COLUMBUS, Ohio — Darke County native Clayton Murphy, a bronze medalist in the 2016 Summer Olympics, was starting to prepare for this summer's games when he woke up to a few text messages confirming the rumblings he was hearing: The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics had officially been postponed.
Now Murphy and several other Ohio-born Olympic hopefuls have to put their dream of competing on the world's biggest stage on hold at least until the end of July 2021.
This is the first time the Olympics ever have been delayed or cancelled for something other than war, as they were in 1916, 1940 and 1944. More recently, President Jimmy Carter decided that Team USA would boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics that were being hosted in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
On March 24, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee announced an agreement to postpone this summer's games as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Olympics "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," the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee said in a joint statement.
The decision came two weeks after the pandemic caused sporting leagues such as the National Basketball Association, National Collegiate Athletics Association and Major League Baseball to enter a hiatus. Additionally, South African Olympic swimmer Cameron van der Burgh tested positive for the virus, sharing the severity of his symptoms on Twitter.
Discus thrower Reggie Jagers III, a native of Solon, won the gold medal at the 2017 Summer Universiade and a bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games. Currently living in San Diego at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the Kent State University alumnus said he is happy that the games will be rescheduled.
"It's better that the Games are still going to go on and there's still going to be some type of season this year," Jagers said.
Murphy said the decision to delay the Olympics came much sooner than he expected, but he was glad the IOC gave the athletes some direction and clarity.
"We kind of knew something was coming," Murphy said. "It was more of a relief than anything, knowing they came to a decision and we knew what was going on."
Jagers echoed those comments, saying that it was important the athletes have been given clarity on a future date to focus on their training. For the 25-year-old thrower, the delay means another full year of preparation before he can fulfill his long-term dream. On his Instagram page, Jagers compared it to cooking a steak on low heat, as the process takes a while for a great reward.
"I just want to make sure I'm ready for 2021 when it comes around, that I'm ready to make the Olympic team," Jagers said. "I get to really make sure I'm doing the little things day in and day out."
In the 2016 Summer Olympics, Murphy brought a bronze medal back home to his native Greenville, Ohio, in the 800-meter run. Earlier this March, Murphy was rehabbing a minor injury, mostly swimming and biking in order to work his way up to being able to run distances pain-free.
The week of the postponement, he was planning to start running again in preparation for the Olympic trials, which were set to begin on June 19 and have also likely been delayed.
When the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to escalate, and cities were starting to shut down, Murphy, who is currently living in Oregon, could no longer use some of the facilities he needed to get back into competition form.
"Where I was at with everything was kind of scary because I was in a spot where they started closing gyms and limiting things," Murphy said. "I was pretty reliant on that to keep my training going, and at the time the Olympics hadn't been postponed."
Murphy made an order with Dick's Sporting Goods, investing in some home gym equipment including a stationary bike, a medicine ball and some Olympic-style weights to accompany the treadmill he already has at home. Now, he feels less pressure to rush back from his injury, and can comfortably ease his way back into more intense workouts.
"I pretty much made a home gym for myself," Murphy said. "I really don't have to leave my house other than getting out to get fresh air, go on walks, take the dogs out on walks."
This summer, Murphy and his wife, Olympian Ariana Washington, plan to move back to Ohio, where he will reunite with University of Akron men's distance and cross-country coach Lee LaBadie, who helped mold Murphy for his 2016 bronze medal run in Rio, making him the first U.S. medalist in the 800-meter run in 24 years.
"With the season being postponed or pushed back into the late summer or fall, it makes our move a little bit easier, a little less stressful," Murphy said.
LaBadie stressed that this year's postponement won't make too much of a difference for the 25- year-old Murphy, as he won't have to wait four long years to compete again like the athletes in 1980.
"This year's postponement can't be as bad for the 2021 Olympics as it was for the 1980 Olympics," LaBadie said. "They trained all their life for that, and it was taken away for them."
When the world finally is at a point where the Olympics are considered safe enough to be hosted, Murphy and Jagers hope the games take place as soon as possible. They believe they can serve as an uplifting event for people to look forward to in these uncertain times.
"I think it's going to be a really special opportunity for the first time for the world to come together and really compete," Murphy said. "It could be something that can bring a positive aspect and some positive vibes for some people."