6 Big Questions in the Wake of IOC’s Decision to Postpone Olympics to 2021
What happens to Eugene 2021? What happens to people with Olympic qualifiers from 2019? What athletes gain from the postponement and which ones are hurt by it? And a proposal for what to do with the 2020 US Champs.
March 24, 2020
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee announced what had become inevitable: the Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled to be held July 24 – August 9, would be postponed “to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021” due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
That announcement ends some of the uncertainty hanging over the heads of athletes targeting a summer 2020 Olympics, but raises plenty of new questions; we’ve highlighted six of them below.
Given how rapidly the world has changed over the past two weeks in the face of COVID-19, it’s going to be a while before we have any sort of certainty on any of the issues below. But they are issues that, eventually, will have to be addressed once track & field resumes.
What does this mean for Eugene 2021?
Clearly, World Athletics isn’t going to hold a World Championships in the same year as an Olympics. So Eugene 2021 will need to be moved. The question is, “To when?”
Normally, World Athletics holds an outdoor WC every two years. That has never made sense. There currently is a global outdoor championship three out of every four years: WC, Olympics, WC, off. This is the perfect opportunity for that nonsense to end.
Our proposal: move the 2021 Eugene World Championships to 2022. We’ll then have a global outdoor championship in five straight years at a minimum — 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024, and 2025. Hopefully World Athletics will realize that works will and will just hold a Worlds every year there isn’t an Olympics.
There is already good news on this front. World Athletics says it’s already been in contact with the Eugene organizers and they are already considering alternative dates, “including dates in 2022.”
On February 29, the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials were held. There will be no Olympics in 2020, so should USATF hold a new 2021 Olympic Marathon Trials for the 2021 Olympics?
This is an easy one. No.
USATF already had an Olympic Trials and already picked a team. Yes, the Olympics will now be held a year later, but holding another Trials would be totally unfair to everyone who invested time and effort into the 2020 Trials — especially the six athletes who qualified. Even fourth-placer Des Linden doesn’t want the Trials re-held. Honor the results of the 2020 Trials and move on.
Anybody suggesting the Marathon Trials be re-run, just stop. There are 6 athletes who actually have so much to celebrate during this tough time, please don’t crap on their parade. #2cents
— des_linden (@des_linden) March 24, 2020
And if the fact that the name of the race in Atlanta was the 2020 US Olympic Team Trials – Marathon is bothering you, it shouldn’t. If one thinks of the race in Atlanta as the Olympic Marathon Trials for the 32nd Olympic Games, then it’s pretty easy to understand why a new trials race shouldn’t be held. Plus, the IOC’s statement today specifically said the name of the Olympics will not change — they are still officially the “Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.” They will just be held at some point in 2021.
The postponement could be a good thing for athletes not sponsored by Nike
The uneven playing field in shoe technology has been the #1 topic in the distance running world for the last year. A one-year postponement should help as it gives shoe companies much more time to catch up to the Nike Vaporfly technology and it also gives time for World Athletics to make sure its rules are appropriate for the new era in shoe technology.
The qualifying window for the Tokyo Olympics opened on January 1, 2019, (for the marathon, 10k, combined events, race walk, and relays) and May 1, 2019 (for all other events). Should that window be adjusted now that the Games won’t be taking place until 2021?
In our opinion, no. The Tokyo Olympic standards are the toughest ever; any standards achieved in 2019 or the first part of 2020 should be honored, even if some of them were earned 2+ years before the Games begin.
The bigger issue for World Athletics to sort out is how the World Rankings fit into all this. Remember, World Athletics announced back in March 2019 that it was making sweeping changes to its Olympic qualification system. The auto qualifying standards for the Tokyo Olympics would be much tougher so that World Athletics could make use of its new World Rankings.
“The process is designed to achieve about 50 percent of the target numbers for each event through Entry Standards and the remaining 50 percent through the IAAF World Ranking System,” World Athletics wrote.
The problem is that for most track & field athletes, only performances from the last 12 months count toward your World Ranking (for 10k runners, marathoners, and combined eventers, it’s the last 18 months). But if the 2020 season is significantly reduced or cancelled, many athletes could be starting from scratch when it comes to improving their World Ranking in 2021.
World Athletics knows this is an issue and said today it will do “whatever we can” to have a track season in 2020.
“Athletics will continue to do whatever we can to preserve and create an outdoor season of one-day meetings in 2020, starting and ending later than usual, so athletes, when they are able and it is safe to, will have access to competitions in every region.”
In addition, World Athletics said it “will also expedite our current review of the Olympic qualification system, in cooperation with the IOC, and release any changes to the process as soon as possible so athletes know where they stand.”
Which athletes benefit the most/lose the most from the postponement?
Any athlete on the comeback from injury or absence from the sport will benefit. The #1 name that fits this bill is David Rudisha. After struggling with injury and personal turmoil, he was attempting a comeback to shoot for an unprecedented third Olympic gold in the 800 but was significantly overweight to start the year. Though he’ll be a year older — 32, which is ancient for an 800 runner — he has much more time to get back into shape.
Two athletes that set world records in track at the last Olympics, Wayde van Niekerk and Almaz Ayana, could also benefit as they have been slow to return to their old form after getting injured in 2017. Women’s 10,000 world record holder Ayana has only raced once since November 2017, while the 400 WR holder van Niekerk hasn’t raced outside of South Africa since 2017. Sprinter Trayvon Bromell, still ony 24, now has an extra year to try to get back to his old form as well.
The biggest losers with the postponement are a) anyone in supreme form right now and; b) anyone who is up there in age.
If you are Donavan Brazier and in the form of your life, you wanted the Olympics to happen this year as who knows if you’ll be in the same form in 2021.
And while COVID-19 has suspended sports worldwide, it hasn’t suspended Father Time’s inevitable march. Kenenisa Bekele will be 39 when the 32nd Summer Olympics are held — 12 years since his last World/Olympic medal.
Eliud Kipchoge also loses out from the postponement as he too will also be a year older — 36, officially — and the advantages he’s had in shoe technology may be reduced.
Four-time Olympic champ Mo Farah, who at 37 was already set to become the oldest Olympic 10,000-meter finalist in history, will be 38 in Tokyo.
And will athletes hanging on for one last go-around like Allyson Felix (35 in Tokyo) or Nick Willis (38) stick it out for an extra 12 months? Or have we seen the last of them as pros?
Another interesting to think about is the financial impact this will have on athletes. We’ve always been told that most sponsorship contracts are designed to end in an Olympic year. We reached out to an agent to see if that was the case and to get what he or she thought would happen. Here is their reply.
“Yes, most [contracts] do [end in Olympic year]… but almost all contracts also have a 6-month “right of first refusal,” so I assume most athletes who are viable contenders would get at least a one-year extension.”
What happens to the US Olympic Trials? Will we have to wait until 2021 to see the new Hayward Field?
Originally, the 2020 US Olympic Trials were scheduled to be held June 19-28 at the new Hayward Field in Eugene. Clearly that’s not going to happen. Obviously, there is no Olympic team to qualify for in 2020. And given the delays to the 2020 outdoor track season, athletes could only be a few weeks into their seasons by the middle of June — and that’s under the absolute best-case scenario. Plus one of the main reasons that USATF cited in asking for an Olympic postponement earlier this week was that athletes would be under too much stress if forced to try to train during the COVID-19 quarantines.
One idea we like (credit to The Oregonian’s Ken Goe for coming up with this idea): rebrand the Trials as a regular USATF Outdoor Championship, push it off until August or September 2020, and keep it at Hayward Field. While the winners wouldn’t go to the Olympics (there would be a separate Trials in 2021), if we do end up having an outdoor season, that would be a big meet for all Americans to look forward to at a brand-new stadium. It wouldn’t totally replace the Olympics, but it’s not a bad Plan B.
Of course, that’s assuming Hayward Field is completed in time. New Hayward was supposed to open May 16-17 for the Pac-12 Championships, but that meet was canceled. Next on the schedule was the Oregon high school state meet, May 28-30, but that meet has been moved as well, in part out of concern that Hayward wouldn’t be ready yet (the coronavirus certainly can’t have helped with construction).
That means that (for now) the Pre Classic (June 6-7) is the first scheduled meet to be held at the new Hayward Field. But if Pre is canceled/postponed or Hayward isn’t finished in time, that could change as well. Right now, no one knows for sure when new Hayward will host its first meet.
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