Virus changes training plans

Erika and Dan Kinsey pose in front of the Olympic rings during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Erika Kinsey, a member of the Swedish national track and field team, was looking to return to the Olympics in the high jump in Tokyo. (Submitted Photo)

AKRON — For the last four years high-jumper Erika Kinsey has been building toward getting one last shot at representing her home country of Sweden in the Olympic Games.

That dream is now on hold.

Last Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee announced that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games were going to be postponed for a year amid the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Monday it was announced that the dates of the rescheduled games will be July 23-August 8, 2021.

The 32-year-old Kinsey, who is married to 2005 Beaver Local graduate Dan Kinsey, represented Sweden in the high jump in the 2016 Games at Rio de Janeiro (finishing 29th in the women’s preliminaries) and was pursuing one more shot at Olympic competition this summer at Tokyo when everything ground to a halt.

“The last few weeks have been pretty chaotic,” Erika said. “When this all started happening, I just tried to ignore everything the best I could and keep my focus on training. Then with the decision last week, I just felt kind of empty, I didn’t really know how to react. I worked so hard to get to this point, it was going to be my last year.”

Dan, who was a six-time state placer at Beaver Local and an All-American decathlete at the University of Akron,, married Erika in 2014 and has acted as her coach ever since. He said the announcement was made all the more difficult because of the momentum Erika had been building over the past year. Erika’s selection to the Swedish team was still subject to final approval by the Swedish Olympic Committee, but she had already cleared the high jump qualifying standard of 6-feet, 5-inches twice.

“She had an awesome year last season,” Dan Kinsey said. “That’s what makes this so disappointing.”

Erika had been training with Dan at the University of Akron, where Erika is a volunteer jumping coach, when gyms began closing down two weeks ago. The Kinseys were forced to try and get creative on the fly.

“The weather was kind of hit-and-miss so we couldn’t really get outside very much,” Dan Kinsey said. “We’d been doing workouts at home the best we could. I also talked to a friend who had weight training equipment at his house that he let us use.”

Had the Games been held, one of the chief concerns many people raised was the challenge of athletes being able to ramp up to their peak form by July while having to train with a bunch of restrictions in place. It’s a challenge the Kinsey’s were ready to accept.

“I would have been different for sure,” Dan Kinsey said. “Under normal circumstances, she would have used her competition season in Europe to ramp up for the Olympics and it would have been much harder to replicate that intensity at home this year. But athletes encounter obstacles they have to overcome all the time. We would have found a way to deal with it.”

The question now for Erika is what the next step is going to be. Her and Dan had hoped to start a family, a decision that would have to be put on hold if Erika decides to pursue her dream for another year. Her qualifying jumps from the past year will count towards 2021, but she would still have to stay fit and prove she is capable of competing at a high level over the next year in order to earn a selection.

“We’re going to have to try and come up with a plan in the weeks ahead, Sweden only sends athletes that they feel can make the final,” Dan Kinsey said. “We’re going to meet with her sponsors and her support on the Olympic committee to try and figure out what to do next. It’s going to be difficult to try and maintain everything for another year with the gyms closed.”

Although a final decision on 2021 has not yet been made, Erika said it’s hard to imagine her career coming to a screeching end.

“Right now, I’m leaning towards keeping it going for another year,” Erika Kinsey said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work and I don’t want to go out this way.”


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