On Tuesday morning, what seemed to be the inevitable alas became a reality: The 2020 Olympic Games were postponed, to sometime in 2021. For some, it’s heartbreaking.
“I can understand why other people are devastated,” said Sarah Sponcil, who is third in the Olympic race with Kelly Claes. “They waited literally four years and now they have to wait five.”
Notice that Sponcil said “others” when mentioning those who are devastated. For some, the Olympic postponement is devastating. For others, it’s a blessing not even in disguise: It’s just a blessing.
This week on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, we discussed, among a number of covid-19-related topics — is there anything else to discuss at this point, anyway? — how each team in the Olympic race could benefit or set them back from the postponement. We dug into how, depending on the FIVB schedule and any changes the IOC makes regarding the qualification process, the postponement could put additional teams in the race.
Here’s a team by team breakdown of the impact the postponement could have.
April Ross, Alix Klineman
U.S.A. rank: 1
This one is difficult to pin down whether it hurts or benefits. On the one hand, Ross and Klineman were coming off their best season together, with five AVP finals in five tournaments and three wins on the world tour. They could have continued that upwards trajectory all the way to Tokyo. On the other hand, it gives Klineman another year to develop on the beach, which she has done at such a rate you’d be forgiven to think she hasn’t been playing on the AVP her entire volleyball career. It’s a bit neutral for these two, who are still all but a lock to go to Tokyo, no matter what year the Games are held. They didn’t seem to be in a hurry to play this year as it was, as they decided not to play in the Cancun four-star that was eventually cancelled, so perhaps this will be a good rest period to heal up the nagging injuries that build up.
Until then, you can find Ross going viral with what has become the April Ross Challenge.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, Brooke Sweat
U.S.A. rank: 2
The immediate reaction when thinking of these two is that it would have to negatively impact them. But the more one would think about it, the more that might not be entirely accurate. Yes, Walsh Jennings and Sweat are on the older side of the athletic spectrum, at 41 and 33 years old, respectively. Yes, they have quite a list of injuries and surgeries on the ledger. But Sponcil said it best: “Kerri is a machine,” she said on Tuesday. “She’s just going to keep going all out.”
If there is one athlete in the world who can take this and benefit from it, it might be Walsh Jennings, whose three gold medals and five Olympic appearances did not come by accident. That, and she gets time at home, with her family, when she would otherwise be circumnavigating the world. This could be a good physical and mental reset for both.
Sarah Sponcil, Kelly Claes
U.S.A. rank: 3
There are two teams where the postponement might not have any downside: Sponcil and Claes, and Kelley Larsen and Emily Stockman. For these two, it’s really all upside.
“Everyone’s been asking how we feel about it and I feel great because the last year I’ve just been like ‘Ok, let’s get as many points as we can, let’s pass Kerri, it’s crunch time,’” Sponcil said. “It would have been crunch time right now and now I have the time to process the opportunity I have in front of me. I’m trying my hardest to slow down and be like ‘Whoa this is an amazing opportunity having another year to get experience, to slow down a little bit, and take it all in.’ It’s the best thing for our team and for me personally.”
It gives them more time to develop, both as players and professionals, and it allows them, as Sponcil mentioned, to finally slow down. Catch a breath. Sleep for a change. Sponcil has been competing at a breakneck pace for the previous few years, going from UCLA to the AVP then back to UCLA straight into the Olympic race. A break could be just what she needed. It could be exactly what the team needed.
Kelley Larsen, Emily Stockman
U.S.A. rank: 4
It is positively bananas that the fourth-ranked U.S. team is also the seventh-ranked team on the planet. America is deep. When you’re as good as Stockman and Larsen are, and you’re behind in the race, time and more events are what you need, and time and hopefully more events is what they’ll get. If they have a dozen more events to climb the ladder and take the second American spot, as they could, depending when the FIVB reschedules its laundry list of postponed events, they could very well do so. Their silver in Warsaw proved they can compete with any team in the world. They just need some more time to continue proving it. Now, they might have that time.
Taylor Crabb, Jake Gibb
U.S.A. rank: 1
It is hard to imagine how another year added to Gibb’s career would be a positive for these two, but it’s also hard to imagine how Gibb played some of his best volleyball at age 43 as he did in 2019. He, like Phil Dalhausser and John Hyden, have hoarded a gallon from the fountain of youth and just continue to defy athletic norms. For Crabb, it’s just another year to get better. With his trajectory the way it is — a sharp incline upwards — the postponement isn’t going to do any harm. Perhaps this will be a useful rest period for Gibb, a bit of a sabbatical before one final charge in 2021.
Tri Bourne, Trevor Crabb
U.S.A. rank: 2
Like Sponcil and Claes, and Larsen and Stockman, this is another team where it’s almost only upside. They held a slim lead over Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena for the second spot, slim enough where it was basically a tie. But now Bourne and Crabb have another year to dial in their team dynamic, which both admit they’re only just beginning to figure out. Bourne can regain his world-class blocking again, while both can dig into the nuances of defense and different roles in transition. It’s inconvenient for anyone to have to wait another year, but as this is this only team where age is not a factor at all, there isn’t much downside to the postponement for Bourne and Crabb.
Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena
U.S.A. rank: 3
It is impossible to say how this will impact Dalhausser and Lucena. Dalhausser has readily admitted that Tokyo was it for him. Then it was onto family time and working at his new facility in Orlando, Fla. This news obviously pushes that timeline back. Like Walsh Jennings, though, it could just mean more time at home with their families for what could be the remainder of the year. They live close enough to one another that practicing won’t be a burden. If there isn’t another meaningful event until, say, August, maybe later, that’s another five months at home they otherwise wouldn’t have had. It could be exactly what they need, or it could be difficult to sustain the motivation needed to make an Olympic push for another year and a half.
Time will only tell. And time is exactly what we have in abundance.