His wife is in a medical residency in Tucson, so U.S. water polo player Alex Obert has had an inside view of preventive measures taken to control the coronavirus outbreak.
The IOC’s decision Tuesday to postpone the Tokyo Games left him wrestling with emotions.
“The health and well-being of everyone in the world is the most important thing, but when as an athlete you get so focused on one thing, it’s hard when these things change,” Obert said in a phone interview. “It’s just kind of a shock right now. Obviously, I think it was the right decision.”
That sentiment is shared by teammate Chancellor Ramirez, a former Loyola High and UCLA player who is working toward his first Olympic appearance.
“I’ve just been staying positive,” Ramirez said. “I’m extremely relieved that they were postponed and not canceled.
“I’ve had this Olympic goal — it’s been a dream my whole life — and just knowing that the Games are still going on, it’s great news. And if I have to wait one more year, to work hard and prepare for the Games with my team, then so be it.”
Obert, 28, played in the 2016 Olympics, in which the U.S. men finished 10th. He played professionally in Greece during the last year but does not expect to return there anytime soon. He said he was looking forward to finishing his career at the Tokyo Games.
“I’m the second-oldest guy on the team, and I’ve kind of planned that this was going to be my last Olympics and move on,” he said. “I have a beautiful wife that’s ready for me to come home and not be going to Europe during the year, so it kind of pushes everything back a year.”
The U.S. men’s team had qualified for the Tokyo Games by winning the gold medal at last summer’s Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where the two-time defending Olympic champion U.S. women’s water polo team also won and qualified for the 2020 Games.
The U.S. roster for the Olympics had not been set.
“It was more, ‘We accomplished that goal. We’re going as a team, and now it’s just kind of figuring out who are going to be the 12 guys that get to go,’ ” said Obert, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound center who played in college at Pacific. “And that was kind of all we were worried about.”
The postponement of the Games will force all athletes to make adjustments.
“It’s a little different for athletes in water polo and the sports like that, where we really are putting our lives on hold while we complete this dream,” Obert said. “Some of the bigger sports, some of the swimmers, some of the track athletes, I mean, that is their career and they make money off that the rest of their lives, where for us it’s really, ‘OK, I’m going to pause my life.’ It takes a lot of sacrifice from you and your loved ones and everyone around you to support you.
“Obviously, it throws a wrench in everyone’s plans, but we’re all resilient people. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be where we are today, so I have no worries that we’ll be able to figure it out and be successful.”
Ramirez, 25, played professionally in Serbia from September until early December. He said the reality of the coronavirus outbreak hit home after the NBA shut down its season when a player tested positive. Team USA had been working out in Torrance, but training was thereafter suspended.
Ramirez’s father called him Tuesday morning with the news that the Tokyo Games had been postponed.
“I moved through all the emotions because originally I was afraid the Games were going to be canceled,” said Ramirez, a defender who helped UCLA win two national championships. “But then kind of hearing the information from my father, saying that they were just postponed, I had a sense of relief.
“And now I just remain as an Olympic hopeful, staying dedicated to my lifelong goal to represent my water polo club, university and country at the Olympic Games.”
Ramirez said team members had a players-only conference call Tuesday morning. The team features many players preparing for a first Olympics. Captain Jesse Smith is preparing for his fifth.
“We just all kind of agreed that we still all share the same goal,” Ramirez said. “We’re still a very driven, positive group. ... Having an additional year will allow for us to get even closer as a team and be even more prepared.”