Coronavirus: Olympics swansong denied or delayed? Biles, Felix, Federer and other stars left in limbo

By Sports Desk March 24, 2020

It had been on the cards for some time, but Tuesday's announcement confirming the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics still hit hard.

With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, it appeared the International Olympic Committee had hoped the Games would somehow still go ahead.

However, within 48 hours of declaring a four-week window in which to make a final decision, the declaration came – the 2020 Olympics would be delayed by a year.

In an instant, dreams were put on hold, and some perhaps altogether dashed. Competitors with their hearts set on taking part in Japan later this year suddenly had to revise their plans entirely.

For some, it may prove to be a very manageable inconvenience, but what about those who had marked this down as their final Games?

Here we take a look at the stars who were planning to wave farewell to the Olympic stage in Tokyo, and whether the intervention of COVID-19 might have deprived them of that opportunity.

SIMONE BILES (GYMNASTICS)

This was set to be Biles' final outing at the greatest show on earth, having cleaned up with four gold medals in Rio four years ago.

Though only 23, gymnastics is a sport where time very quickly catches up with its stars and Biles would have been a relative veteran of the field.

A delay of one year does not necessarily rule Biles out, but it will give the American – who topped the podium five times at the 2019 World Championships – plenty to ponder.

ALLYSON FELIX (ATHLETICS)

With six golds and three silvers in a decorated Olympic career, Felix will have been hoping to return for a fifth time.

Having debuted on the biggest stage back in 2004, Felix has gone on to cement her position as a track legend.

Felix turns 35 this year and had spoken of her desire to sign off with a bang, telling NBC Sports of her plans to run both the 100 and 200 metres.

"Everything's on the table this year," she said. "This year, I'm going to be getting back to sprinting. I think that's really key for me to be myself, and that's something that I didn't even get to touch last year."

ROGER FEDERER (TENNIS)

The Swiss maestro is the most prolific collector of grand slam titles in the history of men's tennis, but one honour has eluded him.

While Federer does possess an Olympic gold, it came when he shared the top step of the podium with doubles partner Stan Wawrinka in Beijing.

Glory in the singles event has proven beyond the 38-year-old, who lost the 2012 London final to home favourite Andy Murray.

Having missed the last Games with a knee injury, Federer will sorely hope that defeat to Murray at Wimbledon's All England Club will not prove to have been an unwitting Olympics farewell.

KERRI WALSH JENNINGS (BEACH VOLLEYBALL)

With a medal haul that makes her the most successful beach volleyball player in history, Jennings had Japan locked in as her sixth Games.

However, she turns 42 in August and having the event pushed back by a year may diminish her chances of taking part.

Time will tell if the American can add to her three gold medals and one bronze.

YOHAN BLAKE (ATHLETICS)

His career having largely overlapped with superstar compatriot Usain Bolt, Blake's quest for gold was always going to prove tough.

Indeed, the two in his collection came after winning the 4x100m in a team including the peerless Bolt.

However, even with the world-record holder now gone from the scene, Blake would have been well down the pecking order in Japan.

Whether he returns in 2021 or not, his double-silver exploits in the 100m and 200m at London 2012 are not to be sniffed at.

ALISTAIR BROWNLEE (TRIATHLON)

Briton Brownlee sealed gold on home soil in 2012 and defended his crown in Rio.

His brother Jonathan took third and second respectively and both were expected to line up in Tokyo.

At 31, Alistair is the senior sibling by two years and had mulled the decision for a long while, meaning the 12-month delay could prove decisive.

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    The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has pushed the Games back by 12 months due to the spread of coronavirus, which has infected over a million people worldwide.

    Sailor Ainslie, a four-time Olympic champion, has backed the decision and feels competitors will be grateful for the clarity the switch brings.

    He told Stats Perform: "If you were in the IOC's position and Tokyo's position it must have been an incredibly tough decision when you think about the scheduling, the preparations, dare I say it the commercial impact, although that shouldn't really be the main consideration I'm sure it would have been a big consideration.

    "The fact they came to a decision relatively early, I think they deserve some credit for that.  

    “I think it was absolutely the right decision. It was clearly going to be a massive risk as planned. Then if you look at a six-month delay, you're competing in the middle of the winter in Japan which isn't going to work for a lot of sports, so I absolutely agree with the decision.

    "What does it mean for the athletes and competitors? I think most of them, frankly, will just be relieved there's certainty.

    "It would have been a massive risk if they'd tried to continue and gambled on the virus clearing away in time for the games.

    "So, I think there'll be relief and they'll start now planning what does the next 18 months look like for them in terms of their programme.

    "We talk a lot about peaking in sport. They would have all been working up to peaking this summer. Now they are probably going to have to, not take their foot off the gas, but they're going to have to reschedule their programmes to make sure that they're then ramping back up for the games.

    "Also, what will the event schedule look like next year? It's unlikely there'll be that many events for the rest of this year, so how do they get their race practice up in 2021?

    "So, some challenges there, but if I were an Olympian I'd frankly be bloody relieved they've come to the right decision and it was going ahead still." 

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    Bogut, 35, was expected to lead the Boomers at the Olympics this year, but the Games have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    It led to questions over Bogut's future, but the Olympics remain a goal for the veteran, an NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors in 2015.

    "I'm still very keen. Obviously the plans for me were to get to the Olympics this year and then reassess," he told SEN on Thursday.

    "That's been thrown out of the window. I'm still up in the air about exactly what I'm going to do and how I go about my journey getting there and all that, I still haven't decided one way or another.

    "I think it's going to be a moving parts type thing and I think the main priority right now is to get this pandemic squashed.

    "Then, we can all make real-world decisions about our jobs and our families and all that kind of stuff, but until that happens it's kind of senseless to make decisions based on not knowing when the future's going to be open slather again."

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    According to Boldon, the movement of the Olympics to the Summer of 2021 is likely to push the World Championships to 2022, sparking a domino effect on other major games.

    “It means that we may be in for four championship years in a row. We know that the summer Olympics are going to be in 2021. I think they are going to push the World Championships over to 2022 which means that it then conflicts with the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, and then we get back on stream with the regular schedule of 2023 World Championships and 2024 Olympics in Paris,” said Boldon.

    These movements, Boldon believes, won’t reset the athletic calendar for another five years, but sees no real alternative to the unprecedented action of putting an Olympics in an odd year.

    Boldon has an interest in what the next few years of athletics holds as the coach of rising star, Briana Williams.

    Williams was set to contest for a place in her first Olympics and in a recent SportsMax.tv interview, Boldon said the delay was good for his athlete, who would have a year to get stronger.

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