Less than a month ago, Molly Seidel became known as the barista who qualified for the Olympics in her first-ever marathon at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials. That description always needed more context, given Seidel’s accomplished running resumé, but now, that label requires another revision.
The local Boston coffee shop where Seidel worked was forced to close its doors and lay off workers, due to the restrictions put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Seidel was a barista, but now she is one of millions of workers around the country dealing with job loss amid the COVID-19 crisis. Among friends, Seidel joked about how the media latched onto her side hustle job for headlines, but now she is compassionate for her colleagues and others in the area who may be struggling during this unprecedented time. Seidel is fortunate to still have income as a professional runner for the shoe company Saucony, especially as she waits another year to make her Olympic debut, following the official postponement of the Games to 2021.
“Oh gosh, now it’ll be pending for another year and a half,” she says of her Olympic status, which last week was listed as “*pending* 2020 Olympian” on Instagram. “We’re rolling with it.”
In the post-race press conference in Atlanta, a CNN reporter asked Seidel, Olympic trials champion Aliphine Tuliamuk and third place finisher Sally Kipyego about their level of concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak. The three of them said they’d listen to health officials and follow the directives of USA Track and Field and the appropriate governing bodies. That was Feb. 29—the same day as the first reported death linked to COVID-19 in the United States. Now, there are more than 489,500 confirmed cases of the virus globally across at least 163 countries, including 75,178 cases and 1,069 deaths in the United States, according to The New York Times.
“I don’t think we realized the full magnitude of what was coming,” Seidel says. “Now, it’s definitely a pretty big reality check and a different world than what we were living in a couple weeks ago.”
Since the Olympic postponement, social media has been abuzz with questions about qualifying events for Tokyo: Should the U.S. Olympic marathon trials be re-run in 2021, ahead of the delayed Olympics? Des Linden, who finished fourth at the trials and missed a historic third U.S. Olympic marathon team berth, was quick to shut down the idea on Twitter: “Anybody suggesting the Marathon Trials be re-run, just stop,” she wrote. “There are 6 athletes who actually have so much to celebrate during this tough time, please don’t crap on their parade.”
On Tuesday, USA Track and Field men’s long distance running chair Ed Torres said that he and women’s long distance running chair Kimberly Keenan-Kirkpatrick are in favor of keeping the U.S. Olympic marathon team that was assembled in Atlanta. They plan on setting some parameters so that athletes can prove their fitness for Tokyo. Discussions of what that test would consist of are expected to take place soon.
As with nearly all athletes, the coronavirus crisis has altered Seidel’s racing plans for the spring. She was planning to run the 10,000 meters at the now-cancelled Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford on May 8, to chase a personal best. She also planned to compete at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, which organizers say remains on schedule for June 18-28 in Eugene, Ore.
“Once the NCAA season shut down, that all became impossible,” Seidel says. “We were maybe going to focus on road races and now obviously everything is limbo. We don’t know when the world is going to get back to ‘normal’ or when it’s going to be safe for meet organizers to put on meets. It’s a little bit of a waiting game.”
On March 21, Jake Riley, the men’s U.S. Olympic marathon trials runner-up, wrote on Instagram that he was in favor of postponing the Olympics because, “I don’t want watered down version with an asterisk next to it. I want to see the best athletes, at full strength, competing in front of full stadiums.” Seidel echoed his sentiments in her own Instagram post.
Several tracks and facilities used by several professional training groups and sub-elite runners in Boston have closed. Seidel is still working her way back from the trials and hasn’t been as restricted in training because she is mainly running on roads and a riverpath for the time being.
“Living and training in Boston, there’s a huge running community here,” Seidel says. “You’re constantly training with people and groups. Obviously, you can’t do that right now. You can’t meet up in these groups and that’s what makes part of running here very special.”
As a fourth grader, as part of a class assignment on writing your biggest wish and dream, Seidel wrote, “I wish I will make it into the Olympics and win a gold medal.” So what happens to that dream when it’s deferred for more than a year?
“I’ve been waiting my entire life for this,” Seidel says. “I’ve worked for years toward this. It’s been a pretty singular focus in my life. If it means a safe Olympics and means we can preserve the integrity of the Olympics and what it stands for, I’m willing to wait a year for that.
“This is about bringing the world together—the best athletes in the world all on one stage and being able to compete at the highest level. I’m willing to wait a year if it means we can have the Olympics as it’s supposed to be held.”