ATLANTA – Nothing is guaranteed with the marathon. You can train for months to be dealt with bad weather or an injury on race day. Although Saturday’s U.S. Olympic marathon trials determine the six Olympians to compete in Tokyo this summer, what if that next race never happens?
The coronavirus has ravaged China and spread to at least 47 countries to infect more than 80,000 people globally and killed over 2,700. The Olympics, which hosts more than 10,000 athletes and thousands of spectators and media members, are set to begin on July 24.
Tokyo organizers and members of the International Olympic Committee remain confident that the show will go on “as planned.” Senior IOC member Dick Pound cast doubt on postponing, cancelling or moving the Olympics when he told the Associated Press that the fate of the Olympics should be determined by May.
Pound's comments went viral on social media but it is important to remember that he is just one of many members of the International Olympic Committee, and president Thomas Bach is far from making a final decision on the cancellation. He told Kyodo News, “I'll not add fuel to the flames of speculation."
Finishing in the top three in the biggest Olympic marathon trials field has been the main focus for the professional runners who have put months of training for this race. But when push alerts on cellphones or news stations are dedicating around-the-clock coverage to the outbreak, it's hard to ignore.
Scott Fauble, last year's top American at the Boston Marathon in 2:09:09, is considered among the favorites to make the team. It would be his first Olympic team but until he secures that berth, the Olympic cancellation due to the coronavirus is not yet a concern.
"It (crossed my mind) just very quickly and then I was like, 'It doesn't really matter.' It will matter then," Fauble says. "It doesn't matter for this weekend so I haven't thought about it too much."
Jake Riley, a contender for the team with his 2:10:36 personal best from the Chicago Marathon, admits that he would be "crushed" if his Olympics were cancelled.
"It could also be like the boycott year and then I get kind of an Olympian title with an asterisk next to my name," Riley says. "That would be really depressing and frustrating. There would probably be a lot of resentment about it that I would probably carry with me for a long time. Let's hope it doesn't happen."
The public outcry brings to mind calls to pull the plug on the Rio Olympics in 2016 due to the Zika virus or the swine flu before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The IOC stood firm and the show went on. The only Olympic cancellation in history happened in 1944 Summer Games, which were also set to take place in Tokyo.
Many sporting events in Asia and Europe have already been cancelled due to the virus. World Athletics postponed next month's World Indoor Track and Field Championships that were scheduled to be held in Nanjing, China to 2021. The Tokyo Marathon cancelled its mass participation race for more than 30,000 runners and will be run for just a few dozen elites next Sunday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked all Japanese schools to close for the month of March to contain the spread of the virus. There have been more than 180 coronavirus cases in Japan and four deaths. The Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama has seen more than 700 cases and four deaths.
President Trump has downplayed the severity of the disease and tabbed Vice President Mike Pence to head the United States’ efforts to combat the spread of infection. There are at least 60 known cases in America (40 of them linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship) and federal health officials warned on Tuesday that hospitals, businesses and schools need to make preparations for an inevitable threat.
For now, the U.S. Olympic marathon trials will be run but a race like the Boston Marathon sees more than 30,000 competitors from around the world. If cases continue to soar, we could see more intensity in the race for treatment than for medals.