Donn Cabral eyeing Tokyo 2021 while recognizing wider ramifications of postponement is really tough

After a couple of self-described “subpar” running years, Donn Cabral had finally rediscovered his groove in December and was getting excited over what the future held — in his mind, a strong chance at qualifying for a third Olympics appearance to close out his career.

His dream isn’t dead now that the Tokyo Games have been postponed until July 23, 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic; he’ll just have to adjust his plans. But Cabral, who grew up in Glastonbury, considers himself one of the more fortunate Tokyo hopefuls. He’s already represented the U.S. in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in both London and Rio. Not everyone can say that.

“It takes a lot of fire every day, and it takes a lot of energy to generate that fire, to get up and do that hard work,” Cabral said in a phone interview. “And to think about, 'Can I do this for one more year just to have my shot at that dream?’ and to know that that dream is still only just a chance, that’s a very difficult thing. So pushing this back a year is really tough.

“My heart really goes out for people who haven’t made a team yet, and particularly for those who are in the best shape of their lives. It’s very difficult to get back to that same level. They had a chance to make it this time, and it’s like, ‘I wanted to strike when the iron was hot,' and now it’s going to be difficult.”

After initially delaying a decision on the 2020 Games, which were originally scheduled to begin July 24, the IOC and Japan finally reached an agreement last week to postpone them to 2021. USA Track & Field’s Olympic trials, originally set to take place in late June, will be rescheduled. Depending on the virus’ spread, the organization will try to salvage competition for the remainder of 2020 so athletes can earn some income and stay fit both physically and emotionally.

The 30-year-old Cabral, who says he’ll likely stop running professionally going into 2022, is relieved that the Tokyo Olympics will only be delayed a year. He thought the IOC would push the Games to 2022 in anticipation of, as he fears, the coronavirus outbreak not being fully under control a year from now.

“If it were in 2022, I wouldn’t have gone for it,” said Cabral, who finished eighth in the steeplechase in both 2012 and 2016. “I would have finished my career content with London and Rio. But I certainly would like to get that third Olympics in there.”

For Cabral, an extra year of training isn’t necessarily an issue, though he does have some logistical things to work out. For one, he’ll need to decide whether to take another semester off of school to train, as he did this spring in preparation for Tokyo. The Princeton grad is working on earning both a Master of Business Administration and Juris Doctor degree at UConn.

If some form of competition resumes in the summer or fall, Cabral will also need to decide whether to train for the steeplechase, his bread and butter, or try to move up to a 10K, half-marathon or marathon. Though that’s dependent on which events will ultimately be offered. But in the immediate future, Cabral can mostly operate as normal. Unlike sprinters, who are most affected by the closure of training facilities and gyms nationwide, he can run in the woods or on the streets — just not with other people.

Even though postponement was the best decision for everyone’s safety, the ramifications of the move will be felt deeply among Olympic hopefuls, Cabral said, and not just physically.

posted Thursday April 2nd
by Alexa Philippou