For Taiwan's Olympic athletes, time to start over

04/08/2020 06:25 PM
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Taiwan's top gymnast Lee Chih-kai (CNA file photo)

Taipei, April 8 (CNA) The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021 due to the new coronavirus pandemic has some of Taiwan's elite athletes hitting the reset button while others are wondering when they will get another chance to qualify for the rescheduled Games.

To Taiwan's top gymnast Lee Chih-kai (李智凱), the delay means basically returning to square one.

"It was just 100 plus days away. Now, it's more than 400 days," said Lee at the end of March following 14 days in self-isolation after returning to Taiwan from qualifying events overseas.

"All I can do is look on the bright side. At least I'm still young, and with the Olympics postponed for a year, I have the opportunity to continue to improve and strengthen and perfect new moves."

Taiwanese gymnasts had their season cut off in mid-March in Azerbaijan when the finals of the International Gymnastics Federation's Baku World Cup was canceled after two days of qualifying because of the local government's ban on mass gatherings.

At least none of the gymnasts who went to the United States for an event and then to Baku tested positive for COVID-19, Lee said, but not having an Olympics in July to prepare for has forced him to reset his focus amid the uncertain future for all sports competitions.

Lee, a pommel horse specialist, has reported to the National Sports Training Center in Kaohsiung and is planning a new training regimen with his coach to qualify for the men's gymnastics all-around event.

Lee secured an Olympic berth in the men's team event with his teammates at the Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart in October 2019, and was a virtual shoo-in for a spot in the pommel horse event, especially after winning silver in the discipline in Stuttgart.

But qualifying for the prestigious all-around competition would make the delay more palatable to Lee, who competed in Rio in 2016 in the pommel horse but did not reach the final eight.

Archery veteran Tan Ya-ting (譚雅婷), a bronze medalist in the women's team event at the 2016 Summer Olympics, said she was surprised by Tokyo's decision to postpone the Games but did not think it was necessarily a bad thing.

Tan acknowledged that the pandemic had forced the suspension of international competitions and her training routine, but said "postponing the Olympics for a year will at least give me more time to prepare and more time to recover from injuries."

A teammate of Tan and Lee at the 2016 Rio Games, javelin thrower Huang Shih-feng (黃士峰), who had not yet qualified for the Tokyo Games, said "the delay means more time to prepare," but he hoped the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) will soon announce how athletes can qualify.

Huang said that if the Olympics were going to be held on schedule, he would have been tighter mentally and training and competing with greater intensity. The delay, he said, allows him to train at a more moderate pace.

Huang's fellow gold medal winner at the Asian Grand Prix Series last June in Chongqing, Chen Kuei-ru (陳奎儒), who finished first in the men's 110-meterhurdles with a time of 13.58 seconds, is in the same boat.

The sprinter had yet to achieve the 13.32-second qualifying time for the Tokyo Games, though he came close with his personal best of 13.34 seconds at the Taiwan Open Championship in May 2019.

With many events canceled or postponed, Chen said he was waiting for the next competition and preparing for the worst since the next race may not be until October.

The IAAF announced Tuesday, after Huang and Chen were interviewed, that its Olympic qualification period has been suspended from April 6 until Nov. 30, and will resume on Dec. 1 subject to the global situation returning to normal. At least that gives athletes from around the world, including in Taiwan, a target date when their performances will again be counted.

Similar to the athletes, administrators and coaches have also had to recalibrate their routines. National Sports Training Center Chief Executive Officer Li Wen-bin (李文彬) said in late March that athletes and coaches will continue to train normally, but that new training plans will be devised to ensure that qualified athletes peak for the Games next year.

The center will also work with national sports bodies and Taiwan's national Olympic committee to seek further information regarding the qualification process for athletes who have not earned a place in the Summer Games, he said.

At the same time, the center plans to hold events in Taiwan and enlist the help of sports psychologists to keep athletes fresh at a time when overseas competitions and even overseas training regimens have been ruled out, he said.

The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee formally announced on March 30 that the Games have been postponed to 2020 to "protect the health of the athletes and everyone involved, and to support the containment of the COVID-19 virus."

With changes to the global international sports calendar in mind, the Tokyo Games will be held in 2021 from July 23 to Aug. 8, followed by the Paralympic Games from Aug. 24 until Sept. 5, 2021, the committee said.

(By Lung Po-an, Chen Chao-fu, Huang Chiao-wen and Kay Liu)

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