Minnesota athletes train for Summer Olympics with possibility it could be postponed

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The spread of COVID-19 is casting doubt on whether the 2020 Summer Olympics will happen in Tokyo as planned.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should make a decision in the next four weeks. On Monday, IOC members said they expect the games will be postponed.

“What I’ve heard most recently is that it's pretty likely that the Olympics will be postponed, potentially for a whole year,” said Chris Lundstrom, the Minnesota Distance Elite coach. 

Lundstrom is training about eight to ten athletes to compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field in June. The event is scheduled to take place in Eugene, Oregon.

“They have not yet pulled the plug on that. I think they’re just waiting to see what happens with the Olympics,” he said. “We're just trying to maintain our fitness and develop the best that we can given the limitations in place.”

In the mountains in Flagstaff, Arizona, athletes Heather Kampf and Breanna Sieracki are working to build endurance. Both compete on the Minnesota Distance Elite team.

“It feels like we're both training for nothing and we're still training for something really important at the same time,” Kampf said. ”I don’t think either of us have any a less sense for determination for whenever the Trials or Olympics may come.”

All signs point to Tokyo Olympics being postponed

KSTP  spoke to the two over FaceTime. The elite athletes said they traveled to Arizona on March 10 and watched as COVID-19 spread in the U.S. and around the world. 

“I don’t think there’s an athlete who doesn’t feel the impact of this,” Sieracki said. 

This will be her first year competing in the trials, participating in the 5,000 m race.

Of the possible delay, she said, “I’m trying to really flip it around in my head and make it a positive that I have one more year to gain experience and get stronger and just learn.”

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to hopefully race there.” 

For Kampf, it’s a different situation. She participated in the Olympic Trials in 2008, 2012 and 2016. The 33-year-old said this was possibly her last year running.

“I thought this would be one great last opportunity in an Olympic year to see what I can do,” she said. “I think that postponing it for another year definitely makes me wonder, will I still be able to be fast enough? How are things going to change in my own body? So that can be a little bit frustrating to be that close to the next chapter of my life and needing to fully invest in this for longer than I expected.”

They are completing the high-altitude training together. When they return to Minnesota in a couple of weeks, both athletes said they will train alone while practicing social distance.

Track meets have been canceled through mid-May, according to Lundstrom. 

“My heart definitely goes out to the meet directors, the timers, everyone who doesn't have a job right now because there's no meets,” Sieracki said. “It goes well beyond the sport of track and field, it's impacting everybody.”

“We do see the bigger picture, just how important it is that these things are happening the way they are,” said Kampf. “I’ve been talking to friends every day who are going through such significant struggles, so the fact that this is kind of postponing our income potential is no different than so many other people as well.”

They said they will continue training, hoping for the best.

“The Olympics are supposed to be a time that brings the world together, it's supposed to be a celebration of that unity," Kampf said. "And right now we're seeing that unity performed in a different way."

Sieracki told us, “Hopefully, we can just stay ready and be healthy and represent our country if that ever presents itself.”