USOPC, prioritizing athlete safety, focused on Tokyo Olympics

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The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is collecting feedback from American athletes while prioritizing their health and safety as the Tokyo Games approach.

“It’s of course our deepest wish that athletes of the world can still travel to Tokyo,” USOPC chair Susanne Lyons said after a board of directors meeting Friday. “Our hearts literally ache with the fear and stress and uncertainty.”

Many U.S. Olympic hopefuls have said they are unable to train properly after facilities were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training centers in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid, N.Y., had to close due to government mandates, though athletes who are residents have been allowed to continue living there even without use of training facilities.

“As diverse as our athletes are, so, too, are their perspectives on this issue, which adds to the complication factor,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said. “As you might imagine, there are athletes out there for whom this feels like their opportunity, their only opportunity, their one chance.

“It is our hope that our athletes have the ability to achieve their dreams in some capacity. Certainly, we are focused on Tokyo 2020 and will continue to be as long as that possibility stays ahead of us.”

Like the IOC, the USOPC has been planning scenarios for different potential outcomes. The Olympics remain scheduled to open July 24. Lyons said she had several conversations in recent days with IOC leaders, relaying the feedback the USOPC is receiving from American athletes.

USOPC leaders agreed with the IOC’s view that it’s too early to alter the Olympic plan with the amount of information and advice they have now from health officials.

“We don’t have to make a decision [now],” Lyons¬†said. “Our Games are not next week or two weeks from now. They’re four months from now, and I think a lot may change in that time period. So we are affording the IOC the opportunity to gather that information and expert advice. At this point in time, we do not feel it is necessary for us to insist that they make a decision.

“The decision about the Games themselves does not lie directly with us. That lies with a combination of the World Health Organization, the Japanese government and the IOC. But I can assure you that there is no circumstance when the USOPC would send our athletes into harm’s way if we did not believe it was safe.”

Hirshland made a point to American athletes who may be struggling with the need to train versus safety.

“Let me ask for your [the media’s] help in making very clear to the athlete population, and this is to the elite athlete population, but all the way down to every club and pool and rink owner out there,” Hirshland said. “As Americans, right now, our No. 1 priority needs to be our health and safety and the containment of this virus, period, full stop. That should not conflict in any way with the decision someone is making about their training.”

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