Carol Newman Cronin knows firsthand there’s no smooth sailing for any Olympian’s journey. In her case, she was tasked with transporting a boat from Rhode Island to Annapolis, Maryland. The reason Cronin will never forget the ride is that it occurred on Sept. 12, 2001, and her route placed her on The George Washington Bridge.
“I remember looking south and the twin towers were still smoking,” says Cronin, who led the U.S. sailing team in the 2004 Athens Games. The squad won two regattas but ultimately did not medal.
Once again, the world is turned on its axis, as Cronin puts it—this time due to COVID-19. But this experience is already different for hopeful Olympians, who have been forced to reset their clock to 2021 to compete in the Tokyo Summer Olympics. While the the U.S recovered slowly from 9/11, sports resumed relatively quickly. Now, though, organized activities are on hold, along with the rest of the world.
The skipper retired from Olympic racing in 2007 but is competitive in a national series. She was set to participate in a national championship in March before it was postponed. Cronin says one sailor slated to race tested positive for coronavirus. “That brought it closer to home,” says Cronin, whose boats remain in Florida as a result of the shutdown.
The author of a new book, “Ferry to Cooperation Island,” Cronin gave her take on how the virus will affect the Olympic experience.
What did you think when the Olympics were postponed to 2021?
My first reaction was a little bit of relief. Yes, it’s a disappointment to not be able to watch the games this year but it was getting so uncertain. It’s great to have an actual date back on the calendar. With the crazy things that happen to you during your Olympic campaign, the time you have to work on is the one certainty, your north star. For that to change is like the Earth realigning for the athletes.
How do you think the delay will affect the athletes?
Like every other change, it’s an opportunity and a challenge. It may be different people succeed compared to if the games were on time. But that’s part of the game to prepare yourself for when the games start. At the Olympics, you have to have your “A-game.” You can’t say, “I’m usually good in October.”
How do you expect your experience after 9/11 may differ from these would-be Olympians?
We kept sailing because that was the only thing we knew to do. I’m glad we did. We heard from supporters that it was a form of inspiration that the world does go on. But now they can’t interact with teammates and go sailing. The people I feel sorriest for are the athletes who have to yet to qualify for 2020/2021, because they will be in limbo another six, eight, 10 months depending on how qualifiers are scheduled. That’s the biggest uncertainty now.
What sort of scene do you think it will be, assuming the Olympics go on as re-scheduled?
I think it would be an incredible celebration of getting to normal, or what I like to call the “new normal” because I’m sure the world will continue to look different even when we are able to get back to competing and sports again.
What a logistical challenge it will be, but how exciting is it to have two Olympics within six months—the Summer and Winter Games. Fortunately, there is only a small overlap for the athletes but for the spectators, it is going to be incredible. Fortunately, the games are in Japan and the Japanese do a great job of shifting gears and will make this work.