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Sadness, disappointment, relief for Olympic hopefuls

Sadness, disappointment, relief for Olympic hopefuls

Gwiazdowski, White, Claxton will maintain training as best they can despite Olympics being postponed to 2021
Sadness, disappointment, relief for Olympic hopefuls
Former UAlbany star Grace Claxton laces up during a workout at the school in February.
Photographer: Erica Miller

Nick Gwiazdowski has been off the mats.

With no tracks or gyms open, Grace Claxton has been training on soccer fields, without hurdles at her disposal, which would be too dangerous to train over on the grass, anyway.

At least Emma White has the roads and hills in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to get on her bike, so she's been doing 60-70 miles a day.

"Yeah, I even have a little sunburn," she said with a laugh on Wednesday afternoon.

So there's not a lot any of them have been able to do, and even less to do now, after the International Olympic Committee announced that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games would be postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Gwiazdowski and White, both Duanesburg High School graduates, and Claxton, a former UAlbany track star, that news brought a mixture of emotions, as all three have aspirations to compete in these Games. But with much of the world on hold, it also came as no surprise, so they'll continue to train the best they can with no clear idea of when they'll be able to return to competition.

"You do the best you can," Claxton said. "And you don't know how long it's going to be for, so the uncertainty is crazy."

"We would be lying if we said we weren't disappointed," White said. "Over the course of the entire last year, every decision I've made has led up to this summer. Every workout I've done has been with the goal of competing at the Olympics this summer.

"I'm glad it's not canceled. We're happy about that. So now it's just going to be another year of that."

"Yes, there's uncertainty, but I wouldn't say it's tough," Gwiazdowski said. "That's the sport I'm in. You can't get frustrated with the circumstances, you've got to stay positive about it, and there's nothing I can do to control it. Once things clear up, that's when I'll make my move and get into it, so until then, we're just going to stay working, and stay diligent with our works."

The 27-year-old Gwiazdowski, a two-time NCAA freestyle wrestling champion at heavyweight for North Carolina State, was supposed to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials next weekend.

White, 22, had pretty much locked up an Olympic spot as a cyclist for Team USA, in the women's track cycling team pursuit event.

The 26-year-old Claxton also appeared to be a sure thing, having competed in the 2016 Rio Games for Puerto Rico, reaching the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles. She was supposed to finalize her spot at nationals in May, after which the Olympic team would be announced in June. The Tokyo Games were scheduled for July 24-Aug. 9.

She said that even though she'd been bracing for official word that the Olympics were off, it still stung.

"In the past two weeks, there's been a lot of talk about it, so it's been kind of nerve-racking, and when I got the news, I was sad, obviously," she said.

"I will say I'm motivated by the fact that I have to train, even though there's no short-term goal. Potentially, there will be some meets eventually for us to see where we're at. Its sad, it's discouraging, but you've got to keep a strong mind and keep it moving."

The schedule scenario for track and field athletes is complicated by the fact that all of the biggest competitions will be stacked up in 2021, now that the 2020 Olympics and indoor World Championships in Nanjing, China, have been postponed until next year.

The outdoor worlds were already scheduled to be held in Eugene, Oregon, in August of 2021.

"How are they going to balance it all out next year?" Claxton said. "I don't know how they're going to do everything, but the health of the athletes comes first, so they have to do what they have to do to keep the athletes risk-free. It's disappointing, because it's something you've been preparing for for four years."

Gwiazdowski, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and works out with the support of the Wolfpack RTC, said all he can do is stay in shape for when the time comes to flip the switch back into competition training mode.

He was dialed in for the Olympic Trials at Penn State next weekend, but has to settle for hitting the weight room and getting in some circuit training.

"We haven't heard any more dates, and when the other dates come out is kind of when you do different planning, but you have to keep in mind that you want to stay in shape and stay active, not just sit on the couch," he said. "Because when the day comes -- the Olympic Trials were supposed to be next week -- they come up fast when they're penned out. So you want to stay active, stay in shape and be close to getting ready at all times.

"You have a date on the calendar and you're preparing and you want to make that Olympic team and then go to the Olympics, but things get in the way and you accept it and move on and you carry on. It's not like it's canceled. It's going to happen. So you just have to continue to pursue that."

White said the cycling team has been expecting the IOC to shut down the Tokyo Games, and there was a little bit of relief when word finally came so everyone could move on without having that uncertainty hanging over their heads.

From a training standpoint, the team has switched from short, quick, intense workouts aimed at competition-readiness, to longer fitness rides around the Olympic Training Center.

"It's OK. The bottom line is it's not like we would have ever stopped training," she said. "The difference is we're taking it back to the basics, doing a lot of base miles and long rides to get that fitness back.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions, and no one has the answers to them, so the bottom line is everybody is in the same boat. All the countries are the same, so our  best way to look at it is to handle it better than them. This next Games will be particularly challenging eventually. The unknown is tough for a lot of people, so we're just trying to deal with that the best way we can. And I think we've got such a great team, and our coach is very relaxed about it and very flexible. So I fully trust everybody here at Team USA and USA Cycling to make the right calls."

She'll stay in Colorado Springs at least through April.

The cycling team was supposed to announce official berths on May 1.

"Hopefully, we'll see this start to die down at some point in May, but I don't think it's going to be for a little while," she said. "This is the safest place for us. We're with teammates, which is really great. We have sports med here, a doctor ... it's just a very secluded place. They don't allow anyone else in. And they feed us well.

"We are getting a little bit of flak for training together, but we live together, we're doing everything together, so I'm not very concerned about my teammates."

Although there was no official selection announcement yet, White's family has  been making plans to travel to Tokyo.

There's consolation in the fact that at least they're going to try to run these Games in 2021 instead of simply waiting for the next Summer Olympics, in 2024.

"It's the right call," White said. "Nobody's arguing that they should have it this summer. So it's disappointing for a lot of people. Everybody had plans, and it's just inconvenience. My family is handling it well. Everybody is just so relieved that it's not canceled completely.

"We're actually really lucky in that we can go ride on the roads. There's so many sports that can't train at all right now. I'm thinking about, like, swimmers, where there's no pools open."

"You've just got to thank God for life and health," Claxton said.

Reach Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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