Groundswel­l builds

USA Track and Field joins swim­ming in push­ing for Olympic post­pone­ment

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CORONAVIRU­S - By Ed­die Pells

DEN­VER — U.S. Olympic lead­ers face a growing re­bel­lion after the USA Track and Field chief added to the call for a post­pone­ment of the Tokyo Games be­cause of the mush­room­ing coron­avirus cri­sis.

CEO Max Siegel sent a two-page note to his coun­ter­part at the U.S. Olympic and Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee, Sarah Hir­sh­land, ask­ing the fed­er­a­tion to ad­vo­cate for a de­lay. It came late Fri­day, only a few hours after USA Swim­ming’s CEO sent a sim­i­lar let­ter.

Now, the sports that ac­counted for 65 of Amer­ica’s 121 medals and 175 of its 554 ath­letes at the last Sum­mer Games are on record in urg­ing, in Siegel’s words, “the USOPC, as a leader within the Olympic Move­ment, to use its voice and speak up for the ath­letes.”

Other na­tional com­mit­tees are al­ready do­ing that. The fed­er­a­tions in Nor­way and Brazil each went pub­lic with re­quests to post­pone.

“Our clear rec­om­men­da­tion is that the Olympic Games in Tokyo shall not take place be­fore the COVID-19 sit­u­a­tion is un­der firm con­trol on a global scale,” Nor­way’s fed­er­a­tion wrote in a let­ter to IOC Pres­i­dent Thomas Bach.

The U.S. brings the largest con­tin­gent to ev­ery Sum­mer Games and wins the most medals — both fac­tors that lead have led NBC to pay bil­lions to tele­vise the games through 2032.

It would seem to give the USOPC lever­age in talks about al­most any sub­ject with the IOC, but the fed­er­a­tion has been re­luc­tant to use its power.

It spent years, in fact, try­ing to smooth over tense re­la­tions with its in­ter­na­tional part­ners.

And since Hir­sh­land took over as CEO in 2018, the fo­cus has been in­ward, as the sex-abuse scan­dals that have con­sumed Amer­i­can sports have shifted the fo­cus to ath­lete wel­fare and safety.

Hir­sh­land and the USOPC board chair, Su­sanne Lyons, were in­sis­tent that the USOPC won’t sac­ri­fice ath­lete safety in the cur­rent cri­sis. But they stopped well short of push­ing the IOC to­ward a post­pone­ment.

“The de­ci­sion about the games does not lie di­rectly with us,” Lyons said in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters Fri­day. “It lies with WHO, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment and the IOC. Un­der no cir­cum­stance would the USOPC send atheltes into harm’s way if didn’t think it was safe.”

Lead­ers of the track and swim­ming teams don’t ap­pear will­ing to take that risk, ei­ther, though whether they’ll act on their own — with­out the sign-off from the USOPC — re­mains in ques­tion.

The leader of the third sport that makes up the back­bone of the Olympics — gym­nas­tics — has sent a sur­vey to ath­letes, ask­ing for their thoughts on what the USA Gym­nas­tics stance should be.

SEAN M. HAF­FEY/GETTY-AFP

The Chula Vista Elite Ath­lete Train­ing Cen­ter for olympic and par­a­lympic ath­letes in San Diego, Calif., looks quiet on Fri­day.

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