
Even though I totally and completely agree with the decision — more on that in a second — I am also totally and completely bummed these Olympics are being delayed.
I was going to be there.
Earlier this year, I was invited to be part of the Olympic coverage team from Gannett, the company that recently combined Gatehouse and Gannett and includes The Oklahoman. The core of the coverage team comes from USA Today, which has several reporters and columnists who spend a good chunk of time covering Olympic issues. But to cover an event as big as the Olympics, they needed more journalists.
I was asked to join the team and was honored to say yes.
Our whole team had flights booked, and wheels were turning on story ideas and coverage plans.
Since I'd never covered an event overseas, I had started my own planning. New luggage was purchased. Ditto for books on Japanese travel and culture and language.
But now, everything is on pause.
But that's how it should be.
A week ago, I wrote about the former Sooners who are Olympic hopefuls in men's gymnastics. Because OU coach Mark Williams has a great track record of producing Olympians — and he was the U.S. Olympic coach four years ago — gymnasts have taken to staying in Norman to train. They often take grad school classes and help with the Sooners, and in turn, they use the Viersen Center.
It's a great motivation for college gymnasts to see some of the best in the world working out in the same gym.
But when OU shut down almost two weeks ago, they were shut out of the Viersen. If not for the kindness of former Sooner and Olympic gymnast Bart Conner, they wouldn't have had anywhere to train. He opened his gym, Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy, to them three hours a day.
Quite a gesture.
But it wasn't close to perfect, and that's not just because it wasn't the gymnasts' home gym or comfort zone.
They were still putting themselves at risk every day by going to practice.
Americans are being told to isolate, stay home and help slow the spread of the coronavirus. But because the IOC was saying the Olympics were going to go on as planned, those gymnasts were having to put themselves at higher risk. And because they have families and significant others and friends, they were putting those folks at higher risk by extension.
It wasn't right.
One of those former Sooners and current Olympic hopefuls was among the first to step up and say as much. Colin Van Wicklen stepped forward Wednesday on social media and called the decision to move forward with the Games "irresponsible and unfair." He made the point that postponing the Olympics wasn't about where the coronavirus pandemic might be in four months but rather where it is now.
"Give us, the athletes who have dedicated our whole life to a dream, a fair chance," Van Wicklen wrote. "A shot to be at our best."
That's why the Olympics are being delayed — to give athletes around the world a chance to be their best. And being their best includes avoiding this virus.
It's disappointing, but it's necessary.
Their shot at Olympic glory can wait just as my Olympic debut can.