For so many, the news of the Tokyo Olympics being postponed was crushing for gymnast Shilese Jones.
“Heartbreaking for me honestly. I was so mentally prepared for it that I just really didn’t know how to feel because it wasn’t in my hands,” said Jones.
After more than two months away from training due to the pandemic, Jones returned and got back to work. And then, a call came from USA Gymnastics.
“There’s a Tokyo, Japan, meet, a friendly meet if you would like to go to it,” Jones said of the call. “Anybody is invited to it. We don’t even know if we’re going to have it yet and so I’m like, yeah, sure.”
The decision to compete was an easy one for her coach Christian Gallardo, who coached former Olympian Gabby Douglas.
“Kids are competitors. You don’t become an elite athlete in any sport without being an extremely competitive person. That’s one of the difference makers,” said Gallardo.
And so, despite not being in 100% competitive shape, Jones and Gallardo boarded a flight to Tokyo in November for a trip and gymnastics meet like no other.
“In the leadup, we had 2 weeks of monitoring and trying to isolate where we are going and testing and testing and testing and then when we got there, they knew what they were doing. They were ready for us,” said Gallardo.
“It was totally different,” said Jones. “Normally, we are allowed to tour a little bit, step outside, but we were literally stuck on the 14th floor from the time we left the hotel and came back. Our mask on, N95s in the airport, like we were stuck literally, quarantined the whole time we were there taking 2-3 COVID tests a day.”
But it worked. Jones and her fellow competitors from Japan, China and Russia got a taste of real competition under the bright lights. And organizers even allowed a limited number of fans inside. All of this to convince the world they can pull off the Olympics safely come July.
“I was already optimistic about the whole situation but seeing how they were able to handle these things and how safe we were, and how intense and serious they were taking this, it was like there’s no way this doesn’t happen,” said Gallardo. “I do this for the athletes. So, getting that feeling and coming back to the U.S., it’s on, it’s happening. We can hit training hard. It’s not even a question. Let’s go.”
The event went so well, Tokyo organizers announced 18 more test events between March and May 2021, hoping to continue to build confidence in the athletes, coaches and Japanese citizens that the Games can be done successfully.