Olympic Update by Robert Napolitano
The last time I sat to write about my life as an Olympic hopeful and ambassador to Wigwam I could all but taste the Olympics. My tone was sharp and excited, and my workouts mirrored that attitude. I was chomping at the bit to do more and do it faster…now! I had just run the fastest Indoor Mile and the third fastest Indoor 1500m as an American in the 2020 season (more on that later). Any day of the week I could put on my Synchroknits, lace up my spikes and put down a time on the track that would turn heads.
I was ready to run even faster this summer. I had plans to race domestically and abroad, work harder and win more races. Of course, that is impossible now. The quarantine life is the antithesis of my New York City Olympic life. Normally, I would scarf down 8 miles first thing in the morning, tack on another 4 plus short sprints in the early afternoon, stuff myself into an overcrowded subway to make it to work on time, get home by 9pm, crank the altitude tent over my bed to 9,000ft and fall asleep. Now, I can’t help but feel my dreams crushed as I run easy and sleep at sea level with no races on the horizon and the Olympics over a year away.
There are two ways an athlete can qualify for the Olympics: by running the “Olympic A Standard” in their event or by accumulating points by placing well at international races. If an athlete’s points place them within the top 3 in their event in their respective country and top 48 in the world then they will be selected.
Now, being an Olympic athlete is hard but being an American Olympic athlete is even harder. The top 10 American 1500m athletes run times separated by fractions of fractions of seconds! And, when it comes to international competition selections, diversity is the name of the game. The last thing any international race director wants is 10 Americans on the start line, even if they are faster than some other international competitors. Because of that, only a select few are regularly invited to these international, point heavy, meets.
After finishing 4th at the Indoor USA championship and currently sitting 7th in terms of points in the USA, it was clear that I was not getting the opportunities necessary to accumulate enough points for the Games. With that, I took my leave from the world of USA Track and Field.
I submitted a transfer of allegiance to run for Puerto Rico – where my grandparents were born, where we still have our familial house, and a place that I have called a second home for the last 25 years. With my new allegiance I was able to accumulate enough points as the Islands top competitor to qualify for Tokyo 2020. I was going to be an Olympian.
And then suddenly, I wasn’t.
In the week I was selected for an Olympic team I was told that not only were the Games going to be postponed for at least a year, so too would the entire domestic season be delayed indefinitely. Finally, any races that were to occur before December 1, 2020 were not going to be counted towards any Olympic qualification or ranking improvement. Talk about a disincentive! I was not going to be an Olympian this year.
So, I stopped training, not born out of laziness, crushed dreams, or due to lack of motivation, though there was a bit of that. No, the reality is, timing is everything. “Train too hard now and you will burn out before the important races,” I told myself. I went from completing two of my best training weeks ever to taking my first real break in almost 5 years.
After 10 days, I was back to running, easy at first and now with a bit more direction as word of some races taking place in the late summer and early fall are trickling in. For now, there is no sliding on my Synchroknits combined with a prideful lace up of my spikes. Instead, it is the embrace of the dutiful grind of putting on my favorite pair and hitting the roads every day for the second Outdoor buildup of the year. My runway is extended, in a way, and I have even more time to get into better shape than before. For me, training stymied and races an activity of a past, far-off world, I know this is temporary. Soon I’ll be back, wearing my Synchroknits on the roads, on the track and in Tokyo.