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Team USA’s Ken Eriksen: Right call to postpone Tokyo Games

The longtime USF softball coach empathizes with athletes whose preparation for the once-in-a-lifetime event was impacted by the current pandemic.
Team USA softball coach Ken Eriksen before the game against the Liberty University Flames at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational Softball Tournament in Clearwater on Feb. 12. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

TAMPA — Abruptly saddled with a surplus of down time, Team USA softball coach Ken Eriksen was navigating the Hillsborough River in a 15-foot kayak Tuesday morning when word of the postponement of the 2020 Olympics became official.

His mind cleared by the natural solitude borne of this type of social distancing, the longtime USF coach wasn’t about to go against the current.

This was the right call, Eriksen insisted. Fact is, he has felt that way since the coronavirus evolved from concern to global crisis.

“Your emotions go out towards the players that were on time with their preparation,” he said. “Not going selfish and talking about softball, you’re also (feeling) empathy for the people that were trying to qualify and not have the consistent training time to even qualify for the Olympics. I think that’s where the empathy has to go.”

In a statement Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee said the Tokyo Games “must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”

Related: USF's Ken Eriksen taking leave of absence to focus on Olympics

Those who deemed the IOC’s decision rash likely don’t understand the regimented training — and living — structure of prospective Olympians, Eriksen indicated.

As a comparison, he noted how college football coaches map out every minute of winter conditioning and spring training in January. Double that meticulousness, he suggested, and you’ve got an Olympic training schedule.

“The what-ifs are over, so now your elite athletes can plan accordingly,” he said.

“And I think that’s really, really important, because the level of stress that these athletes face on a daily basis of wearing that red, white and blue on their chest is really hard to try to explain to people.

“So those stress levels, combined with, ‘When am I gonna be able to start training again?’ Some of ’em are gonna be prepared on a four-week training period to prepare for the greatest show on earth. So I don’t think that was fair to continue to have the Olympics this year.”

Related: USF softball scholar Ken Eriksen still keeps it simple

And despite the IOC’s original statement regarding playing next year, Eriksen suggested leaving open the possibility of waiting until 2022.

“I don’t think the IOC wants to box themselves in by saying it’s gonna be a one-year deal,” he said.

“I think they have to consider opening the possibility of it being two years from now, strictly for the fact that we don’t know anything about this virus and the longevity. So instead of boxing themselves in and going, ‘Oh, it’s definitely gonna be a one-year deal,’ I think they have to leave that on the open end.”