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John Powers

The IOC says the Olympics won’t be cancelled, but how will athletes train?

Prime minister Shinzo Abe insists Japan will "host the Olympics without problems, as planned.”
Prime minister Shinzo Abe insists Japan will "host the Olympics without problems, as planned.”Ren Onuma/Associated Press

While the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese hosts keep insisting that the Tokyo Games will begin on schedule in late July, the more immediate question is who’ll get to compete now that dozens of qualifying events have been canceled or postponed.

With only 57 percent of Olympic entries yet allotted, the international federations have asked the IOC to extend the qualifying deadlines or allow them to use current rankings. That would be a better compromise than the easier option of reverting to placements at the most recent world championships, which is how a large number of Olympians are determined.

IOC president Thomas Bach has said that places could be granted to athletes who most likely would have qualified.

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At this point, holding the Games as planned may be out of the IOC’s hands. If the World Health Organization advises against it or the Japanese government declares a state of emergency, the Olympics would have to be postponed either until the fall (when the weather is much better anyway) or next year, if not canceled.

Nearly two-thirds of the Japanese citizenry feels that the Games should be put off. The government, which has spent an estimated $25 billion preparing for the event, remains adamant that the Games will go on as promised.

“We will overcome the spread of the infection and host the Olympics without problems, as planned,” declared prime minister Shinzo Abe.

With the completion of the aquatics center, all eight of Tokyo’s permanent venues are ready to go. The facilities also include 25 existing and 10 temporary sites. While the torch relay, which will last for 121 days, still is scheduled to begin in Fukushima on Thursday, it will be held without spectators lining the route.

Sound advice?

US athletes will have to wait to train at facilities in Lake Placid and Colorado Springs as they are closed for a month.
US athletes will have to wait to train at facilities in Lake Placid and Colorado Springs as they are closed for a month.Maddie Meyer/Getty

While Bach has urged them to keep training, athletes are finding it difficult if not impossible.

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The USOPC has closed its centers in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid for at least a month. And the abrupt wipeout of their spring seasons means that college athletes who haven’t already achieved Olympic trials standards may not be able to and those who have may not be able to use campus facilities for training.

Athletes in other countries are facing similar shutdowns and travel restrictions. “The advice of ‘keep doing what you’re doing’ seems disconnected with reality,” said Brazilian swimmer Bruno Fratus.

USA Track & Field and USA Swimming, whose athletes are a habitual medal machine (a combined 65 in Rio in 2016), want a postponement. “Our world class swimmers are always willing to race anyone, anytime and anywhere,” federation chief executive officer Tim Hinchey wrote USOPC counterpart Sarah Hirshland on Friday. “However, pressing forward against the global health crisis this summer is not the answer.”

Waiting game

USA Baseball will be among the many different teams having difficulty qualifying for the Olympics. Their final qualifying event has yet to be rescheduled.
USA Baseball will be among the many different teams having difficulty qualifying for the Olympics. Their final qualifying event has yet to be rescheduled.Mike Ehrmann/Getty

The United States, which has filled only a small portion of its roster, may have to wait until summer to determine the remainder of its athletes.

The Americans have yet to earn their Tokyo tickets in boxing, men’s soccer, baseball, and 3-on-3 basketball, where this month’s international qualifying events were scrubbed. If the soccer tournament, which was to start this coming week in Mexico, were eventually to be held, the US team would have to reach the final to qualify for the Games for only the second time since 2000.

The baseball team, which missed its first chance at last year’s Premier12 tournament by losing to Mexico in extra innings, would need to win the Americas tournament in Arizona, which has yet to be rescheduled. The Yanks would get a third bite by placing second or third and then winning the last-chance qualifier in Taiwan in mid-June.

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The 3-on-3 qualifying tournament, slated for India this past week, was postponed indefinitely. If it’s held, the US men and women would have to place in the top three to get to Olympus.

Athletes in limbo

The upcoming domestic trials in rowing and wrestling now are TBD. Athletes in the big-number sports of track and field and swimming don’t have their events until late June and are guaranteed Olympic spots if they qualify. The boxers are in a frustrating limbo. They’ve made the team but still have to earn their places at the Americas tournament, which would have been held in Buenos Aires this coming week. Among them is Lynn lightweight Rashida Jones, the world bronze medalist, who’ll need to place among the top three. If the international rowing federation, which has canceled the spring World Cups and the last-chance qualifier, goes by hemispheric placement at last year’s world regatta it would be a boon for the US men’s scullers, who haven’t qualified in any of the four events … If the NBA playoffs are pushed into July (assuming that the season resumes at all), the best competitors wouldn’t be available for the US team. Were the postseason to begin now, only a dozen members of the 44-man pool (plus coach Gregg Popovich) would not be involved, and half of them would be Warriors and Spurs. As it is, three candidates — Marcus Smart, Donovan Mitchell, and Kevin Durant — already have tested positive for the coronavirus … The punishment from World Athletics for Russia’s blatant doping manipulation: a limit of 10 “authorized neutral athletes” for the Tokyo Games and a $10 million fine. The athletes, eight of whom likely will come from the Athletics Integrity Unit’s registered testing pool, include world champions Mariya Lasitskene (high jump) and Angelica Sidorova (pole vault), and four other global medalists … The US women’s softball team will play its first Olympic match in a dozen years when it opens against Italy July 22. The Americans, who won the first three titles before losing to Japan in 2008, will face Canada, Mexico, and Australia before meeting their Rising Sun archrivals. The top two finishers will play for the gold medal … AIBA, the international boxing federation that was so corrupt that the IOC last year took away its status as the ruling body, is considering changing its name if and when it is reinstated. World Boxing would be the obvious choice (like World Athletics, the new name for the IAAF), but that would risk confusion with the World Boxing Association. A special IOC task force will organize the Tokyo competition and is overseeing the qualifying process.

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(Material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews, and wire services was used in this report.)

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