Washington: With tears in her eyes, Nadine Apetz asked herself "why not one more day?" The German boxer had waited four years, and a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics was tantalisingly close when the qualifying tournament in London was suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.
"One day longer and I might have had it," said Apetz, a 34-year-old welterweight who is studying for a doctorate in neuroscience. "I was crying because I was so disappointed. You are so close to your biggest goal, and it's all stopped."
The pandemic has forced many Olympic hopefuls to wait it out, but the delay is particularly painful for the European boxers who were on the verge of qualification last month. Several were only one victory away. The competition at the Copper Box was suspended after three days.
A short time later, the Tokyo Games were postponed for one year and are now set to open on July 23, 2021. "They probably shouldn't have started it in the first place," Apetz said, citing public health risks. Fighters including Apetz, Emilie Sonvico of France and Charley Davison of Britain won their opening bouts. If they win their next one, they will qualify.
Likewise, lightweights Luke McCormack of Britain and Nikolai Terteryan of Denmark can qualify in their next bout, while their welterweight twin brothers Pat McCormack and Sebastian Terteryan can guarantee spots with two more wins each. The London competition lasted long enough for 16 boxers to qualify. Among them was British featherweight Peter McGrail.
"Tokyo 2020 see ya there," he wrote on Instagram, followed by an expletive about the virus. Sixty-one European spots remain available. "It was so painful for me," the 31-year-old Sonvico, who like Apetz was scheduled to fight again on Day 4, said of leaving London emptyhanded.
"It's difficult because we have to go back to training. It's a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice." Like other athletes, they also have practical challenges in lockdown. Davison, a flyweight who set aside earlier Olympic aspirations to start a family, trains at home while coparenting three young children.
Apetz is trying to finish her Ph.D. in neuroscience, examining brain stimulation in Parkinson's disease. Sonvico is an investigator with the gendarmerie, which conducts police duties but under French military jurisdiction. She is been on leave while with the national team, but that was to end soon.