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The hidden benefits of the 2021 Olympics

The postponement of Tokyo 2020 is disappointing, but an extra year could help a number of athletes in their builds

Melissa Bishop

On Monday, the IOC announced the the Olympic Games would take place exactly one year later than initially planned. Athletes work for four years toward one date, but for the first time in history, that date got moved. While postponing the Games was certainly the right call, the new date also has some silver linings for some of the world’s best runners. If runners can stay healthy during this global health pandemic, they might come out better for it on the other side. Here are some athletes who have found silver linings within this unprecedented Olympic cycle.

Cam Levins breaks the tape at Canadian Marathon Championships, STWM 2018. Photo: Todd Fraser, Canada Running Series

RELATED: Tokyo Olympics scheduled to start July 23, 2021

Cam Levins has endless options for a fall marathon

A year and a half ago, I wrote a story called, Cam Levins was patient, and it paid off. Well, if Levins was patient in 2018, he’s really, really patient now. The Canadian marathon record-holder has not had a nice, clean, linear progression when it comes to international competition. He last competed at an Olympic Games in 2012, sitting out 2016 due to injury. He was hoping for some redemption in 2020 but he says he’s comfortable waiting another year for the 2021 Games. 

Levins was in Kenya when the news of the Canadian severity of COVID-19 hit. “I like to train at altitude before a big marathon,” he says. “That’s why we were stationed in Kenya ahead of Rotterdam. We thought maybe we’d be able to do a North American marathon, something closer to home, but once we got home, nothing was working out.” Levins says he was ready for a good marathon.

“Things were going really well in training. I would’ve liked to race. I felt ready, but I’m building towards the fall now.”

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The runner is currently stationed in Portland, Ore., working with Canadian coach Jim Finlayson, who’s based out of Victoria. Levins is enjoying having a coach again after running his own program for several years. He says he feels like things are really clicking.

“I’ve known of Jim for a long time.  I wasn’t aware that he was coaching until last fall, right around Toronto. It felt like the right setup. I’d been self-coached, with my college coach overseeing my training, but I felt like I needed a bit more structure. I found training difficult to adapt by myself when things weren’t going well.”

Levins says this fall he’ll have more choices than ever for a goal race, which is exciting. “I’m just now starting a new training build, but I’m excited for my options.”

Melissa Bishop-Nriagu feels ready to tackle 2021 and beyond

Melissa Bishop-Nriagu with her daughter, Corinne. Photo: Maxine Gravina

Melissa Bishop-Nriagu has been in this sport a long time. She competed at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, had her first child in 2018 and was gearing up to hopefully qualify for her third team in 2020. But she too is happy to wait until 2021.

I really believe I would have been ready come this summer,’ she says. “But this is only my second year back from pregnancy, and this extra time is only going to benefit me.”

Bishop-Nriagu says she has no plans to retire any time soon and even feels like her pregnancy gave her a needed emotional and physical break from elite running, which might have even lengthened her career.

We’re just going to keep going. As long as I’m running fast and loving it, we’ll keep going. Pregnancy was a little break. I got to step away from the sport but I didn’t have to compete, deal with the nerves, deal with the stress of competing.”

Now that the runner is back, she’s so happy to be here. “Pregnancy was a reset, but once I was ready to come back, I was all in again.”

International athletes

The Tokyo 2020 postponement could be beneficial for some international athletes as well. The Games are now over 15 months away, which means that athletes who didn’t qualify or didn’t look to have the best shot at qualification in 2020 will get an extra year of training to make it to Tokyo.

Caster Semenya

After World Athletics barred Caster Semenya and any other athletes with DSD (differences of sexual development) from competing in events ranging from the 400m up to the mile, the South African 800m world champion turned her attention to the 200m. In March, she officially announced that she would be going to the sprint distance, and she competed in a 200m race in South Africa.

RELATED: Caster Semenya eyes the 200m in Tokyo

Semenya won the race in 23.49, the best 200m time of her short sprinting career. To qualify for the Olympics, though, she will need to drop that time down to at least 22.80. This would have been a tall order to accomplish in a matter of months, but now she has extra time to become more accustomed to the sprinting life.

U.S. marathoners

NYC Half
Photo: Courtesy NYRR.

With the the American Olympic marathon teams set, many elite runners who have spent the last four years working towards the Tokyo 2020 will not represent the U.S. in the marathon. With an extra year of training, however, dropping down to shorter track races, like the 10,000m, might be a viable option for some of these runners to still qualify for next summers Olympics. Kara Goucher took to Twitter to propose this idea to marathoners who didn’t qualify at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, saying it is “an opportunity with Olympic potential.”

For athletes like Emily Sisson or Molly Huddle, this could very well be a legitimate option to still run in the Olympics next year. The two women are training partners, and they have both performed well on the track as recently as 2019. In the 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships in Qatar last October, Huddle, a two-time Olympian, placed ninth, just ahead of Sisson, who finished in 10th. It can be difficult to jump down to distances which require more speed work, but seeing as these women competed on the track under a year ago, it’s possible they could make the transition back to their roots.