When I was 6 and my dad took me to see the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, I wondered what it would feel like to be an Olympian. Twenty years later, I found out.
I arrived at the 2016 Rio Olympics ready to compete for Greece in the 10,000-meter track race. I was proud but mostly nervous as I waited for my event, which was scheduled for several days after the opening ceremony. Then, when I was finally on the starting line for my race, the Olympic feeling clicked. My competitors and I stood together, surrounded by cameras and tens of thousands of cheering spectators. The athlete next to me helped me adjust a pin on my bib, and I felt like she was the maid of honor fixing my dress on my wedding day. I was grateful to be in the company of these women—this sisterhood. I knew my competitors felt the same. So many things had to go right over our lifetimes to get here, and now we were about to join the oldest sporting tradition in the world. Just making it to the Olympics is an achievement that all athletes and fans recognize. As we waved to the crowd, our gratitude and our pre-race nerves mingled with the audience’s excitement to create an electric feeling of celebratory joy.
When the news first dropped that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be postponed, I was disappointed. My coaches and I had planned my training schedule down to the week, to prepare for a qualifying race in the spring and for the main event in the summer. My husband and I structured our entire lives around this timeline. But then I considered the swimmers, the gymnasts, and the athletes on team sports, whose training, unlike mine, could not continue during social distancing. And I understood that if spectators crowded together too soon, many thousands could contract the coronavirus. The International Olympic Committee opted to protect its athletes and to do its part in the global battle against the pandemic.