Maine athletes prepare for summer without Olympics

On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee decided to officially postpone the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision has left athletes around the globe figuring out changes to schedules, both training and competition-wise. Maine athletes are also grappling with the postponement that pushes the games back to July 24, 2021. 

For Riley Masters, the 29-year-old is coming off a stress fracture from the indoor track season so while he knows injuries are a part of the sport, the extended time off is welcomed. 

"I will be 30 in a month and I had done my entire career without a serious injury," Masters said. "Two days before I left for Milrose (Games), I had my first stress fracture. I was doing everything I could to be as fit as possible when I was back to running and this gives me the opportunity to make sure I am 100 percent healthy coming back and be able to run efficiently so I don't injure myself. Everyone that I've known that knows I am injured have said that this is a good thing but I am not that excited. That's the thing about the Olympics; You know when it is and I think I messed up by getting injured. It's part of the game and I was ready to get to the trials for June."

Masters, like most athletes, were in favor of the postponement. Masters said that world champion 3,000-meter steeplechase champion Emma Coburn had many Olympic hopefuls fill out a form that asked athletes if they were for the postponement.  

"Even from last week I kind of didn't see any way it could go on with the timeline," Masters said. "When you think of the Olympics it's a great event and it brings the entire world together but it's probably the worst thing you can do right now."

While Masters will use this time to finish rehabbing his injury, two Maine athletes entering their prime years in Orono High School's Hannah Steelman and Lewiston's Isaiah Harris are adjusting their training and planning their next phase of workouts as uncertainty looms over the rest of the year's track and field schedule. 

"In the last couple days a bunch of us potential Olympic athletes had filled out surveys," Steelman said. "I said I was in support of the postponement because once Canada and Australia said they were out it was like when other conferences were dropping out of Nationals. I am lucky to be a runner so I can go out and run but I don't have a track. I can't even imagine being a basketball player or swimmer because they don't have the facilities." 

Steelman is training for the steeplechase and is now going to be focusing on the little things that come with being an Olympic hopeful, things that might get overlooked when you're training and taking classes at Wofford University. 

"My coach still sent out a training plan before we knew the Olympics were postponed, we had our eyes on the trials and nothing has been said yet. I think it'll be a lot like we can use this opportunity to be better at the little things. I am doing a lot of intense stuff because you don't need to compromise your immune system and it's a good time to build a good base, being better at nutrition, getting enough sleep. If anything this time gives you more time to focus on the little things."

While Steelman is with her family just a couple away from Wofford, Harris is across the country in an Airbnb with his college roommate in Eugene, Oregon. 

Harris has been training on Nike's track and was in favor of the IOC postponing the Olympics, even though Harris was enjoying his most successful year of his career with a second-place finish in the 800-meter run at U.S. nationals. 

"I was assuming it would be postponed," Harris said. "I was like, 'There's probably zero chance they will host it.' It wouldn't make sense especially because there are no training or meets happening. It would have caused a lot of problems. It made the most sense to postpone, I thought it would take a little more time to decide but I'm glad they made the decision. We all know how we have to adjust our training schedules. I wasn't too surprised, it sucks it had to happen this way."

Harris now has to adjust his training schedule. He's unsure of international meets happening in a few months, so he's playing it by ear. 

"My agent sent an email earlier and there will be international meets later this season and so we are seeing if we are rearranging my schedule, coming down and then picking it back up or just train like the season is going," Harris said. "For now I am taking it day by day but until, if there's going to be races in the summer then I am going."

Harris is making due without a weight room to train in, but has been doing body workouts and using Nike's track. The Lewiston-native was hurt during last year's indoor season, so Harris is content with waiting another year as he's only 23. He does realize that older athletes might now have that same privilege. 

"For me, I was seeing things were going well, healthy, PRs," Harris said. "I've been waiting since the last Olympic trials for this. I was getting super excited and I feel like I am in the best shape I've been in and so I was looking forward to getting into racing. Having extra time, it never hurts and I am young so every opportunity is for me to get healthy and better. 

"There's also people that are some of the older athletes in the sport, every year is precious and it could drastically affect them. It's interesting to see how it affects everyone."