(For our Highlights of the weekend’s top events, click here)
The coronavirus created another first last week as the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee held its Team USA Media Summit online instead of in-person, using Zoom to connect athletes and news media over three days and 32 sessions.
You may have seen some stories from these interviews, but there was also a lot of fact-gathering for later features that will run during U.S. Olympic Trials events or even during the Tokyo Games. There were a lot of questions about the impact of the pandemic, the postponement to 2021 and the normal challenges of getting to a Games, and even a little bit of actual news.
Here’s part one of our digest of some of the most noteworthy highlights from Olympic hopefuls and veterans, some of whom had a lot to say (these are from the closed-caption transcripts, with errors corrected as identified):
ARCHERY/Brady Ellison, 2019 World Champion:
● “I feel technically I’m better than I was in 2019 and easily 2020. My strength is coming back and if I can just figure out, you know, a few hiccups and my equipment and stuff that I have right now, I think I’ll be getting back to probably a level I wasn’t in before and way better than I was in 2019.”
ATHLETICS/Allyson Felix, 9-time Olympic medalist:
● “For me, you know, being [Camryn’s] mom is the number one job that I have.”
● “So right now I’m still preparing to run the 200 and the 400 trials. Now I’m just going to see how training unfolds. but I would like to participate in both at trials and, you know, see the outcome of that. That’s what i’m getting ready for.”
● “I do plan on this being my final Olympics. I’m going to take it as it comes as far as that. But I don’t see myself doing another Olympics.”
CYCLING-BMX/Connor Fields, 2016 Olympic Champion:
● “For whatever reason, people think that there is an added pressure because you are the past gold medalist [in BMX in 2016]. For me, I think it goes the other way. I feel, in a sense, less pressure. I’ve already done it. So now I just have this bonus opportunity to go for it again. But it’s not like somebody is going to come into any house and take my gold medal way from me. I will always be an Olympic champion.”
CYCLING-Mountain Bike/Kate Courtney, 2018 World Cross Country Champion:
● “I definitely was also hit hard by the cancellation, but at the same time knew that it was the right decision and was really grateful that they made that choice early and clearly and gave us all a new target to aim toward. but also the time that we needed as a community, as a country, as a world, to start to sort through this really big challenge. I think one of the things that, in my mind, that changed over the year, is I think as a young athlete your biggest fear is sometimes getting the opportunity and failing, like going and not having a great race and not having the performance that you want. and I feel like, for me, it was replaced all of a sudden by this new unforeseen thing of not getting the opportunity at all to compete. and so I think for me I now just really appreciate every start line I get to go to and especially, you know, lining up for the Olympics. that’s something that I no longer take for granted and I think I will just really appreciate the opportunity.”
FOOTBALL/Megan Rapinoe, 2012 Olympic gold medalist:
● “It’s always so difficult when you win because all of the amazing things come with it obviously. And I think, you know, more than anything, just the exhaustion and from a mental perspective and a physical perspective, all of it is the hardest part, so I mean, for us, this is a nice little silver lining obviously of Covid and of the pandemic, just to have, you know, a year to rest. you know. Some players played a lot, went overseas. some players like myself took more time for themselves, time that we never really get to get our bodies right and just to have that break, so I think, you know, of all the teams we probably have the most benefit just because we would have been so tired, particularly after all the wildness after [winning the Women’s World Cup in] ’19. So I think, yeah, everybody is feeling lucky for that.”
● “So my hope is that, again, and when we talk about, you know, equality in women’s sports, we always talk, first about investment, and funding and resources and marketing and branding and investing in – not just the players but the support staff and coaching and, you know, media, TV media, print media, all of it. Those are the things we talk about first, and I think anybody who, you know, watches us or follows us or has skin in the game and equal pay or equality in that sense knows that’s what we talk about first, and at the very end, we understand that if all of those things are done, then yes, we will most likely be requiring a much higher salary than we’re at.”
GYMNASTICS/Simone Biles, four-time Rio Olympic gold medalist:
● “Right now my main focus is the Olympic Games and then after I have a tour that we’ve put together, so I’m really excited to go around the U.S. with all the girls and do that thirty-six city tour and then afterwards, I’m not so sure because [my coaches] Cecile and Laurent [Landi] are from Paris and so they’ve kind of guilted me into at least being a specialist and coming back [for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games]. But, you know, the main goal is 2021 Olympics first, tour, and then we’ll have to see.”
● “I always feel like the Olympics are world peace, and that’s when everybody just comes together and no matter the differences any of the countries have, everybody’s rooting for each other and want the best for the athletes, for your country. And I think that’s really neat in itself. But it’ll be very, very strange because for a year now and some change, we’ve been kind of separated and only doing certain things. So, it’ll definitely be weird. Obviously, we’ll be in a bubble, but I think it’ll be some excitement. People are ready for athletics and sports to come together again, and it’ll be really exciting and it’ll be like nothing they’ve ever experienced before. And it’s going to be really special.”
GYMNASTICS/Yul Moldauer, 2017 World Champs Floor Exercise bronze medalist:
● “Growing up, I’ve heard the [anti-Asian] jokes, the stereotypes and I kind of just push it away. But last month I was driving and a lady cut me off and at the red light she yelled at me, “go back to China,” and for me, my job is to represent this country, so I take a lot of pride in it.
“And when i heard those words, I just kind of laughed and shrugged, because at the end of the day my job is to represent this country, no matter what. and no matter if an individual feels like they need to say something or harass me, I’m just going to push that away because there’s so many other great Americans in this country that I get to represent. so, for me, you’ve got to deal with some of the things that you don’t want to deal with. …
“The reason why I spoke out [on Instagram] is just to bring awareness and just trying to make people realize that things are going on. But at the end of the day, when I wear USA on my chest, I don’t think about those things. I’m there for a reason, I’m there for a job. so, for me, I take a lot of pride wearing those letters on my chest.”
SHOOTING/Ginny Thrasher, 2016 Olympic 10 m Air Rifle gold medalist:
● “I started rifle shooting when I was 14 years old as a freshman in high school. Five years later, I qualified for the Rio Olympics, and then I actually won the very first gold medal of the Olympic Games, and the day after the Olympics, I actually flew back to the U.S. to West Virginia University for my sophomore year of college and since then, I have graduated from West Virginia University, finished my NCAA career with a degree in biomedical engineering and then I moved about the time of Pan Am [Games] in 2019, I moved back to the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I have been here ever since.”
SWIMMING/Lilly King, 2016 Olympic 100 m Breaststroke gold medalist:
● “So I know that I personally have been drug tested 18 times since February of 2020, so the United States is doing everything they can to [test] athletes even more consistent with their testing at the start of 2021. So obviously we don’t know how the other countries will be testing so we can control what we can control, and I know the U.S. athletes are going to be tested.”
● “My mom likes to joke around that I am fourth generation of very strong females, so I think it stems from my family, and how we act, and that we, you know, we don’t really care what other people think about us, and we’re going to do what we set our minds to, and that’s just kind of who I am. It’s shocking, I enjoy being myself. It’s something that I need to deal with, and I’m not exactly hiding behind a wall, that’s not me. So it’s easier to be myself, and I’ve kind of always been like that, so might as well stick with it.”
● “Personally I don’t agree with the limitations on the protests. I know, you know, the Olympics is about the spirit of the Olympics, and fairness and fair play, and I don’t see why that should be restricted to just sports.”
TAEKWONDO/Paige McPherson, 2012 Olympic 67 kg bronze medalist:
● “Whenever we refer to the Olympics, we say it’s its own monster, and it’s solely because of those exterior pressures. In Taekwondo, generally so, we don’t necessarily have that big audience. Whenever we finally qualify to the Olympics, that crowd kind of gets to us, maybe. It’s just a different environment.”
WRESTLING/Adeline Gray, five-time World 67-75-76 kg Champion:
● “I spent a few more days at the [Rio Olympic Village] than Kyle [Snyder] did, but for the most part we trained at that other [USOPC training] location. We got into a little partying. They had some community events where a lot of different athletes that come and had music and dancing and just some different activities and you have a job to do. And some of those things are outside of your norm of what is a typical energy expenditure leading up to a major competition.
“A lot of it is kind of just distractions and I realized that in Rio I had a few too many distractions. So I had made a plan before Covid-19 and everything hit, that I wasn’t going to attend the opening ceremonies. I was going to limit my exposure when it comes to the media or some outside activities. And so I don’t know if I’m heartbroken by some of the changes that’s are going to go on, but I’m a little saddened for my teammates. This is their first Olympics, and just to have the chance to go through the experiences is nice. … But for me, I think it’s a positive thing to be able to just make it feel like a standard tournament, where we focus on each other and fairly protected and get to get our bouts in.”
WRESTLING/Kyle Snyder, 2016 Olympic 97 kg Freestyle gold medalist:
● “I’m going to let my talking happen when I’m on the mat, you know? The thing I really care about is getting the job done and winning when I’m on the mat and wrestle in a way I know I can wrestle. Interviews and social media and the other stuff, I don’t care about it. I just want to compete hard and dominate really. That’s what I’m focused on.”
USOPC/Bahati VanPelt, Chief of Athlete Services:
● “We will have five mental health experts on site in Tokyo for our athletes and staff, a Games first. We’ll have four mental health offices, two for the Olympic Games and two for the Paralympic Games along with our new mental health director, Jessica Bartley, who will be available to the staff and the athletes and [National Governing Body] staff in case something from the mental health side should arise. We’ll have increased background checks and require SafeSport training. many of these changes and improvements are based on athlete feedback.”
USOPC/Rick Adams, Chief of Sport Performance:
● “We will be having, as you said, a high-performance training center in Tokyo. It will be located in Setagaya City [a Tokyo district], where it will be more than a dozen sports that will be using that facility and we have got nutrition, sports science, we’ve got a track, multiple venues for our teams. We are, of course, are taking all of the precautions that we need to, to make sure that’s a safe and healthy environment and that involves everything from the transportation and athletes coming to and from the Village. But as it stands now, we do have a high-performance training center. Setagaya City has been an amazing partner for Team USA. We’re excited about the facilities, we’re excited about, as you said, competitively, what it will allow us to do. And so, we’re in a position where we want to replicate what we’ve done over the years at the summer Games.”
More in part two on the Team USA Media Summit!
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