Athletes forced to quarantine and reassess goals following Olympic postponement.
Three women walk across a deserted complex, like a university campus where the students have been sent home for the summer. They are headed for the cafeteria, where they'll load up their plates and return back to their dorm rooms to eat in isolation.
Lily Williams braving the cold during Team USA's pre-Worlds training camp.
This is the US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, the performance pinnacle for elite American athletes. The trio is Rally Cycling's Emma White, Lily Williams, and Megan Jastrab. It is June, in what was to be an Olympic year.
White and Williams are members of the US team pursuit squad that won gold at the World Championships in February this year, joining a venerable list of athletes that have secured the USA's place as a dominant force in the discipline. It is the fourth team pursuit world title for the USA in five years, but first for newcomers White and Williams.
The US Olympic team was not due to be named until later in April, but all three women were likely headed for Tokyo.
"I think we're all getting used to it by now, but the first two or three weeks when things were really uncertain were incredibly stressful," says Williams. "We knew that every athlete across the world was in the same boat, but it's definitely sad to have that form at Worlds and not be able to build and improve upon it."
As far as Olympic preparations go, beating gold-winning Olympians from Great Britain in the last major meeting before the Games - on a team where the average age is just 23 - is nothing short of prodigious. The USA would have gone into Tokyo as clear favorites for the team pursuit.
"After Worlds, we were on a high," says White. "We were exactly where we needed to be. We surprised ourselves that week, so we were really happy and excited. The virus started to get worse in the US a few weeks after we got home from Worlds. Then the postponement started to become a possibility."
Emma White leading Team USA to the World Championship title in the Team Pursuit.
One of the toughest aspects of the postponement is the loss of their world-beating form, which saw them set an all-time American record for the 4,000m pursuit: 4:11.229. They were less than one second slower than the world record set four years ago in Rio by Team GB.
It's hard for a non-Olympian to truly understand the pressure that rests on an athlete's shoulders when they have ambitions for a medal at the Games. White, who is coached by three-time gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, explains what this 'extension' of the Olympic countdown means in mental terms.
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