When news broke March 23 that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would be postponed a year, it was earth-shattering to some athletes whose world presence only becomes relevant every four years.
Specifically, seasoned athletes only have so much training left in the tank, while aspiring hopefuls may not have the means to continue their journeys.
For Solon 2012 graduate Reggie Jagers III, now a world-class discus thrower with the motivation and the means to continue his push, he thought back to the 2016 NCAA Championships and how he got robbed from a defected cage setup that affected lefty throwers.
Jagers thought back to his runner-up finish at the 2017 NCAA Championships, which came down to the final throw.
Jagers thought back to his dislocated rib. He thought back to his torn labrum, his torn abdominal muscle, and now a torn pectoral muscle.
He thought back to his protested toe foul at the 2016 Olympic Trials for Rio de Janeiro.
And he thought back to losing his father, Reggie Jagers Jr., who died from blood cancer last May. A month later, he competed on Father’s Day in Rabat, Morocco, where he tossed the disc 64.59 meters to finish sixth among most of the world’s best throwers.
“I know how many people aren’t mentally ready for all of this, and their worlds are just shaken up,” Jagers said about the Olympics getting postponed. “But I feel like my whole world has been shaken up and turned upside-down so many times.”
Jagers said talking to Lex Gillette, a 35-year-old blind Paralympic athlete from North Carolina who competes in long jump, has helped him put the postponement into perspective.
“He’s telling me how this wouldn’t affect him, because he’s blind,” Jagers said. “Like, he’s been through so much more than the postponement of an Olympic Games.
“And I thought about that too, and I’m like, I lost my dad, I had a torn labrum, a torn abdominal, now even a torn peck, to where the postponement, it’s something we’ve got to deal with, but I’ll be OK. I’ve dealt with heartbreak. I’ve dealt with that multiple times. So, this feeling is something that I already have built up in my mind of where I’ll go in the next step. Like, I’m battle-tested. So, I’ll be OK.”
With high school and collegiate athletics getting shut down from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the NBA getting shutdown, with the NHL getting shutdown and with the MLB getting postponed, the Olympics felt like the last major sporting event to be left untouched. The opening ceremony was scheduled for July 24.
But on March 23, the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, came to the decision that it would be in the best interest of the athletes, as well as the integrity of the Games, to postpone the quadrennial event until the next summer.
Jagers, who has been perfecting his craft at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center just outside of San Diego since graduating from Kent State University in 2017, said it was difficult to anticipate the postponement coming so soon. The decision came two days after IOC officials said they would give themselves four weeks to come up with an ultimatum.
“I don’t think anyone really sees it coming, but it’s something that’s in the back of your mind,” Jagers said. “When the NCAA made the decision to suspend their season, that’s when it became real. We had three collegiate programs here at the Olympic Training Center, and they were all sent home.
“And I’m just like, ‘Wow, they just suspended their season,’ and then you’ve got seniors who are done. And then you see the high schools and their season is suspended. They have seniors as well who are done. I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if I didn’t get to compete in my senior season of either my high school or my college career, because those seasons were probably the biggest seasons I had in my life. It got me to where I am now.”
Jagers didn’t start throwing discus until his junior year of high school, when he maxed out tossing the 1.6-kilogram disc 163 feet.
By his senior year at Solon, Jagers captured a region title, recorded the second-best mark in program history at 184 feet, 8 inches, and finished fifth to land a podium spot at the Division I state meet in Columbus. That earned him a scholarship opportunity at Kent State University.
“And even in my collegiate season, my junior year I felt like I was robbed of an NCAA championship,” Jagers said. “I got seventh. I don’t know if you remember, but the cage was in the sector for me as a left-handed thrower. They didn’t know how to fix it. So, I had two of my best throws go into the cage.”
The wind was blowing the cage netting into fair territory for left-handed throwers like Jagers. So, his fifth and sixth attempts of the 2016 NCAA championships hit the cage even though they were released in fair territory.
His senior season at Kent State, Jagers tossed the 2-kilogram collegiate disc 62.51 meters, or about 205 feet, to finish runner-up at the 2017 NCAA championships, bested only be Filip Mihaljevic, a 6-foot-7 Croatian thrower out of the University of Virginia, who beat Jagers with his final throw of 63.76 meters. Mihaljevic went on to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
“Being the NCAA runner-up, I ended up making the World University Team and won gold in that,” Jager said. “So, I could imagine if I didn’t have that senior year that I probably would not have made the World University Games team, which ended up giving me international status to where the Olympic Training Center would want to invite me and be on that Olympic Training Center team.
“So, yeah, a lot of things are tough for those guys, and I feel for the high schoolers and the senior collegiate athletes, because I just don’t know where I would be at this point.”
During the 2018 summer – after training in Chula Vista for about a year – Jagers had a breakthrough outdoor season, winning gold at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships and recording a mark of 68.61 meters, or about 225 feet, to take over the No. 1 ranking in the U.S. and the No. 5 ranking in the world.
That distance is ranked 13th all-time in U.S. history and would have been good enough for gold at the last two Olympics and good enough for silver at the four Olympic Games prior to that.
In that regard, it’d be easy for someone like Jagers to say that the 2020 Olympics is his time to shine and the postponement is robbing him of that opportunity.
“I marked that off of my list of excuses,” he said about having to train another year. “I try not to have excuses. So, that’s a cancellation, because I can’t say, ‘Oh, well, I was peaked for such and such.’ No, everybody was peaked. That’s going to be everybody’s excuse right now. So, I think about the things I can control and what’s in my realm of control.”
Pressure had already been mounting for the IOC to postpone the 2020 Games, after countries like Canada and Australia already stated they would not send their athletes to the Tokyo Olympics without postponement.
Germany and Poland also pushed for the Games to be delayed.
Jagers said he was in favor of postponement at that time, because, if he makes the U.S. Olympic Team, he’d want to compete against the world’s best when they’re at their best, rather than competing against fellow international athletes who have been training under unsuitable circumstances.
“You would never want an asterisk next to an Olympic Games or next to your time in the spotlight,” he said. “So, let’s go at it in 2021 – no pandemic. It’s all about your training and your level of work and you as an athlete, and just know of outside excuses that people can have to as why things worked out or didn’t work out. And that’s what I want to be a part of.”
Before the postponement, the U.S. Olympic Committee sent out a survey to more than 4,000 Olympic hopefuls. About seven in 10 respondents said they didn’t think the Games would be fair, if held this July.
Jagers was in that majority.
“I said the Games would not be fair, just because, even when you think about across state lines and between different cities in America, there’s different levels of quarantine, where some people are able to do more than others,” he said. “And then when you take that even further to the international level, there are other countries that are able to perform better where they would never even step in the way of their athletes being able train and to compete.”
Daniel Stahl, a world favorite discus thrower out of Sweden, for example, would pretty much have any gym in his country available to him, because he doesn’t have to compete with the depth of athletes like in the U.S., Jagers said.
In San Diego, where Jagers trains, gyms are shut down from the gubernatorial quarantine orders in California. As a result, Jagers has taken his weight lifting outdoors, he said.
“I’ve got all the essentials, but it’s not as pretty as it used to be,” he said. “So, it kind of even takes me back to high school days or days where you’d have to improvise. I feel like that really builds at least character in the moment so that, when the Olympic Trials do actually happen, I’ve got something to look back on and say, you know, we made it, and we thought outside the box to get it done, and we weren’t complacent in the moment.
“So, that’s something I want to take with me. Things that are happening right now in the world, visualization could be a key tool for myself when I’m in those meets in the future and thinking back to all the crazy ways I had get around the pandemic and keep myself in good shape and being able to transition to 2021 without any hitches.”
One blessing in disguise for Jagers is the fact that he took the month of January to partake in a training camp in Jamaica, where he actually tore his non-throwing pectoral muscle while doing bench press sets with 430 pounds on the bar, he said.
He had the same surgery that Houston Texans star JJ Watt underwent and was cleared to return to action in the same season.
“So, I didn’t feel like that injury would stop anything, to be honest,” Jagers said. “My timeline would have been condensed, but I know how long it takes me to throw far and things of that nature of training. I think it takes me probably a month and a half to get to 63 meters, and then every week after that is exponential gains.”
The name of the game for top-tier athletes is to stay healthy, but, if that doesn’t happen, then they have to learn to adapt, Jagers said.
But there’s no precedent for an Olympics postponement because of a pandemic like coronavirus. The Olympics had never been rescheduled for a condition other than war. The 1916, 1940 and 1944 Games were canceled because of the World Wars.
And American athletes lost out on the opportunity to compete in the 1980 Summer Games because of then-President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
Solon 1976 graduate Kris Kirchner, who punched his ticket to the 1980 Olympics in the 100-meter freestyle, as well as the 400 freestyle relay, never got to compete at any Games.
At least for Jagers, he plans to be on the international stage for time to come.
“I’m kind of planning to be in this for the long haul,” he said. “This was supposed to be an Olympics in my journey and in my legacy. In my mind, it wasn’t going to be the only Olympics. So, obviously, I want to make more than one Olympic team and be dominant over a span of time. So, I just have to realize that this is in my story, I guess. This is just a part of the journey – postponed Olympics, came back and you have to set the road on 2021.”