The lights are out, the doors are locked and there is no activity inside Al Fong’s Great American Gymnastics Express (GAGE) facility in Blue Springs.
Under normal circumstances, the gym would be full of gymnasts of all ages, including two who have their sights set on an Olympic berth.
For the past agonizing weeks, Grain Valley’s Kara Eaker and Overland Park’s Leanne Wong have been wondering if their dream of making an Olympic gymnastics team would be dashed by the concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Early Tuesday morning they learned that the games would not be canceled, but would be postponed until 2021 likely.
In a statement from the United States Olympic Committee: “In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”
That pleases the two young gymnasts and their coach, who has taken two previous GAGE gymnasts to the Olympics, along with his wife and fellow coach Armine Barutyan-Fong.
“It’s the right decision,” said Fong, who brought Eaker and Wong to the closed facility this afternoon to visit about the Olympic decision outside, as everyone practiced social distancing on the sidewalk outside of GAGE.
“This outbreak is so much bigger than the Olympics, it is bigger than anything I can think of in my lifetime and we cannot do anything to endanger our Olympic athletes and their families who might attend the Games in Tokyo.”
Fong and his wife had Eaker and Wong razor sharp and ready for the upcoming Olympic Trials, in which they could have become the first gymnasts to represent GAGE in the Olympics since Terin Humphrey and Courtney McCool at the 2004 Games in Athens.
“With two young ladies with all the potential in the world, like Leanne and Kara, we started with baby steps,” Fong explained. “We brought them along slowly to where they are today – world class gymnasts.
“Now, it is time for conferences, for meetings – with committee members – to find out when the Games will take place, and we will have these young ladies ready to go.
“But as you can see, now is not the time to enter our facility and be concerned about germs and illness, now is the time to be smart, stay healthy and prepare for the games, whenever they may take place.
“Now is the time to be safe. This is bigger than any of us and the right decision was made.”
Eaker and Wong agree with their coach that it was the right decision but it did cause a bit of consternation.
“It was devastating thinking that they might cancel the Games,” said Eaker, a student at Grain Valley High School. “The mental part was the toughest, because we didn’t know if they would postpone or cancel the games, and that was tough.
“But Al and Armine have taught us how to be tough mentally – which you have to be if you are a gymnast – and when they reschedule the games, we will be ready.”
When asked about missing out on their daily six- to eight-hour training sessions, Eaker said, “We’re doing everything we can at home. There are a lot of ways to train at home, and, as you can see, GAGE is closed.
“Right now, after hearing that the Games will be played at a later date, we can deal with anything. We have a game plan and we are ready.”
Wong shook her head in agreement.
“For so long, we have been getting closer and closer to the Summer Games, and now that we know they will have the Olympics it’s easier to deal with everything,” Wong said. “With everything canceled, and the thought of having the Games canceled, we had a lot to deal with.
“But now, we will all work together and get through this.”
Eaker and Wong starred at the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships last August at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City.
They each earned their third consecutive spot on the United States national team.
Wong placed third on the beam, fifth on the bars and was fifth in the all-around while Eaker placed second to six-time U.S. champion Simone Biles on the beam.