As the coronavirus continues to topple domino after domino in the sports world, this week brought one of the biggest fallen events of all – the Tokyo Olympic Games have been officially postponed to 2021, with both spring and summer being considered as target times by the IOC.
This affects athletes the world over, but one of those athletes is our very own Trinity Thomas, fresh off a shortened sophomore season where she racked up the maximum of five All-America honors and eight SEC Gymnast of the Week awards (making her the presumed winner of the prestigious SEC Gymnast of the Year award, should the conference decide to give yearly superlatives despite not completing the season). Thomas has maintained her elite skills and continued to train at a higher difficulty throughout her time at Florida – she won gold for the United States at the Pan American Championships the fall before her freshman season and was invited to the Worlds Selection Camp in the fall of 2019, mere months before this season. Though Thomas declined a spot at the most recent national team camp, resulting in her removal from the national team roster, her sights have been set on Olympic Trials, which were scheduled for June in St. Louis. While they have yet to be officially cancelled, the postponement of the Olympics almost necessitates a postponement of Trials. Combine the undefined new schedule of competition with the closure of most gyms in the country, leaving many athletes unable to train, and you end up with a lot of uncertainty and confusion as to who would continue training for Tokyo and how they’re going to get there.
But Thomas isn’t terribly concerned about her Olympic timeline – in fact, she’s almost a bit relieved, as are many other athletes around the world. “Whether the virus would be gone or not, this is a huge impact on athletes’ training in general, so it would just be unfair on the athletes to try to go for Tokyo this summer,” she said in a conference call with press today. “I’m trying to use [all the extra downtime] to my advantage; instead of focusing on all the negatives, I’m focusing on the positive. Having an extra year could benefit me… It gives me more time to train more skills and figure things out. It’s definitely a plus to have more time to get prepared.”
It’s only been a few days since it was first reported that the Olympics would be postponed, so many athletes have not had time to react and figure out their plans. Thomas is somewhat included in that number, as she’s been without coach Jenny Rowland, who will help her refocus and make a new training plan. But as far as whether or not to continue training, Thomas is crystal clear: “Plans are not changing!” she said when asked if she will continue to train. Though her gym is closed, she told us, “I’m doing what I can in my house, and Jenny and I are going to work on a plan.” She has plenty of resources available to her, as her club coach and two of her coaches at Florida have designed and distributed home workouts for their athletes.
She and Rowland plan to take this extra time to make a new plan and refocus. As far as training environments go, Thomas plans stay at home in York, Pa. until the fall unless campus opens back up. If it did, which would hopefully mean that the gym would also be open, Thomas plans to head back to Gainesville at that point and continue training.
When asked about the possibility of the rescheduled Games conflicting with NCAA season, Thomas admitted she hadn’t heard that that was being considered. When asked about choosing between the two, she said, “It’s not a decision I’m ready to make right now. It would be very difficult.”
Barring scheduling difficulties though, Thomas was very clear that during season, NCAA is still 100% her priority. She felt that the Olympics being postponed was almost less jarring than the rest of season being canceled, and that she and her teammates have struggled because of the open-ended nature of the cancellation. “The hardest part is just not knowing and not really having a timeline,” she said.
Like most schools around the country, Florida has not given students any kind of indication of when campus might open back up, if at all. Graduations around the country are being canceled or made virtual, though many are inviting 2020 graduates to join them at next school year’s ceremonies, and classes are moving entirely online. One might think an elite gymnast would be used to this, as most do online schooling throughout high school to devote more time to training, but Thomas admitted it’s been hard for her. “It’s like cyberschool all over again. It’s been a little difficult, because I don’t learn best this way, but they’ve made tutoring and other resources available, everything that would’ve been there if we were in school.”
But despite the uncertainty about when they’ll be allowed to train again, Thomas and her teammates have their sights set on 2021. “We were so motivated this season and we were ready to go all the way, and though it came to an unfortunate stop, that doesn’t mean that we stop. We are going to use this as more fuel to our fire.”
She also expressed how hard it was to say goodbye to the seniors. The team didn’t even get a proper sendoff, as all athletic activities were shut down before Rowland could gather the team for a stand-in senior night intrasquad. Goodbyes had to be done outside the gym, and they couldn’t be long – students were being sent home within mere days of athletic cancellations. Thomas told us, “Because this team is so close, so to say goodbye not really knowing what was next for us was definitely difficult.”
Rowland said her goodbyes earlier last week, as she read an inspiring letter she wrote to her team and to Gator Nation about how special this season and this team were to her. It was clear that she, too, felt the difficulty that came with this abrupt ending.
— Gators Gymnastics (@GatorsGym) March 20, 2020
Rowland’s words and coaching have clearly had an impact on this team – they buy into her message of controlling the controllables and staying in the moment. When asked about next season, Thomas echoed her coach. “I know what this team is capable of – we owe it to ourselves and we’ve worked so hard, so even though we can’t control this, we can control what we do… so I’m excited to see what we’ll do next.”
But she also showed us a rare moment of what might be best described as candid frustration – which is appropriate when you consider how close Florida was to its fourth national title this year. When asked about goals for 2021, her first response, “I just want to win a national championship!” Same, girl. Same.