Virus threat to Olympics casts shadow over marathon trials

There is a new concern as the nation’s top distance runners have gathered in Atlanta to compete for spots on the U.S. Olympic marathon teams. The runners don’t know if the Olympics, planned for Tokyo this summer, will be held

The nation’s top distance runners carry a new concern into the U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials.

“The possibility that you make this team and then you don’t have an Olympics to go to,” Jacob Riley said.

The top three men’s and women’s finishers on Saturday will earn spots on the U.S. team. Ultimately, their dreams of actually competing in the Olympics this summer may rest upon the new virus from China, which has spread to other parts of the world, including Japan.

The coronavirus was a hot topic as some of the runners gathered in Atlanta on Thursday.

“It’s there but I think from my perspective what I have to do is just ignore it and go out and race,” said Jared Ward, who finished third in the 2016 trials in Los Angeles and placed sixth in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Longtime International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told The Associated Press on Tuesday there is a window of two to three months to decide if conditions are too dangerous to hold the Olympics in Tokyo. Pound said if the coronavirus outbreak poses a threat too great to hold the Olympics in Tokyo, the games likely would be cancelled instead of postponed or moved.

Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto on Wednesday responded to Pound’s comments by calling a news conference to say plans are being made to proceed with a safe Olympics.

“Our basic thoughts are that we will go ahead with the Olympic and Paralympic Games as scheduled,” Muto said, speaking in Japanese. “For the time being, the situation of the coronavirus infection is, admittedly, difficult to predict, but we will take measures such that we’ll have a safe Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

The Olympic marathon is scheduled to be staged in Sapporo, a couple hours from Tokyo. The event was moved to protect the runners from the heat in Tokyo.

Ward said the trials “creates a stage on its own and an Olympic feel on its own.”

“My feeling of competing in and crossing the finish line in the Olympic trials in 2016 was as exciting as crossing the finish line in Rio later that year,” Ward said. “So I think there’s still something to race for, regardless of what happens later on down the line. I’m excited to be a part of that and to embrace that opportunity.”

The viral outbreak is responsible for more than 2,700 deaths and has infected more than 80,000 people globally. The outbreak began in China two months ago and has spread to South Korea, the Middle East and Europe. Japan itself has reported four deaths.

“I’m not like an infectious disease expert and I try to be educated,” said Scott Fauble, whose finished seventh in the 2019 Boston Marathon. He was the top American in the field.

“I try to listen to podcasts and read articles about it, but me worrying about what the coronavirus does in six months doesn’t help me on Saturday,” Fauble said.

Riley, who led U.S. runners by finishing ninth in the 2019 Chicago Marathon, noted another major event already was postponed. On Jan. 29, the indoor world athletics championships in Nanjing, China, were postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus.

That postponement, combined with Pound’s warning, gives cause for concern.

“It’s there in the back of my mind but I’m trying not to think about it too much,” Riley said.


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