USA Swimming leadership is urging the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to lobby for a one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, according to a Friday letter from the organization obtained by Sports Illustrated.
The letter from USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey to USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland knowledges that “there are no perfect answers, and this will not be easy; however, it is a solution that provides a concrete path forward and allows all athletes to prepare for a safe and successful Olympic Games in 2021. We urge you, as a leader within the Olympic Movement, to use your voice and speak up for your athletes.”
The letter was sent after a conference call with all U.S. National Team swimmers that updated them on the situation.
The rhetoric from USA Swimming is notably stronger than what was expressed by USOPC leaders on a media conference call earlier Friday. On that call, the U.S. fell in line with the International Olympic Committee’s wait-and-see approach. Earlier this week IOC president Thomas Bach said the plan remains to open the Tokyo Games as scheduled on July 24.
"I think we would concur with them to say that we need more expert advice and information than we have today to make a decision," USOPC chair Susanne Lyons said. "And we don't have to make a decision. 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.”
The problem with that USOPC timeline, from a swimming perspective, is that this is a critical training window in preparation for the Olympic Trials in late June. In a sport that is heavily dependent upon building and maintaining an aerobic base, the nationwide closing of pools is wreaking havoc on training three months away from Trials.
“As this global pandemic has grown, we have watched our athletes’ worlds be turned upside down and watched them struggle to find ways to continue to prepare and train — many for the biggest competitive opportunity of their lives,” Hinchey said in his letter. “Our world class athletes are always willing to race anyone, anytime and anywhere; however, pressing forward amidst the global health crisis this summer is not the answer.”
Hinchey seems to have widespread backing from his athletes, many of whom have voiced their concerns with the current situation.
"I appreciate the patience of our athletes, but this has been difficult on them," said Greg Meehan, coach of the U.S. women's Olympic team and also the coach at powerhouse Stanford. "The elephant in the room, of course, is that the games are still currently scheduled and we are asking our athletes to find ways to train in the middle of a global pandemic. It just doesn't seem right."
Meehan coaches Olympic gold medalists Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel, who have been out of the water for several days now. Other Stanford swimmers and national team members left California and went home in search of open pools, but almost all of them have been shut down now.
"I think there's an underlying mental health concern for our best athletes," Meehan said. "We've put them in a place where postponement makes sense. We need to take a step back, take a collective break, take a break and follow what our local governments and communities are telling us to do. It's time to commit to our communities and put athletics on the back burner."
American backstroker Jacob Pebley, a 2016 Olympian, authored an impassioned social media post earlier this week. It said in part: “USA Swimming has the opportunity to lead the push for the only moral option in light of this unprecedented situation. I am asking for USA Swimming to publicly advocate for the postponement of both Trials and the Olympic Games in the best interest of vulnerable people and already overburdened health systems around the world.”