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Sam Kendricks: 2021 Olympics will be the “most popular” in its history

While plenty of athletes might be disheartened at the fact they will not be able to compete in summer Olympics this year, a local Olympian is choosing to look at the positives.

Sam Kendricks is one of hundreds of American athletes who were set to earn their way onto the nation’s Olympic team later this summer, but now must wait a little while longer. The International Olympic Committee announced the summer games would be postponed to a later date, no later than summer 2021.

The COVID-19 outbreak began in China and slowly made its way across the globe, hitting European countries hard. Kendricks was competing in Germany earlier this year when news broke that the indoor track & field season would be ending before it began, and that the world indoor championships in China would be delayed to next year.

“I’m glad that they decided not to cancel it,” Kendricks said of the world championships. “Because canceling an opportunity in this sport, and in any sport, stinks. It works fine, because it’s a two-cycle. So, barring another global pandemic, they can run the world championships in back-to-back years.”

Kendricks was on the road the entire month of February, and returned home just before the pandemic gained traction and shut down international travel.

March and April are usually downtime months for Kendricks in his yearly competitive calendar, so the risk of missing out on competition in the spring was low for the Oxford native. For others, including athletes at the high school and collegiate levels, whose outdoor seasons had just gotten started, they’re losing out on what might have been their senior seasons.

During an Olympic year, many senior collegiate athletes see it as an opportunity to finish off their amateur career with a shot at competing on the world stage. That goal will have to wait another 15 months, and some may have lost that chance altogether.

“The best possible thing that could have happened after they canceled the NCAA sporting events this year is move the Olympics,” Kendricks said. “A huge portion of our Olympic team comes from the NCAA, and those guys and girls being strong and ready to compete is incumbent on their ability to run in college. Honestly, it’s a good thing, considering what already happened.

We’ll get another crop, and I hate to say it that way, we’ll get another crop of NCAA athletes ready for the Olympics next year. The real sacrifice of the right now is all the people who were at the end of their road, trying to capitalize on great, last season. … My heart goes out to them.”

The former Oxford High School and Ole Miss track & field standout is the reigning world champion in pole vault. Four years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Kendricks competed in his first Olympics and came away with the bronze medal. This year, he was one of the strong favorites come home with gold, and should still be a strong contender in 2021.

Every major professional sports league is on hold or waiting to see if they will be able to begin their 2020 seasons at all. The anticipation to see sports being played once again, and the demand, will be at an all-time high.

When it comes to next year in Tokyo, Kendricks does not see any other sporting event being more hyped than the Olympics returning.

“I’m not going to cry because the Olympics were delayed for one year. I’m going to look at it a different way,” Kendricks said. “The next Olympics, the fifth-year Olympics, will be the most touted, the most popular, the most sought-after Olympics ever in its lifespan. Because it will be the Olympics (that was) delayed by a global unification event where everybody was talking about everybody all at once. It will be the one that everybody was in the vacuum of, waiting for the next year. All sports will come back with a clamor, hopefully, next year.”

Kendricks said he is keeping an optimistic outlook and looking for the silver lining in all of this and hoping he can return to competition later this year either at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. in June or potentially at an event in Stockholm, Sweden.