South Korean volleyball star Kim Yeon-koung had long anticipated that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics would be postponed, amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
But expecting it to happen was one thing; hearing the news of the postponement late Tuesday was something else.
Kim admitted she was still caught a bit off guard, but the women's national team captain tried to take it all in stride.
"Obviously, because of the virus, it's difficult to live a normal life anywhere in the world," Kim said in a statement released by her agency, Lianat. "I think (the postponement) was the logical decision."
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo's organizing committee agreed to move the Olympics, set for July 24-Aug. 9, to beyond 2020, but no later than summer of 2021. They had been under mounting pressure to postpone the quadrennial competition, after their refusal to budge drew the ire of athletes, national Olympic committees and even IOC members last week.
For those who had yet to qualify for the Olympics and had been on the bubble, this delay will likely mean a fresh opportunity and extra time to prepare. But for a veteran like Kim, who turned 32 almost exactly a month ago, the additional year of preparation can take a mental and physical toll.
And perhaps no one sacrificed more than Kim to send South Korea to Tokyo in the first place. The team's most talented attacker played the Asian qualifying tournament in January with a torn abdominal muscle. She was pulled during the first set of the team's last preliminary match against Kazakhstan, and she sat out the next contest, a semifinals showdown against Chinese Taipei.
Kim took painkillers and gutted through the entire match against Thailand in the final. She scored a match-high 22 points to lift South Korea to a straight-set victory and an Olympic berth.
After the tournament ended Jan. 12, Kim was ruled out for six weeks. She accepted a pay cut for missing time with her Turkish club, Eczacibasi VitrA. And just as she was prepared to return for the club's playoffs, the Turkish league ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
But despite this roller-coaster ride, Kim hasn't lost sight of her goal -- winning her first Olympic medal.
Kim had said all along Tokyo would be her last Olympics. In Kim's Olympic debut at London 2012, South Korea lost to Japan in the bronze medal match. Four years later in Rio de Janeiro, South Korea was knocked out of the quarterfinals by the Netherlands.
"I've worked so hard for the Olympics in 2020, and to have this opportunity delayed so close to the competition is pretty difficult, I am sure, for my teammates as well," Kim said. "But it is what it is. We have to bear down and prepare hard for the Olympics in 2021." (Yonhap)