For some, it’s a lost season. For others, it’s an unexpected opportunity.
While coronavirus (COVID-19) wiped out the entire spring sports season, a few Redbird track and field student-athletes have had a chance to reassess goals and even look toward lifelong dreams of reaching their sport’s pinnacle.
Because the Olympic Trials for Team USA and Team Australia fell close to either indoor or outdoor NCAA national meets, distance runner Jack Anstey and thrower Sydney Laufenberg had to make a choice between the Redbird singlet and going after a chance to wear their country’s colors.
The postponement of those events—as well as the Tokyo Olympics being pushed back 12 months—gives both athletes a chance to compete for an NCAA title and an Olympic roster spot next spring.
“It’s devastating for everyone, but when the dust settles, I think it’s all about perspectives,” said Anstey, who hails from Newtown Toowoomba, Australia. A senior studying physical education, Anstey placed seventh in the 1,500 at the NCAA outdoor nationals last spring. He passed on the Australian trials that were supposed to take place last weekend in Sydney and was planning on competing for ISU this spring.
Laufenberg, on the other hand, was training at ISU but putting her focus solely on the U.S. Olympic Trials. The logistics of trying to pull off the NCAA competition in Austin, Texas, June 10-13 and the Olympic Trials a week later in Eugene, Oregon, would have been too taxing, she thought.
Laufenberg earned second-team All-American honors in the weight throw last outdoor season and was going to compete again for Illinois State in 2021. Assuming the new schedule for the Trials won’t be on consecutive weekends as nationals, she now won’t have to choose next spring. Not to mention, it gives her an extra year of training that could serve advantageous if she hopes to accomplish both goals of being a finalist at the Trials and being a first-team All-American.
“I’ll be another year stronger, older, and have another year to work on technique,” said Laufenberg, a junior exercise science major from Clinton, Iowa. “I keep trying to think that this is happening for good reasons.”
For others on the team, the extra year opens the door for that same possibility of a good outcome.
Junior Kameesha Smith was on a terror to begin her junior season, winning all five high jump events she entered during the indoor season. After placing 12th at outdoor nationals in the event last spring, Smith won the high jump at the Missouri Valley Conference championships in early March and was hoping to clear 6-feet by season’s end.
While she was disappointed in the season being postponed, Smith was thrilled by the news that the Olympic Trials had also been postponed, giving her a shot at qualifying next spring. Like most of her teammates, Smith is spending her time away from ISU’s training facilities maintaining a strong base for what she hopes is a busy championship season next year.
“I have to keep my body in shape so that when I am able to compete again, I’ll be able to get right back into my routine,” said Smith, who is a junior from South Holland.
The situation isn’t ideal for anyone, especially in such a goal-driven sport. Training is disrupted and facilities are off limits. But these Redbird student-athletes are eager to say their dreams haven’t been canceled. In fact, they are very much alive.
“It’s about realizing that sooner or later, there’s going to be another opportunity,” Anstey said. “It’s important, but it’s also important to take care of friends and family and making sure we can all get through this. You just have to wait and be patient.”