After a training session Monday, Alec Yoder opened a flood of text messages about a story from USA TODAY that revealed the Summer Olympics in Tokyo would be postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The next morning, while watching TV in his Columbus apartment, Yoder learned that the International Olympic Committee had officially delayed the games until 2021.
The former Ohio State gymnast, who graduated in 2019, had circled the summer of 2020 as the year he would become an Olympian well before he stepped onto a mat as a Buckeye. His dream was at least a decade in the making.
Now, he and dozens of other current or former Ohio State athletes with Olympic aspirations will have to wait another year to compete in Tokyo or attempt at qualifying for the games.
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“Waking up and seeing that, family members texting and calling, that’s really when the heartbreak really set in,” said Yoder, an Indianapolis native who has been training with former Ohio State teammate and fellow Olympic hopeful Sean Melton.
Former track star Maggie Barrie, who graduated from Ohio State in 2018, already had qualified for the Olympics for her native Sierra Leone in the 400 meters. She had been training at the University of Kentucky until two weeks ago when the university closed its facilities. That forced her to move back to Columbus and train at the track at Thomas Worthington High School.
Barrie, a graduate of Worthington Kilbourne, had pretty much been training nonstop since the end of 2018 leading up to the 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar, in October.
She then took a month off before continuing her training for the Olympics, workouts that consisted of weight lifting from 6 to 8 a.m. and practice on the track from 3 to 6 p.m. every weekday.
She was in the middle of a training session on March 12 when the NCAA announced that it was canceling all remaining winter and spring championships. Barrie said she was trying to avoid the truth of the severity of the health threat posed by the coronavirus, but eventually accepted that the Olympics would at least be postponed.
“I was really heartbroken and disappointed, but I expected it,” Barrie said. “It’s really hard. I’ve been training for this my whole entire life, but I think it’s the right decision in light of what’s going on.”
Like a lot of other Olympic-sport athletes, Barrie makes her living off endorsements and compensation from major competitions. While trying to figure out what competitions are still on the calendar and whether she is still qualified for the 2021 games, or will have to requalify, Barrie said that if the National Olympic Committee of Sierra Leone doesn’t honor the compensation she would have received at the games, it would put her professional career in jeopardy.
"I’m not sure I could do track anymore,” Barrie said. “Our sponsorship and our compensation, that’s how we survive. It’s our job.”
Sade Olatoye, the reigning 2019 NCAA indoor champion in the weight throw, redshirted her junior outdoor season in order to use this coming season to qualify for the games and represent Nigeria in the shot put and hammer throw. The Dublin Coffman alumna’s personal records in the two events are off the qualifying mark by 62 centimeters (24.4 inches) and 3.13 meters (10.27 feet), respectively.
“I knew my abilities, and with all the training that I had put in, that these (qualifying) marks I was definitely going to see in the outdoor season,” Olatoye said.
She plans to use the NCAA’s proposed eligibility relief to compete in the 2021 outdoor season.
Before USA Gymnastics recommended on Monday that the Summer Games be postponed, the organization surveyed its members about their views.
Yoder voted in favor of postponement, even though he’s confident that he would have made the team for his specialty, pommel horse. He was the 2019 NCAA champion in the event.
“If it was a cancellation, I would’ve voted to have it,” he said. “But because it’s postponement, because of how many people are sick, because of how this is still ramping up … safety and health comes first.”