Ryan Crouser, the 2016 Olympic shot-put champion, had expected to defend his gold medal in Tokyo this summer. He did not expect to enter bass-fishing tournaments as a way to feed his competitive bend that was being stifled by a pandemic.
“Finished in the money three of the last four tournaments,” Crouser, 27, who lives in Fayetteville, Ark., said in a telephone interview.
Many Olympic sports lost their primary showcase with the postponement of this year’s Tokyo Games. The annual international circuit for dozens of sports were also disrupted. Some athletes, their motivation sagging, decided to throw in the towel and resume serious training in the fall.
But not everyone.
On July 18, after driving 10 hours to compete in one of the rare track meets held this summer, Crouser unleashed the best throw of his life — 75 feet 2 inches, or 22.91 meters — which tied for the fourth-best throw of all time.
He is one of many athletes who have performed as well as or better than ever despite the complications of the last several months. They say they feel refreshed by increased rest, less exhaustive travel, enhanced focus on training, healed injuries, creative improvisation and a less stressful perspective.
Claire Curzan, 16, an Olympic swimming hopeful from Raleigh, N.C., said it had been “almost a relief” when the Tokyo Games were postponed. After posting a top-20 time in the world last year in the 100-meter butterfly and reaching the medal podium at the world junior championships, she said she felt pressure to make the Olympic team “to make everyone proud.”
Yet when her club pool shut down in March, Curzan was forced to rethink her approach. She improvised her workouts, ran to maintain her stamina, and began focusing on improvement instead of international rankings. And perhaps most important, she slept at least nine hours per night instead of six or seven.