Ledecky and Manuel, two of the most recognizable faces of Team USA who are sure to be prime-time staples of the Tokyo Olympics, have been unable to swim this week. The Stanford facilities where they train were shut down because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, and the swimmers, who have 10 Olympic medals between them, were sent scrambling.
They ended up at nearby Menlo Circus Club, best known for its equestrian facilities, as guests of a member, but that was only a one-day solution. They have continued to explore other options but have not been in the water since Tuesday.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Stanford Coach Greg Meehan, who is also head coach of the U.S. women’s swimming team. “A two- or three-day break, you’d just never do that at this proximity of a major competition. You could work around it, you know, but knowing that two or three days has the potential to turn into two or three weeks. That’s the challenge.”
The country’s other top swimmers were in the same situation, whether they normally relied on facilities at major universities in Indiana, Florida, California, Texas — everywhere, really.
Over the past several days, the national team coaches and USA Swimming officials started to realize “that options were getting eliminated by the hour,” Meehan said, “as pools around the country closed — with the understanding they aren’t going to be opening up anytime soon. That’s the reality. I think we all know that.”
And so Friday, Tim Hinchey, the chief executive of USA Swimming became the first national federation to appeal to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, advocating for a one-year postponement of the Tokyo Games.
“The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritize everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognize the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations,” Hinchey wrote. “It has transcended borders and wreaked havoc on entire populations, including those of our respected competitors. Everyone has experienced unimaginable disruptions, mere months before the Olympic Games, which calls into question the authenticity of a level playing field for all.”
Saying “our athletes are under tremendous pressure, stress and anxiety,” Hinchey urged the USOPC “to use its voice and speak up for the athletes.”
Hours earlier, USOPC officials participated in a conference call with reporters, in which they said they supported the International Olympic Committee’s measured approach and it was too soon to make any changes to the Tokyo Olympics schedule.
No matter the sport, any break in training impacts performance, and Meehan said the interrupted training this week already was affecting swimmers.
“Swimmers are routine-driven, and training is very much a part of their routine,” he said. “In a lot of ways, the consistency of our schedule is therapeutic. I worry about the stress and anxiousness right now of our best athletes with the uncertainty of where they’re going to be from day to day, knowing that they would potentially have to compete in an Olympics when they haven’t been able to prepare as maybe some others around the world have.”
While Meehan’s Stanford student-athletes have returned to their homes, Ledecky and Manuel, who both compete as professionals, have stayed in Palo Alto. Since the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs closed earlier in the week and was no longer an option, they have been doing daily workouts in their apartments, Meehan said, but can do little to replicate a race.
“It feels like we’ve exhausted a lot of energy and options looking at community pools, club teams, other universities, around the state,” he said. “So it’s been hard for them. They are feeling that anxiousness: ‘How do we manage this?’ So they’re trying to take it a day at a time, and we’re still looking at some backyard pool options. Not really for training but really from a therapeutic perspective — just to be in the water again, to swim.”