Badgers' Track and Field Olympic Aspirations, Like the Games Themselves, Postponed for Now
Alicia Monson should be attempting to run a U.S Olympic trial qualifying time at Stanford and participating in a large gamut of track competitions leading up to Eugene, Oregon. Olli Hoare was supposed to run at the 2020 NCAA indoor championships earlier this month, fly back to his native Australia before returning stateside to finish the outdoor track season.
Both are seniors at UW in what should have been a season ending with their names etched further in the school's record books -- especially with Wisconsin hosting the Big Ten's outdoor championships later this spring.
Both also hoped to take part in competitions that, step-by-step, would help them reach a dream. In about 12 days, that changed.
On March 24, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Prime Minister of Japan announced the official postponement due to concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. For a couple of Wisconsin track and field seniors like Hoare and Monson, that was yet another decision that halted their respective schedules and what could be.
Mick Byrne, Wisconsin's director of track and field, noted his reaction to the news was similar to what was announced on March 12 when a couple of announcements shook the college athletics landscape. On that day, the NCAA announced its cancelation of its winter and spring championships. Earlier that day, the Big Ten scrapped the remainder of its men's basketball tournament as well as the rest of its competitions, both conference and non-conference, for the athletic year. The NCAA indoor track and field championships were slated to take place starting on March 13.
"Your gut reaction is obviously disappointment, sadness for all the kids that have worked so hard, but at the end of the day, you understand that this is all bigger than track and field," Byrne told AllBadgers.com on March 24. "We've got bigger issues to solve, a bigger problem, and we all need to focus on that and not on just track and field.
Once the pro sports leagues started their respective announcements and the NCAA cancelled spring competitions -- followed by United States Track and Field (USATF) & USA Swimming calling for the IOC to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympic Games -- Byrne knew it would not be long until Tokyo would not happen in 2020.
When speaking to AllBadgers.com last week, Hoare and Monson echoed similar feelings to Byrne.
“When you're not able to kind of achieve what you've been trying to do all season and to me -- obviously, finishing my career on a pretty, pretty amazing note from what I've actually done here -- it was extremely tough," Hoare said on March 25. "It’s frustrating, disappointment, like all those emotions go through you. You get frustrated, you think, 'Well, it sucks.' But obviously the situation, they made the right call. Everyone knew that it's a health issue, it’s a health risk, and everyone's trying to do the best they can to help everyone else out, and it was bigger than sport at that point."
"We've already had great careers, and we may or may not take the eligibility next year, but overall you can be like, 'There’s bigger problems out in the world right now,' Monson said on March 26.
In terms of potential Olympic races, Hoare was planning to attempt to qualify for the 1,500 meters. Monson stated she had not completely decided if she would run either in the 5,000 or 10,000 meters, though she likely would have ended up running the former.
The day before the NCAA indoor championships, Hoare made the call to not head back to his native Australia to attempt to qualify due to the risk of potentially not being able to get back into the country. Athletics Australia announced that it had postponed and later canceled its track and field championships.
He believes the Olympic postponement and recent news about the cancellation of the current season allows him to hit the refresh button and enjoy the rest of this year that includes finishing up classwork amid the newly-adjusted online courses UW currently holds.
Instead of traveling every couple of weeks, Monson believes this allows them to get into more routines that involve being a student, an athlete and "being a responsible human being."
“I still 'go to class' at the same time that I would and ... luckily because we're runners we get to go outside to run," Monson said. "I feel so fortunate to be a distance runner and not like a basketball player who can't access the basketball (arena) and practice with everyone. So luckily, we still get to run. Obviously, we don't have a weight room, but we can still do bodyweight exercises and stuff outside. So really just like focusing on what we need to do for ourselves is important.
"Then honestly, I feel like this time, even though you can't like actually spend time with a lot of people, it really allowed us to be more connected I think."
The two also have some potential decisions forthcoming. On Monday, the NCAA announced that it would "allow schools to provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility." In the statement, the organization also stated the following:
Members also adjusted financial aid rules to allow teams to carry more members on scholarship to account for incoming recruits and student-athletes who had been in their last year of eligibility who decide to stay. In a nod to the financial uncertainty faced by higher education, the Council vote also provided schools with the flexibility to give students the opportunity to return for 2020-21 without requiring that athletics aid be provided at the same level awarded for 2019-20.
Monson's schedule could be jam-packed next year. There is the potential of qualifying for the Olympic trials and hopefully later the Olympic games -- the latter of which was officially rescheduled on Monday to July 23-August 8, 2021.
She would also have to choose between attempting to qualify for the World Athletics Cross Country Championships that are set for March 2021, or the World Athletics Indoor Championships have been postponed and bumped to that same month.
Her achievements at Wisconsin are numerous as a five-time All-American that most recently included winning the 5,000-meter conference title at the Big Ten indoor championships in February. She also claimed an NCAA title in the same race last year.
“That's kind of the question for me," Monson said. "Have I accomplished what I wanted in the NCAA? Do I want to just start moving forward with a pro career? We haven't totally decided yet, and I've been having lots of conversations with my coach and others about it."
Hoare's potential decision takes in a number of factors. Being from Australia, the type of visa to apply for would change, along with its specific set of standards and flexibility for racing. Financial stability is key, especially if a professional contract could motivate him further to reach not just 2021's Olympic Games but 2024's in Paris.
He also values the experience of being an international student representing Wisconsin, something that he referred to as "wonderful" and "awesome." Like Monson, his resume as a Badger shows an illustrious career. A six-time All-American, he is a nine-time Big Ten champ across cross country and track and field competitions and claimed an NCAA title in the outdoor 1,500-meter race in 2018.
"It drives me nuts right now, going through schoolwork and thinking about what I'm going to do and what the inevitability is -- especially having this whole thing shut down -- and then not being able to kind of go through the usual season that you’re supposed to do or what you usually do," Hoare said. "To me, that's also a question that I have to keep answering myself -- what's going to be the best for me? What am I going to be able to develop as an athlete and to keep progressing on this trend that I'm setting for myself?"