Polina Edmunds wanted another Olympic run. The coronavirus pandemic stopped it.

Polina Edmunds
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Olympic figure skater Polina Edmunds finally got past a years-long injury battle. She anticipated graduating from Santa Clara University this past spring, and then, for the first time in four and a half years, resuming her skating career full throttle in a bid to qualify for her second Olympic team in 2022.

Then the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Edmunds, while forced off the ice for months due to rink closures, did earn her communications degree but called off the comeback in June. She became one of the few, if any other, U.S. Olympians to retire from competition because of the pandemic.

“If things were different with the last six months and coronavirus never happened, then I think I definitely would be in full training mode right now. I was very focused for the 2022 Games,” Edmunds said on the What Fulfills You? podcast published on July 15.

She expanded in more podcast interviews over the summer and autumn and in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“Now the landscape has completely changed,” Edmunds said on the Beyond the Rink podcast published Monday. “I have opportunities that I can take outside of skating that I don’t need to wait for, if I want to take them right now. I also know that with my plan of competing constantly this year, that’s out of the picture now because of Covid. That doesn’t really set me up well for later skating if I’m not practicing competing because that’s the one thing I needed to work on. If I can’t be doing that this year, then it doesn’t really feel like there’s a point for me. So that’s why I decided.”

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at age 15 (placing ninth), said she was flying high in early 2016 before a foot injury dropped her to absolute bottom.

She had just taken silver at the U.S. Championships for the second time in three years, after a brilliant short program. She was to compete at the world championships for a third straight year, seeking to improve on eighth-place finishes from 2014 and 2015.

But a bone bruise in her right foot, her landing foot for jumps, crept up. She withdrew from worlds in Boston and missed competition for more than a year and a half. She returned for the 2017-18 Olympic season, but withdrew from the January 2018 Nationals after a seventh-place short program, citing the injury.

Determined to skate at full strength, she took 10 months off the ice. Edmunds also didn’t run or do any other activities that could harm that navicular bone. She hiked and took up SoulCycle instead, while continuing classes at Santa Clara, where she was part of the Delta Gamma sorority.

“I had this huge comeback plan,” Edmunds said on the Bleav: When Your Sport Ends podcast published last week.

That plan was on track. Edmunds, out of competition practice after another year-and-a-half break, did not qualify for the January 2020 U.S. Championships, but said she got all of her jumps back, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

“I really felt super unstable competing when I tried to last year, so I knew this season was going to be all about putting myself out there constantly to get used to the feeling of competing again,” she said. “I had this new identity of being an actual woman on the ice and having more fluid, beautiful lines, rather than me when I was a little more awkward at 16.”

Edmunds wanted to compete all summer, putting herself in pressure situations, even in smaller events, to prepare her nerves for vying for a 2022 Olympic spot.

In March, rinks closed. Edmunds was forced off the ice into June, and in-person competition events were gone. Her mom and longtime coach, Nina, brought up the option of stopping.

“At first, it just felt unreal to even think about dropping skating because it had always been this huge part of my identity,” said Edmunds, who started skating at age 2 and competing around 6 or 7 and was profiled by The New York Times at 11. “But then as I started talking it out with more of my family and more of my friends, it was really emotional. Every time I talked about it, I would start to cry, just because I couldn’t fathom the idea of stopping.

“If you don’t enjoy the journey, then it’s not worth it. You can’t only enjoy the end goal, because you don’t know if you’re going to even get that end goal.”

Edmunds leaned on a university degree, which many Olympians don’t have at the end of athletic careers in their 20s. Though entering the work force now is difficult, she could put her skills to use while staying connected to the sport. She has skating seminars scheduled this month and hopes to perform in shows once they resume.

Edmunds, who wants to get into sports broadcasting, also created her own website — Polpowered.com. She started a podcast, “tapping into the slippery slope of the figure skating world.” She draws from her own experiences in discussing sensitive topics, including politics within the sport and body image.

Edmunds, at 22, is satisfied with her skating career. But she will miss the international competition, traveling and interacting with athletes from around the world.

“When I stopped, I felt kind of in limbo, and it didn’t feel like a lot of my days mattered or counted to anything, because I didn’t have that same structure,” she said. “Learning how to manage that and throw my energy into other opportunities and work, that was a struggle, but now I feel like I’m really going with the flow. I don’t miss the hardships of training anymore.”

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