FAYETTEVILLE – From March 12-14 University of Arkansas senior Cameron Griffith discovered the competition cancelled in the United States would be postponed back home in Australia and Tuesday officially postponed again in Tokyo.
Griffith, the Sydney, Australia native and UA track All-American and SEC Commissioner’s Trophy winner as high point man of the SEC Indoor meet that Arkansas won Feb. 28-29 in Albuquerque, N.M., completed his Razorbacks outdoor track eligibility last spring and his cross country eligibility last fall. Anchoring the distance medley relay on March 13 and running the 3,000-meters March 14 at the NCAA Indoor Championships were to be his final Razorbacks races before returning Down Under to run the 1,500-meters in Australia’s Olympic Trials trying to qualify for Australia’s Olympic track team at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The Games were to start July 24 with the track and field portion July 31-Aug. 7. Arkansas Men’s Track Coach Chris Bucknam said the Razorbacks were getting their March 12 pre-meet warmups on the track at the Albuquerque Convention Center when the official word came cancelling the NCAA Indoor Championships because of the coronavirus pandemic that last week made its first very tangible impact in the U.S
“He got a double whammy,” Bucknam said last week. “Not only was he ready to run two big races for us Friday night and another one on Saturday but, we had him flying out on Sunday back to Australia for the Australian Trials.”
All the Razorbacks but Griffith flew back to Fayetteville “We left him behind there to catch the flight to Australia on Sunday,” Bucknam said. “And then Saturday morning they canceled the flight. So I think that’s a precursor of things to come.” Griffith would have seen family and friends but no competition if the flight had flown.
The pandemic is worldwide. Australia postponed its Olympic Trials then Monday, along with Canada, announced it would not send athletes to the Games if conducted as scheduled.
They won’t be, the International Olympics Committee announced Tuesday.“ In an unprecedented and unavoidable move, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese government agreed to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics “to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021” due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” it was announced.
The U.S Olympic’s Track and Field Trials were scheduled June 19-28 at the University of Oregon’s renovated Hayward Field in Eugene but obviously will be postponed or canceled. The Olympics postponement underscores the worldwide concern that the IOC and officials in Tokyo hadn’t fathomed last week.
A major change from last week. “Everything I read and the IOC continues to publish is that it is on schedule,” Arkansas Women’s Track coach Lance Harter said during last week’s teleconference. “My brother is a long-time flight attendant for American Airlines and literally just flew back from Japan last night, and he said, ‘Yeah, Tokyo is talking about, ‘Hey, July 24th the Games begin.”
The worldwide threat to the safety of the athletes, plus massive international congregating then dispersing back home to their countries likely to increase the virus’ spread, and the interruptions in the athletes’ training because of the quarantines and restrictions made Tuesday’s postponement a no-brainer.
Harter said as much Tuesday in a statement issued through the UA. “There is disappointment, but at the same time we know it’s the best decision for all,” Harter said. “Obviously, this is a virus that has taken a lot of lives already and doesn’t need to take any more, especially if attending an Olympic Games this summer would be the reason.”
All college sports have been cancelled for what would have been the late March through June college outdoor track season, but U.S. summer national competition isn’t out of hope yet, Harter said. “Our athletes are still going to train with the idea that is there going to be a U.S. national championship, or some type of competition this season,” Harter said. “They’re incredibly fit, now we’re just trying to get them to back off the intensity and kind of go into a cruise control. Hopefully, by mid-April we have a better idea what is going to be available for the 2020 track season.
The other decision for (2020) seniors is will they have an opportunity to come back next year or do they move on with their lives with the choices they have post-graduation. You want to stay as optimistic and positive as possible, but at the same time reality is reality.”
The eventual rescheduling won’t be easily achieved, IOC President Thomas Bach asserted when the IOC Sunday first revealed it was considering postponing the Games. “It’s an extremely complex challenge” Bach wrote. “Critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available if the Games were postponed now. The situation with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted. These are just a few of many, many more challenges.”