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Nneka Ogwumike supports Olympics postponement, wonders about impact on training

Nneka Ogwumike plays for Team USA against Mozambique during the FIBA women's Olympic qualifying tournament in Belgrade, Serbia, on Feb. 8.
(Srdjan Stevanovic / Getty Images)

As soon as the NBA halted its season because of the coronavirus, Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike wondered about the rest of the sports world and whether it would continue as it did. That included the Olympics.

That’s why she wasn’t surprised when the International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday morning that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were postponed for a year. In fact, she was glad.

“I definitely agree with the decision to postpone it,” Ogwumike said from her offseason home in Houston. “I think not postponing it would have posed more difficulties for everyone, not just the athletes.”

Ogwumike would have competed in her first Olympic Games this summer for an American women’s team that has won gold in the last six Olympics. She is one of five Sparks in the Tokyo player pool for the U.S., including Seimone Augustus, Chelsea Gray, Sydney Wiese and Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka’s sister.

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“My first question was wondering about our training,” Nneka Ogwumike said. “We committed to these segments that we’ve been participating in leading up to the Olympics. It’ll be interesting to see what we can do now for another year.”

At 29, Ogwumike is around the median age for players in a pool that includes several veterans. At 39, Sue Bird is the oldest player, and a four-time gold medalist. Diana Taurasi, also a four-time gold medalist, is 37 and Augustus is 35.

“Whether it’s Olympians competing for the first time or veterans pursuing another medal, it’s obviously a disappointment for all the athletes around the globe who were training hard for the 2020 Olympics,” Augustus said in a statement. “But what’s more important right now is that people are hurting around the world from this virus, so we have to focus collectively on doing whatever we can to end this pandemic.”

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Since Nneka is spending her offseason in Houston, she hasn’t been restricted by “safer at home” or “shelter in place” orders that California has adopted. Still, she is opting for caution.

Gyms are open, but she’s working out in her garage, which is equipped with weights and a stationary bike. She did some hill running recently, but she’s tried to limit that. Her parents live nearby, and she and her sister Chiney have been trying to urge them to stay home.

Olympic athletes and sports federations react to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games being officially postponed until 2021.

“In a crazy twist of fate I’ve been encouraging my parents to stay in the house,” Ogwumike said. “It’s funny how stubborn our parents are now.”

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She is taking the directive to avoid close contact with others very seriously, and that’s part of why the postponement offered welcome news even though it will delay her Olympic debut. Another reason she welcomes this decision is that had the Olympics pushed forward, they likely would have done so with smaller crowds, if any, and other format changes.

When it’s safe, she wants to play in front of big crowds cheering for their countries and experience what she’s seen on a smaller scale when playing in the FIBA World Cup and other international tournaments.

“The [challenge of postponing] it in my personal opinion, it doesn’t outweigh being able to have the full experience,” Ogwumike said. “I think that’s a part of that chance. That’s part of the dream behind wanting to be there.”


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