Olympic Postponement Brings Sadness, Resolution, Resilience, Say Top Coaches

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Mark Schubert Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Mark Schubert doesn’t take early dismissal of practice lightly. So when the Mission Viejo Nadadores head coach, a man who’s been on the staff of eight Olympic teams, got official word Tuesday that the 2020 Olympic Games would be postponed to the summer of 2021, the symbol of dispersing the group carried finality.

Schubert had secured special dispensation for his Olympic Trials group to continue training amid restrictions over the coronavirus outbreak. But the postponement of the Games and Trials ended that.

“I had called and been in touch with a lot of the parents that had kids who were going to Olympic Trials, when it was anticipated that this would happen,” Schubert said by phone Tuesday.

“I didn’t talk to the kids because I didn’t want them to get too discouraged too soon, but they all watch the news and anticipated what was going to happen. It was pretty interesting yesterday, they all showed up at workout with a pretty good attitude, and almost all of them indicated that they wanted to continue training.”

These are extraordinary circumstances, but few people can appreciate an Olympic hiatus quite like Schubert. The legendary coach’s first Olympic delegation was the 1980 team that missed the Moscow Games due to the American boycott. Then, he had to counsel swimmers deciding if they were going to train for four more years to reach the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

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Mark Schubert. Photo Courtesy: Peter Bick

This time, the additional year from the Olympic postponement is difficult, but not as onerous.

“In that case, there was such bitterness because those guys had to decide if they have to hang on for four more years,” Schubert said.

“I don’t think it’s as hard to hang on for one more year. But if they’ve made the decision, you can’t help but feel sorry for them because you know they’ve made a lot of sacrifices, have focused on it and are working hard.

“I hope that they all still get a second chance, but I know that some will decide to hang it up. It’s a bad situation for them and a bad situation for the United States, because we’re going to lose talent.”

“The way it is hitting the athletes is as varied as the athletes themselves”

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Jack Bauerle; Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

Jack Bauerle, the longtime University of Georgia coach and the head women’s coach for the 2008 American Olympic team, sees athletes taking this news in a variety of ways, depending on where they are in their careers.

“It is hard,” he said. “The way it is hitting the athletes is as varied as the athletes themselves. They all have a different stake. We have shots for Olympic spots and medals, some that had aspirations of getting a second swim at trials, some who wanted top eight. As long as they have aspirations of excellence we tried to treat them the same.”

Schubert’s initial reaction to the news wasn’t surprise, the blow cushioned by weeks of build up to an increasingly inevitable Olympic postponement. Like many athletes and coaches who have spoken out in recent days, he found a middle ground: While it’s sad to see the Olympic dream deferred, there’s a benefit for athletes to have a decision and a new calendar to work toward.

“I have mixed feelings,” Schubert said. “I’m really disappointed the Olympics aren’t going to happen when kids have put in so much effort for so many years, especially this year. … But in another way, looking at the positive side, I think they’re all relieved to know where they’re going. Before this week, they didn’t know what they were training for. They didn’t know if the trials were going to happen, if the Olympics were going to happen or not. Now they know they’ve got a decision to make if they’re going to continue training for this year.”

Schubert looks to the bright side. He cites two Mission Viejo swimmers, Michael Brinegar (on an Olympic redshirt year from Indiana University) and 16-year-old Katie Crom, who will benefit from the extra year. For many others, it’s not a make-or-break time. That’s the reaction that Stanford and U.S. women’s coach Greg Meehan had about Katie Ledecky, telling the New York Times that, “I don’t think this summer was going to be the best she was ever going to be. I think she’s going to be better next year.”

Bauerle also had mixed emotions about the Olympic postponement. His heart goes out in particular to the older swimmers. But he’s also optimistic that the greater American swimming community will take this news in stride

“It is pretty tough on some athletes who had this as their last shot in their plans,” he said.

“Now everything is moved back a year. That impacts the older athlete more than the younger athlete. Some of them have put masters degrees, law degrees, medical degrees on hold. … I think USA athletes are tough and I think we will come out of this as good, or better. I think our system breeds toughness.”

2 comments

  1. avatar
    art gramer

    our U.S. swimmers are champions in and out of the pool. while I ache for those who pointed towards this year, that ache is so small compared to losing anh of them to this viral thief. I am so proud of them and their dedication. they will carry this lesson into their lives ahead.

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      Indeed… snap for a great many around the world, too

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