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Tokyo Summer Olympics Postponed To 2021

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The final holdout in global sport is holding out no more. The Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo will be postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers made that joint announcement today. NPR's Tom Goldman says athletes prepping for the games greeted the news with mixed emotions.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: In Dublin, Ireland, 36-year-old Caradh O'Donovan has been aiming toward her first Olympics in the brand-new Olympic sport of karate. But her training had stopped with gyms closing and sparring partners unavailable in this time of social distancing. O'Donovan had been one of many athletes advocating for postponing the games, so when the announcement came down today, she was relieved.

CARADH O'DONOVAN: It means that people can stay at home now and follow their own kind of country's government's rules about self-isolating if they have to or, you know, social distancing because this pandemic is pretty serious, and sport has to take a backseat to that.

GOLDMAN: O'Donovan thinks postponement was inevitable. Even the IOC finally publicly acknowledged this past Sunday that a delay was possible, although it said it would take up to a month to decide. She credits athletes for speaking up and helping pressure the IOC to act quicker. Thirty-six is an advanced age in any elite sport, and now O'Donovan has lost another year. She says she'll take the next few months to consider her athletic future.

O'DONOVAN: My initial reaction is that I'll still be around in a year's time, and I'll give it my best shot. But as you say, you know, every year now at this age makes a massive difference.

GOLDMAN: Not, however, for 21-year-old American weightlifter Katherine Nye.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: What a performance for Kate Nye.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: And that is a world champion right there.

GOLDMAN: Nye qualified for her first Olympics last December. She's young and could have several more in her future. But after today's announced delay, she said she was pretty bummed out. Qualifying was a very intensive 18-month period that involves seven international trips.

KATHERINE NYE: So all that lead up just to have it postponed, not only is that hard on the body, because I will have to continue to be in elite shape for a whole nother year now, it's also just emotionally taxing.

GOLDMAN: And Nye says her emotions run deeper than the disappointment of not being able to compete.

NYE: I feel guilty for even being sad because, you know, people are dying, and this is a global pandemic. And to feel bad about, you know, my personal career and this Olympics, I feel, like, wrong for even having emotions about it.

GOLDMAN: Nye is working with a sports psychologist and hopes, as many athletes do, that her qualification will apply to a delayed Tokyo Olympics next year. U.S. Olympic leader Sarah Hirshland said today the Olympic movement will work with athletes to define standards for selection and ensure the reimagined games live up to the original promise of Tokyo 2020.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.