SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) — Sturgis native Paige McPherson’s Olympic dream to participate in taekwondo is still alive.
McPherson was supposed to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the "Summer Olympics” to be postponed until 2021.
“There were a whole lot of mixed emotions. It was definitely frustrating just because we were starting our incline to our peak of our high performance plan for the Olympics,” said McPherson. “So having to hear that it’s been postponed a year our training schedule and strategy overall had to change, in order to adjust to a whole new year.
“At the same time we understood because by that time we heard about what was going on with the pandemic. Other sports, not just taekwondo were having trouble just qualifying let alone athletes that are in pools or using large facilities weren’t able to train to get ready to go to the Olympics.”
McPherson added that with everything going on with the COVID-19 pandemic it only made sense to postpone the 2020 Olympics, especially after Team Canada said they were no longer going to participate in the 2020 Olympics.
“The postponement gave us reassurance, because generally speaking, Olympics in the past were never postponed, they were just simply canceled. So it kind of gave us some hope that at least we would have a chance to compete come a year later in order to fulfill our dream that we spent grinding for the last four years,” McPherson said.
McPherson will represent Team USA in taekwondo at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, competing in the welterweight class at 67kg (147 pounds).
By qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics, McPherson did not have to re-qualify to be a part of Team USA for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the Black Hills Pioneer reported.
McPherson said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the 2021 Tokyo Olympics to be different than in years past.
First there have been changes in training for the Olympics.
“For me it has been a little bit different and unique, as far as the preparation. Before we were able to have competitions before the Olympics in order to assess where we are at,” said McPherson. “COVID has changed competitions as far as the caliber and quality of the talent are generally in Europe, and the European tournaments have been canceled these past several months.”
McPherson added, “In the Pan-Am region we are generally behind as far as medical and just overall dealing with this pandemic. So, we haven’t had any Pan-Am or regional competitions.
McPherson was quick to point at that she isn’t the only one facing these adverse training conditions.
“There have been other athletes that have been facing these same conditions. The only thing we can do is control what we can control, and we’ll see what happens in Tokyo,” McPherson said.
McPherson said training for this year’s Olympics has been unique.
“I have tried to compartmentalize my motions and the way I approach this Olympics. It’s really about focusing on my performance rather than what’s going to happen come Tokyo, especially since there ha been rumors going on as whether or not the Tokyo Olympics is going to happen.”
The pandemic has caused changes to travel plans.
“We fly out the second week of July (16th or 17th), basically 10 days before I compete. We will be all the way until I compete on July 26, and then we fly out as soon as we are done competing, the very next day,” McPherson said.
There are changes to how time is spent at the Olympic Village.
“We will only be able to be there a couple of days before we actually compete and then we have to leave, where as in 2016 we were able to enjoy the whole Olympic experience. We were able to get there early, stay there for the opening ceremonies, and the closing,” said McPherson. “But this time because of the COVID-19 protocol, in Japan specifically, they just want us to be there to get acclimated seven days before the competition, and then leave right after.”
McPherson finished 11th at the 2012 London Olympics, and she won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
She turns 31 Oct. 1, and she has hinted this may be her last Olympics, as well as her final taekwondo competition.
“It’s important to just stay in the present to enjoy this process. This more than likely will be my last Olympics, even arguably my last competition. I’m trying not to focus on the “what ifs” because at the end of the day there is nothing I can control as far as the future. The future is non-existent at the now,” said McPherson. “I want to enjoy the process and see what everything entails in the future, and see how everything plays out. I want to get to my highest performance level. I’ve been sole focused on my performance at this Olympics.”
McPherson said she is looking at the Tokyo Olympic as her “last dance” competing in taekwondo.
“As they like to say with the Michael Jordan documentary, it’s my last dance, so I’m trying to just visualize the process, take the negative with the positive, and to be consistent in my high performance as an athlete on a day-to-day basis, because if I can become consistent now the chances are being consistent out the Olympics will be higher, and again just trust God and see what he has planned for me."