Former Buff Segrave and 2016 Olympian Cooper talk COVID-19 Olympic impact

Tanner Cook • Apr 18, 2020 at 10:00 AM

An event that folks usually look forward to every four years is the Summer Olympics. 

Athletes from disciplines like track and field to basketball, badminton, shooting and others have worked countless hours over a four-year period to get to the pinnacle of sports with the entire world watching. 

However, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the International Olympic Committee decided — and was mostly pressured by the rest of the world — to delay the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by almost a year. The Games were due to start in late July and run almost an entire month. 

Track athletes are in the same boat as everyone else and have to keep training even though there are no competitions being held now or for the foreseeable future. 

Former Milligan four-time individual national champion Hannah Segrave was one of the Olympic hopefuls for Great Britain in the 800 meters before the Games were postponed. 

“Obviously, looking back on the decision now, it was for the best,” Segrave said. “With the way the coronavirus was spreading — especially in the UK — I think it would have been difficult to run any sort of race.”

She had come off of running some of her best races in the past year and was gearing up for the Müller British Athletics Championships on June 20-21 in Manchester. The meet was rescheduled to August 4-5 at the same venue. It will serve as both the British Championships and as the Olympic Trials for Team GB. 

“Training is a little different right now, but I’m not going back to square one and putting in a lot of miles,” she said. “We’re just really trying to stay smooth right now and push the envelope a little bit more.”

Great Britain is one of the deepest countries in the world when it comes to female middle-distance running, spearheaded by Laura Muir (1:58.42) and Lynsey Sharp (1:58.61), who both rank inside the top 10 in the world by time since the beginning of 2019. Segrave with her run of 2:00.18 at the Müller Anniversary Games last year is currently sixth-best for British female 800 runners. She is currently ranked 32nd in the world since the beginning of 2019. 

“I think I would have been right in the mix since I ran 2:00.18 last year and had progressed every year that I have been under Coach (Chris) Layne,” Segrave said. “Of course, I’d have to run well at the British Trials — where it counts.”

Segrave trains with 2016 United States Olympian and 7-time NCAA individual national champion Abbey D’Agostino Cooper of Asheville. Cooper had been recovering from an injury and believes the extra year will help her.

“I knew the decision had been brewing for about a week and I really wasn’t shocked at first, but my heart hurts for all of those that have their lives revolve around an Olympic cycle,” Cooper said. “I feel like this extra year will help me and others and it will only help the longer distance runners get stronger.”

To make matters even more difficult, World Athletics (formerly the IAAF) pushed back the Olympic qualifying window to start in December. 

Athletes must not only qualify for their respective national teams, but they must meet the Olympic qualifying time standard within a certain window of time. 

“The good thing is that the athletes that already met those qualifying marks in January and February get to keep them and count the towards the Olympic standard,” Cooper said. “In the end, it really actually gives us an extra two months to get the Olympic standard.”

In other words, even if there ended up being big-time track meets this year before December, the times would not count toward the Olympic standard.

“It does make it kind of different having to peak in between the months of December and possibly June,” Seagrave said. 

So, what are athletes like Segrave and Cooper to do during these times where they are in limbo?

“I don’t think an extra year will hinder me,” Segrave said. “I think for me it’s all about finding the right race and there will be plenty of opportunities. This will give me enough time to get stronger and ready for the Trials.”

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