The unbridled spread of the novel coronavirus has forced the world, and its institutions, into lockdown as society desperately struggles to mitigate the pandemic. For former Emory Eagle Andrew Wilson (17C), this is just another roadblock in his unorthodox quest for Olympian status.
One of the last major athletic dominoes to fall in the fight against COVID-19 was the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Although the status of the games was first called into question several weeks ago, it was not until March 23 that the Olympics were officially put on hold.
Despite the necessity of the postponement, Wilson, who swims breaststroke for the USA Swimming national team, was nonetheless saddened to put his Olympic dreams on hold for another year.
“[Postponement] was necessary, and I really wish we weren’t in a position where it was necessary, but it was a smart thing to do,” Wilson said. “It was disappointing just because it’s a focus you have for a long time, and … we were getting into the home-stretch [before the Olympic trials].”
The focus to which Wilson alluded has been accumulating for over half a decade. In pursuit of his Olympic dream, he suspended his studies at Emory for a year and ultimately came within spitting distance of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Had he finished just a few spots higher in that year’s Olympic trials, he would have become the first NCAA Division III swimmer to make an Olympic team. His near miss did not deter Wilson from achieving his dream; if anything, it motivated him to bunker down and work harder.
After the trials, Wilson returned to Emory and capped off his senior season in historic fashion. Aside from being named the NCAA Division III Men’s Swimmer of the Year for the second time, he set three Division III records and was a national champion in five events at the 2017 NCAA Division III Championships. Since then, he has continued to build upon his remarkable resume.
“I’ve just been swimming professionally full-time [since 2017],” Wilson said. “I did [the 2017 Summer] World University Games; 2018 Summer Pan Pacific Championships; [and] 2018 Winter [FINA] World Short Course Championships. Last summer, I did [FINA] World Championships.”
In all, Wilson has collected several medals as a national swimmer, including two individual gold medals at the 2017 World University Games and two collective golds as a key member of the 400-meter medley relay at the 2018 Pan Pacific and FINA World Championships.
Wilson, like many other Olympic hopefuls, has been training consistently for several years in anticipation of the 2020 Summer Olympics. He’s no stranger to putting his life on hold to achieve his Olympic dreams, having already delayed his academic career several times in his pursuits. He first took a gap year from Emory in 2016 to train for the trials and will now have to delay his education further as he prepares for next summer’s Olympics, which are set to begin on July 23, 2021.
“I was planning on going to graduate school in the Fall,” Wilson explained. “I have to ask for a deferment for a year, so that’s the immediate impact in terms of plans.”
The most striking aspect of the situation for Wilson, though, is the abrupt pause in livelihood he and so many others are facing as a result of COVID-19’s rampant dissemination. Wilson estimates that Team USA won’t resume collective training nor compete in any meets “until at least the middle of the summer.”
Wilson knows that postponing the Olympics was absolutely the right decision by the International Olympic Committee; yet, the temporary loss of his beloved sport is nonetheless heartbreaking.
“When [competition is] postponed, it takes away a little bit of your purpose, at least in the short term,” he said.
Although his Olympic dreams have been delayed one year, there are some silver linings. After years of intense training and competition, Wilson is looking forward to a break.
“Right now, I’m taking a little bit of time off,” Wilson said. “Now that we’ve got another 15 months until the Games, I was like, ‘Alright, it’s time for a little mental and physical break just to reset before we gear up again.’”