For the last two years, Christopher Blevins woke up and went to work as best he could each day toward his Olympic dream. He now faces another year of the same process.
It was announced Tuesday the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo would be postponed until 2021 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The decision came as pressure mounted on the International Olympic Committee to make a decision as many countries announced a refusal to send athletes to Japan if the Games were held in 2020 in an effort to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
With many athletes unable to properly train in facilities in the lead up, it became critical to postpone the Olympics to ensure a fair competition with a level playing field. It is the first time the Olympics have been postponed during peacetime. Only three times have the Olympics been canceled – 1916, 1940 and 1944.
Durango’s Blevins, 22, had hoped to earn the spot to represent the United States in the men’s cross-country mountain bike race at this year’s Olympics. Going into the 2019 season, he committed fully to traveling across the world to the races required to earn International Cycling Union (UCI) points that would improve the American men’s standings and give him the kind of results required for selection from USA Cycling.
“I found out it was going to be postponed in the middle of playing a board game. I processed it later,” Blevins said Tuesday morning in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “I took the approach that I would deal with this as it comes with all the uncertainty we’ve been facing. The whole ground of normal life has been pulled out from under us.
“To wake up to the news that the Olympics wouldn’t be until 2021, it’s sad. At the same time, I can’t really feel much frustration or disappointment at this. This is such a colossal event all around the world. It’s hard to care about bike racing and my own personal goals.”
In a statement Tuesday, USA Cycling said it would consider changes to the selection and qualification criteria for the now 2021 Olympics.
“This is an unprecedented time in not only sport but global history, and we will have to make decisions based on real-time information and ongoing communication with the UCI, USOPC and other stakeholders, so we thank you in advance for your patience and understanding as we navigate this fluid situation,” the USA Cycling news release said. “We know our athletes have invested significant energy toward preparing for Tokyo 2020 and realize the additional commitment it will take for them to extend that effort and refocus on a postponed Olympics.”
Blevins started his 2020 season with a bang in California when he won the short-track mountain bike race March 13 at Vail Lake in California. It was the opening weekend of the US Cup schedule, and racing was scheduled to continue through March 15 with the elite and junior cross-country races. Before the start of the cross-country race, it was announced the event and the following weekend’s races at Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California, would be canceled.
“It’s crazy to think that was only 10 days ago,” Blevins said. “Things have moved so quickly and will continue to move quickly. I remember going to bed the night before we were supposed to race the cross-country, and news had come out that USA Cycling had pulled permits for all the races. I still wasn’t sure if it would be canceled. I slept poorly thinking about it all night. Obviously, in hindsight, it was the right decision to cancel, and I’m proud of the leadership from USA Cycling to make that difficult call. This is far bigger than bike racing.”
Blevins said the reality of the coronavirus situation set in when he left Vail Lake and traveled through Los Angeles, which was void of its usual traffic. Meanwhile, outdoor recreation areas in California were flooded with people.
He is a student at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and had not enrolled in upcoming courses because of his spring and summer race schedules and desire to compete in Tokyo. Now, with all courses online for the remainder of the academic year, Blevins is hoping he can find a way to squeak into classes that are already full.
Blevins will return Wednesday to Durango after spending some time at Zion National Park. He plans to continue training on his home trails and is also set to work on his other passions of music and poetry.
“I’ve got my keyboard and guitar and am going to try an hour a day to get better at instruments and spend an hour a day writing,” he said. “This time is about forming good habits and making the most of that opportunity. It will keep me sane.”
Blevins’ friend and former teammate Kate Courtney, the 2018 women’s mountain bike world champion and last year’s World Cup overall champion, wrote a letter Tuesday published in The Wall Street Journal. Though she said the decision to postpone the Olympics was right, she called it devastating after training with the goal of bringing the U.S. back a mountain bike medal from Tokyo.
Blevins is hopeful the mountain bike national championships scheduled for July 7-12 at Winter Park, where he will enter the two-time defending short-track national champion, will still happen.
Because it is an Olympic season, the UCI World Championships were also scheduled for much earlier this year – June 25-28 in Albstadt, Germany. Blevins was 22nd at last year’s under-23 world championships because of mechanical issues and a flat tire a year after he won the under-23 silver medal.
Regardless of what race is next, Blevins plans to continue his push, one day at a time, to be the American man selected for the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“You have to roll with the punches,” he said. “We will see if the selection criteria changes at all and if we get some important races in the fall. Right now, it’s a resetting point. You have to find a silver lining. For me, it’s that I will be a year older, hopefully a year more experienced and potentially more competitive at the Olympics. I have approached the Olympics and each training block on being the best I can be one day at a time. In a way, that’s helped me prepare for this uncertainty. A year from now, hopefully that will have me in a good position.
“What is so special about the Olympics is how it brings everyone together. It’s a demonstration of unity in many ways. I’m hopeful in 2021 that I will be there and the Olympics can be a way for the entire world to recenter all of us.”