Image by: NBC Sports - University of Oregon
The track and field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, kick off today at noon, and the world is abuzz with questions swirling. Who will make the team? What will happen in Tokyo, and how have they prepared to handle covid? And why is one of the United States' top athletes, Shelby Houlihan, banned from the trials and the foreseeable future?
As an amateur runner, naturally, I'm awestruck by the talent, regardless of who's wearing the shoes. I watch the trials for the spirit of competition, the agony of defeat by inches, and the celebration of being among the chosen few to make the team. The trials fill me with a sense of nostalgia. Watching as a child, I dreamed of this day. No, I had no formal chance of ever making the team, nor running at a Division I level program, but still, the trials and Olympics always had a way of making it feel within reach. And this is as it should be for a child watching the games to see themselves one day in an athlete's shoes, competing for gold in a race that comes down to the millisecond. Now that I'm a refined thirty-something year old, I watch because I can't fathom waiting four more years to see this caliber of talent connive in one location with one goal at stake.
This year, like the trials of the past, you won't be disappointed. The caliber of the athletes is top-notch. The fields are stacked, women and men, but the big question on everyone's mind will still be about covid. A week ago, I learned that Tokyo had done an excellent job of gathering 150,000 condoms for the athletes, "not to use," yet they're still attempting to work out the kinks for volunteers. Two disposable masks and one small bottle of hand sanitizer per volunteer is what it comes down to at the moment. And I have never been in an athlete village, interviewed anyone that has, or have the faintest idea of what it's like, but this brought up some questions. I always imagined athletes primed and focused. The Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent your country. You'd think sex would be the last thing on someone's mind. But, spending potentially weeks overseas and participating in events with time-lapses between perhaps the mind and inhibition wanders. I pray that Tokyo does its diligence to the health and safety of the athletes and those in attendance. My biggest concern is that a health scare affects the games and those competing.
In conversations with colleagues, one matchup we were anticipating was Shelby Houlihan and Elle Purrier. To amazing women that have been on a tear performing well and breaking records. In July of last year, Shelby set a new US 5000-meter record, and Elle Purrier crushed the US 2-mile record in February. These two women were on pace for a climatic meet-up at the 1,5000 m distance until a failed doping test derailed Shelby's Olympic hopes. I'm not here to debate right or wrong or the facts of the matter, but I will say this is tough to digest.
As a spectator, we always want to see the best compete. With time, these top-level athletes become almost mythical-like creatures, larger than life. These are the names that get debated on playgrounds and around the water cooler for generations—endless "what ifs" and sceneries to question if they can be defeated. Then our hearts sank when Serena lost to Naomi. Heartbreaking at first, but Osaka has become a voice for change with talent that will dazzle our television sets for years to come.
In a perfect world, Shelby is innocent, but what would that mean for the system as a whole. Have other athletes been wrongfully stripped of their ability to compete? And if she's guilty, it restores faith in the system. This truly is a lose-lose situation, and Lance was never the same after the stone was unturned.
One bright spot will be the showdown between Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin, who have a long history in the 400 - meter hurdles. With her breaking her own world record in 2019 at the world championships, the slight edge goes to Muhammad. And the questions surrounding the marathon remain. How have the athletes faired in the long layover? To spend a year in limbo, maintaining fitness levels, and avoiding injury is a challenge in itself.
Regardless, like many of you, I will tune in to NBC Sports to binge-watch as much as possible. But I must say, the gold medal has already been awarded to Tiffany Haddish for her upcoming biopic of five-time Olympic medalist Flo-Jo.