Coronavirus sparks memories of challenges with travel to past four Olympics

U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the summer Olympics should be postponed by a year. An executive board member from the Tokyo 2020 committee hinted there could be a delay. Words such as “unthinkable” and “inconceivable” have been used by the Governor of Tokyo, Prime Minister of Japan, and President of the IOC when questioned about postponement of cancellation.

Only the IOC has the power to officially cancel or delay the Olympics, but the Tokyo 2020 Host Organizing Committee can mandate events to be held without spectators. The rapidly escalating and fast-changing situation due to the coronavirus pandemic has caused nations to close their borders and stadiums. The question is, how long?

The fifth Tiffin University Academic Experience with Olympians remains scheduled to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, whatever that will look like in four short months. Every previous Academic Experience with Olympians has proved challenging in some respect. No experience thus far, however, has proved to be as challenging as the forthcoming program in Japan. Consider a few of the challenging memories from each program:


In Greece, a passport was lost (prompting second trip to the U.S. Embassy) and a student who worked the dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremonies called from a police station at 3 a.m. after being unable to navigate her way back to the group compound located in the village of Pallini owned by “Spyro.” Sypro provided his rooftop where participants camped until the intense heat of the Greek sun awakened anyone trying to sleep. It required a mile walk down a windy, narrow, dirt trail to get to a bus stop where temperatures reached 105 or higher on many days. The crowded bus ride took an hour to reach the Athens Metro system. However, the brother and aunt of Cat Osterman (USA Softball) did manage to climb the hill overlooking the Agean Sea and join the group for one of the many memorable nights at Sypro’s. The biggest challenge was dealing with the death of Tiffin University’s Janet Hanna in a private plane accident only six short months after the Games. Janna was the other coordinator for the Academic Experience with Olympians who lived and worked in Greece for 25 years and connected the group to Spyro.


In the Republic of China, Kimmy Tiell, then a 14-year old Calvert student, and two Tiffin University graduate students failed to return from what was due to be a 30-minute taxi ride after a group dinner with Fred Zoeller and his son (Chris) until approximately five or six hours later. In the interim, media reported the father-in-law of an assistant women’s volleyball coach for Team USA was murdered while sightseeing on top of the Drum Tower. Thankfully, a reasonable taxi charge was worked out after communication revealed Kimmy and the girl’s driver headed to a different “Sunshine” complex three hours in the opposite direction of the dormitories where the group was staying. There were also challenges due to China’s censorship policies and their communist government. Fearing the raucous nature of large crowds gathering, the government canceled the transmission of the Opening Ceremonies on outdoor screens less than 15 minutes prior to the impending start with orders for police and military to clear the streets. Thankfully, a random Chinese pub in the vicinity of the Tiffin University group was open with a few small televisions for an impromptu viewing party. Impossible traffic, extremely poor air quality, and protests over China’s deplorable human rights conditions were further challenges that left an unfavorable impression.


In Great Britain, the ridiculous exchange rate with the British pound proved to be challenging, a student lost their credit card, and others had their credit cards declined. Eighteen individuals cohabitating for two weeks together in a mixed dormitory room at the Clink 261 Hostel in Kings Cross also proved a bit challenging.


In Brazil, the Zika virus threatened the Academic Experience with Olympians, but not one individual canceled. The zika virus was enough, however, to cancel a group excursion the day prior to the Opening Ceremony. Brazil’s deplorable crime rate, water contamination, and domestic protests over corrupt political officials added to the challenges in Rio. Operations at Olympic venues also proved problematic with mass chaos, missed events, and impossibly long concession lines that often closed when they ran out of food before noon. The most frustrating experience was gathering for the humanitarian day with underprivileged children at the Olympic Reunion Center and learning the individual in charge of coordinating the local youth participants hadn’t contacted anyone. Forty “swag bags” stuffed with items from the U.S. were donated to a local YMCA in Rio de Janeiro.


The Coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on sports, travel, and the world economy. Speculating about an Olympics without spectators is a minimal $1 billion loss in ticket sales alone, but the Academic Experience with Olympians would still commence, even if stadiums ban the public. To date, a student and professor from separate universities have canceled participating in the 2020 Academic Experience with Olympians — the first ever cancelation since the program launched 16 years ago. Changes to the flight time for the departure of the first leg of the trip currently has an arrival time three hours after the departure time for the second leg to Japan and it has been near impossible to connect with a live voice to make changes since President Trump announced the increased travel ban which has extended travel restrictions to 28 countries as of today.

Yes, every program in conjunction with the Olympic Academic Experience has been earmarked by some type of challenge with some years proving to be more challenging than others. The 2020 experience is proving, by far, to be the most challenging to date, but it’s encouraging to reflect on one of the many indelible quotes of Martin Luther King who once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at in times of challenge and controversy.”

With the coronavirus and other challenges threatening the Tiffin University Academic Experience with Olympians in Tokyo this summer, rest assured the reward from the experience will be that much sweeter in the end. Stay tuned for more fascinating sports stories from around the globe, around the nation, around the state, and right here in our community in Tiffin, Ohio.