MARK SPITZ became a global icon when he won seven Olympic swimming gold medals – all in world-record time – at the 1972 Munich Games.
The 70-year-old, who lives in LA, spoke exclusively to SunSport’s Rob Maul, outlining his Covid-19 pandemic masterplan to save this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
USUALLY at the Olympics, there are about 11,500 athletes at an Olympic Village. Not to mention 4,000 trainers and coaches.
It’s a unique situation. You’ve a 24/7 cafeteria-style eating system. You’ve to transport athletes to their venues of competition.
Under normal circumstances, it’s not exactly an ideal situation for establishing a ‘bubble’.
Listen, I’m not one to stand in the way of all those people that want to make their respective Olympic team.
But if I was head of the IOC or the Tokyo Organising Committee, it’d be apparent to me we’d have to create a bubble for the Tokyo Olympics in July and August.
The NBA basketball here in the US did a very effective job with the 2020 Playoffs and Finals, putting all the players into a bubble at Florida Disney World.
They controlled the environment at that venue superbly. There weren’t any Covid-19 cases.
I’ve spoken to a couple of Olympians, some gold medalists, and without telling them my opinion, each one of them has used that NBA bubble model.
Reducing the numbers of athletes isn’t therefore a hard sell. So my proposal is this: Remote Olympic trials.
Let the preliminaries happen but not in Tokyo. Hold National Olympic trials in countries around the world in a Covid-secure environment. Then we can stage just the semi-finals and finals during the Olympic period.
I’ll use my sport of swimming as an example. In Tokyo there are around 18 events for me and women. Plus one mixed event.
Fina, the sport’s governing body, could host the ‘Olympic trials’ across the globe using specific qualifying times, qualified officials and venues. correct timing devices and starting blocks etc.
Each nation is only allowed to send their top-two qualifiers – so one country doesn’t dominate the podium.
Simply take the fastest swimmers in the world, say the top 16, to the Olympics based on their best qualifying time.
Someone like American Caeleb Dressel would qualify in five events, maybe more.
But this way you’ll have a competition involving fewer swimmers, perhaps between 200-250 men and 200-250 women.
If it’s a team sport like basketball, then start the elimination process two to three months out from the Games, away from Japan.
Set up a tournament and start the process of discovering which four nations will contest the semi-finals in Japan.
Another way to ensure there will be fewer people mingling in Tokyo.
I’m sure the decision makers – the organising Olympic committee and TV networks – would endorse anything that makes the Olympics happen.
From a television point of view, the IOC can still showcase the best athletes. Somebody watching in Texas, New Zealand or London could still watch this TV presentation as if it were the Olympics.
Athletes would still have the same feeling of pride if they win medals. There could even be a modified opening ceremony.
They don’t necessarily need to have anyone in the stands of the venues. They have shown that in certain NFL matches.
One option would be to move people away from the Village and moor them on cruise ships that can hold up to 2,500 people.
Use those unused ships to create another ‘bubble’. They aren’t exactly being used at present.
Yes, there are Covid-19 vaccines available. But what if that rollout is delayed?
What if it doesn’t work the way everyone thinks?
And should any athlete step to the front of the vaccination line, ahead of a frontline health worker?
Based on the circumstances that exist today, there has got to be some compromise.
A modified version of the Olympics is better than having no experience than all.
If I had shared any concept of this six months ago, people would have said: ‘Oh, you’re crazy Mark, we’re optimistic there’ll be a cure for this.’
But I don’t see in a timing point of view that we’ll be satisfied with what medicine will provide.
And I don’t think you can ask Tokyo to postpone again and wait another year.
I don’t think this should be debated. This proposal should be realistically looked at.
In my opinion, this is the best scenario we can come up with given the global coronavirus pandemic.
Mark Spitz is a long-time Laureus Academy Member. For more details please visit www.laureus.com