By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
The International Olympic Committee and 2020 host country Japan officially announced the postponement of the Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak on Tuesday and prospective Bahamian Olympians reacted to the decision.
Originally scheduled for July 24 to August 9, the event will now take place sometime in 2021.
Reigning World Athletics 400m champion, Steven Gardiner, called the postponement “devastating” to athletics but necessary given the state of the world amid the pandemic.
“It’s devastating. We trained most of the year for this event and it’s sad that we will not get to have the Olympic Games this year,” he said. “Then again, health comes first and it’s just something we can’t control. As athletes, we just have to continue working and staying healthy for next year.”
At the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, last October, Gardiner highlighted his pro career with his gold medal in the 400m. The Abaco native set a new national record of 43.48 seconds. It also placed him sixth overall on the all-time performance list.
It was Gardiner’s second World Championship medal after he won silver behind world record holder Wayde van Niekerk of the Republic of South Africa back in 2017 in London, England.
This marks the first time the Olympics have been postponed because of a global pandemic. Previous editions in 1916, 1940 and 1944 were cancelled due to World Wars I and II.
High jumper Jamal Wilson qualified for the Tokyo Games in February at a meet in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia. Wilson soared to a second-place finish with his lifetime achievement of 2.33 metres or 7-feet, 7 3/4-inches, which also matched the qualifying standard.
“The coronavirus did a number to everybody, including the track and field world. The Olympics has been postponed, which was a big one on the list of course, but at the end of the day it’s just one event for us and we have an entire professional circuit to continue to compete in. The focus is still on staying in shape and just trying to maximise our time for the rest of this year. Unfortunately, everything has been pushed back a couple months or even more. We don’t even know what’s really going on with this or where this is going, other than the major meets are all being postponed.”
Back home in Nassau, Wilson said athletes have to find a way to stay in shape amid the restrictions.
“As a professional athlete in the Bahamas, for training, it is difficult during the 24-hour lockdown, with limited resources you just have to do what you can do to stay in shape. They give us 90 minutes to be outside and we just have to use it wisely. We just have to tweak our training so we don’t peak too early, we just have to work our way into tip-top shape when it matters the most. So we have to push our training a few months back for the meets that were postponed. Just like everyone else we have to cope with it, no reason to complain just take it as it comes, wake up every day ready to apply and still get better,” he said.
“Most athletes just want everything to get back to normal and to participate in their sport. The NCAA shut down sports for the rest of the year which was a devastating blow for a lot of young athletes, especially those that have been preparing for such a long time for those opportunities. Whenever anything opens up, it can be a high school, college meet, I’m just excited to get back out and start competing again because I have been competing well this year.”
This season he surpassed his previous indoor best of 2.31m (7-7) and outdoors of 2.30m (7-6 1/2).
IOC President Thomas Bach discussed the issues surrounding the historic postponement of the games.
“What made us take this decision were the developments with the dynamic spreading of the coronavirus. We have, from the very beginning, communicated that we were monitoring the situation day-by-day, 24 hours a day, and that we would adapt to any changes, and follow the advice of the World Health Organisation. At the very beginning of this crisis, we had a clear focus on the developments in Japan, where we had to evaluate whether Japan would be in a position to offer a safe environment for every participant of the Olympic Games. This focus then shifted more and more to the international world,” he said. “We could see, on the one hand, the progress being made in Japan, fighting the virus and the efficiency of the measures being taken. On the other hand, the virus was spreading so rapidly that it became more and more a question of whether the world could travel to Japan, and if Japan could really afford to invite the world in the spirit of containing the virus.
“This situation changed very rapidly, this is why we were adapting our scenarios, which we have always been discussing with the Organising Committee: mitigating measures, quarantine, many other issues. We then came to the situation where, on the one hand, we were pretty confident that by adapting these protective and mitigating measures, Japan could be able, in four months from now, to organise the Games. At the same time, our doubts were growing whether the world would be ready for these Olympic Games.”
Prior to the Olympics, the world of athletics suffered a major setback as the Diamond League postponed its first three athletics meetings of the 2020 season due to be held in April and May in Qatar and China because of the ongoing outbreak.
All Bahamian Olympic qualifiers thus far have come from athletics: including Gardiner, Wilson, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Tynia Gaither, Pedrya Seymour and Samson Colebrooke.
“The significance can be very important because we all hope - and this is what we are working for - that these Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, celebrated in 2021, can be a celebration of humankind after having overcome the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus. These Olympic Games and the Olympic flame can be a light at the end of this very dark tunnel that humankind is going through at the moment, and which we do not know how long it will be,” Bach said.
“The agreement is that we want to organise these Olympic Games at the latest in summer 2021. That means that the task force can consider the broader picture and this is not restricted just to the summer months. All the options are on the table before or during the summer 2021.”
The Canadian and Australian Olympic committees led the way prior the IOC’s announcement and both said they would not send athletes to the Tokyo Games due to risks associated with the outbreak. Both also called for the games to be postponed.
According to insidethegames, World Athletics was the first international sporting body to lobby for the postponement of the Olympics when President Sebastian Coe wrote a letter to Bach stating it is “neither feasible nor desirable” to continue with the games as planned.