When Molly Seidel reflects on the day she qualified for the 2020 Summer Olympics, she’s reminded of a seemingly distant reality.
“Just thinking back to the huge number of crowds that were there and the hugs after the race,” recalled Seidel in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Hell, just sitting down at a restaurant afterward. We all went out to a bar that night, too, and shared drinks at the bar. It’s a completely different world than the one we’re in now.”
Less than a month ago, Seidel placed second in the US Olympic marathon trials to punch her ticket to Tokyo. The 25-year-old Boston resident finished the race, her first-ever marathon, with a time of 2:27:31, just eight seconds behind Aliphine Tuliamuk.
Seidel had no idea when she qualified that things might not go as planned. She remembers a reporter asking a question about the coronavirus in the post-race press conference, but a potential postponement or cancellation never occurred to her.
As the threat of the coronavirus escalated rapidly, and the list of postponed or canceled sporting events grew, Seidel started to consider the possibility more and more. Could the Olympics really go on as scheduled?
She wasn’t shocked when the postponement became official Tuesday.
“I just don’t think there is any way we could be planning for an Olympics four months from now, especially when the country is going through such a difficult time and the world is going through such a difficult time,” said Seidel. “It would have put a lot of athletes and spectators and just the general public in a lot of danger.”
While Seidel agrees with the International Olympic Committee’s decision, she is certainly disappointed. She’s also incredibly frustrated. The US Olympic & Paralympic Committee, Seidel says, has not been forthcoming with updates. The lack of communication leaves her worried about her status.
There has been some chatter about whether runners should have to re-qualify, given the extended period of time between the marathon trials, which took place Feb. 29, and the rescheduled Games, which do not yet have new dates.
Seidel is hopeful that won’t be the case.
“The trials was one of the best days of my life,” she said. “To potentially have that taken away is very stressful. I’m hoping that they honor the Olympic trials and keep their current marathon team, but we haven’t heard anything from USOC, USATF, from anybody. It’s been difficult getting the information that we need.”
Amid the uncertainty, Seidel is still training. She frequently runs on the Esplanade and will soon ramp up her mileage after recovering from the trials. Her coach, who lives locally, is encouraging her to make the best of the extra year, especially considering the fact she’s participated in only one marathon. Should road races resume this fall, Seidel is looking forward to gaining more experience at the distance.
In her free time, Seidel enjoys binging “Gilmore Girls,” reading, and practicing her banjo and ukulele. She no longer has a job or a roommate, as Tatte cut most of its staff amid the coronavirus outbreak and her sister moved back to their home state of Wisconsin for the time being. But Seidel’s doing her best to make due.
“It was so weird coming off that huge emotional high at the trials,” she said. “Now, it’s just like, ‘OK, back to quarantine.’”
Future plans on hold
There’s a lot on Gevvie Stone’s mind.
Stone, a Newton native, had taken a two-year leave from her residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in order to train for her third Olympic Games. The 34-year-old rower intended on racing in Tokyo before returning to her residency at the end of August.
Her plans, however, are in flux now that the 2020 Games have officially been postponed.
“It’s heartbreaking; it’s hard; it’s frustrating,” said Stone in a telephone interview Wednesday morning. “I took that leave of absence with the goal of racing for an Olympic medal. While it would be really hard to take that leave of absence for it seems like no purpose if I go back now, because I won’t have the opportunity to race, at the same time, another year is a long time. Logistically, with residency, it’s not easy.”
Stone graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2014, specializing in emergency medicine. She took a leave from Tufts in order to train for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where she placed 7th overall in women’s single sculls. After graduation, she trained for the 2016 Games in Rio, where she won a silver medal.
This year, Stone was on track to complete a similar cycle: temporarily pause her career in medicine so that she can compete in the Olympics. Now, she’s not so sure.
“The postponement throws a wrench into this being a smooth plan,” Stone said. “I have some thinking to do. In the meantime, I don’t have much else to do with my day aside from train.”
Stone, who calls rowing her “happy space,” is still able to get out on the water for double sessions every day. Her training would typically consist of triple sessions three days a week and double sessions another three days a week, but she’s cut back now that both the Olympic trials and Games have been delayed.
There’s no looming deadline for Stone to make her decision, but skipping out on the Olympics entirely is on the table. Stone is hopeful the new dates will be confirmed and announced shortly so that she can make as an informed decision as possible. According to Stone, US Rowing has been communicative with regular emails not only about potential schedules but also about wellness and other supportive resources.
In addition to contemplating her future plans, Stone is also grappling with guilt for her time away from medicine during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Even before the Olympics were canceled, I had enormous guilt in terms of not being as helpful as I potentially could be at this moment in time,” Stone said. “At this point, I would love to jump back in and be helpful. Unfortunately, there are a lot of licensing and malpractice paperwork issues. It’s not something you just pick up when you feel like it, which is fair and the way it should be because you don’t want someone who’s unqualified to treat you.”
As she navigates the period of uncertainty, Stone is trying to strike a balance of allowing herself to be devastated over her personal situation while also recognizing the bigger picture.
Said Stone: “There’s a tough balance between knowing that it’s heartbreaking for me, while at the same time acknowledging that, although my world has been rocked, I am very fortunate compared to many other people around the world right now in that my family is still healthy and I’m able to put food on the table.”
Other New England hopefuls
Other Olympic hopefuls with New England connections include Harvard graduate Eli Dershwitz of Sherborn (fencing), Harvard sophomore Clark Dean (4-man crew), Rashida Ellis of Lynn (boxing), Kristie Kirsche of Franklin (rugby sevens), Harvard junior Dean Farris (swimming), and Sam Mewis of Hanson (women’s soccer). Celtics assistant coach Kara Lawson is also an advisor for the US women’s 3x3 basketball team.