Former UCLA gymnast Danusia Francis believes postponed Olympics will be even better
Having already waited 12 years to realize her Olympic dream, Danusia Francis doesn’t mind waiting another.
Even after the International Olympic Committee’s decision Tuesday to postpone the Tokyo Olympics until 2021 amid the coronavirus outbreak, the former UCLA gymnast knows competing under the Olympic rings, wrapping herself in the Jamaican flag and seeing her family beaming in the stands still will be as sweet as she’s always dreamed.
“I’ll be soaking in the experience, no matter what the year is,” Francis said in a phone interview from London.
For Francis, the 2016 NCAA balance beam co-champion and a six-time All-American at UCLA, the Olympics likely will be her final gymnastics experience. After the 25-year-old qualified for the Olympics as an individual representing Jamaica in 2019, she was intending to leave the sport this year after Tokyo. But she is willing to put her body through one more strenuous year of training to achieve a childhood dream.
“Another year on your body is a lot of pain, a lot of hard work,” Francis said, “but also, a good thing about another year is another year to get stronger, another year to get more confidence or new skills.”
The IOC, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and local organizers Tuesday decided to postpone the Tokyo Summer Games over the coronavirus.
With news of Tuesday’s postponement raising more questions than immediate answers for most athletes, Francis calls her position “privileged” as she already qualified for the Games. She punched her ticket at the 2019 world championships by finishing among the top 20 individuals in the all-around not on a qualifying team. She was ninth among the group of individuals and 47th overall.
The moment was “a dream come true,” Francis said, as she had come so close twice before.
Before coming to UCLA, Francis trained for the 2012 Games and was an alternate for Great Britain. Half Jamaican and half Polish, but born in England, Francis began competing for Jamaica in 2015, when she returned to elite, Olympic-level gymnastics to help Jamaica earn a spot at the Olympic test event. But Francis was not chosen to participate in the final qualifying stage. Instead, countrywoman Toni-Ann Williams, a former California gymnast, became the first Jamaican woman to qualify for the Olympics in gymnastics.
After a chaotic start to the year in which Francis was battling nagging injuries and balancing work as a stunt double with training, the former UCLA star was beginning to get back to full strength. She began practicing routines with full difficulty and, she said, was “on track” to peak at the Olympics.
Then when competitions she was planning to attend in Italy and Spain were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she realized just how dire the situation was getting.
Francis’ training gym was closed last weekend, but her coach and other athletes started virtual at-home workout sessions together this week. They add some much-needed structure during the uncertain times, said Francis, whose fiancé owns a gym.
When there is an official date for the rescheduled Olympics, Francis will meet with her coaches and organize a plan for which competitions to attend. According to the IOC, the Games are to be held in Tokyo no later than next summer.
Francis hopes it’s sooner rather than later. She was planning a wedding for later in the year.
Full coverage of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games until 2021 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“In the long run, you can move your wedding, but you can’t move the Olympics for a second time,” Francis said, chuckling.
The pandemic is “just negative for the whole world,” Francis said, but when thinking about what she hopes her Olympic experience will be — whenever it happens — she recalls a message she saw recently. It said, “the Olympic flame could be the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I really believe that,” Francis said. “It will be such an amazing way to celebrate coming through the other side of this epidemic. I’m hoping that even though it has been delayed, it can be the light at the end of the tunnel and just be even more amazing than it could have been this year.”
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