In spite of the continued global Covid-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions, which have already denied several Oceania countries the opportunity to participate in the Olympics, Marshall Islands will have a team at the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in Tokyo next month.
Rio Olympian and recent Lincoln College graduate Colleen Furgeson will again represent the Marshall Islands in the swimming pool. She is joined by teammate Phillip Kinono, who received a swim scholarship to Lincoln College and has also been training under Coach Johnathan Jordan.
Coach Jordan and Marshall Islands Swim Federation (MISF) Head Coach and Executive Board member Amy LaCost will travel to Tokyo as coaches; Amy will also serve Team Marshall Islands as Chef de Mission.
“The road to Tokyo has been a long one, a whole year longer than usual,” said Marshall Islands National Olympic Committee Secretary General Terry Sasser. “The travel, training and qualification challenges presented by Covid-19 have stolen the Olympic dreams of many Oceania athletes, including some of our own.”
Weightlifter Kabuati Bob, wrestler Bollong Joklur and athletics athletes were forced out of training and unable to compete at mandatory Olympic qualifiers due to travel lockdowns. “Our two swimmers were fortunate to already be training in the US when the travel bans went into effect,” said Sasser.
Majuro Nitijela Member Tony Muller, who was originally tasked to lead RMI’s delegation as Chef de Mission, but could not commit to the extended timeframe required to attend the Tokyo Games and then repatriate back home, said, “it was critical that we push through the global pandemic and confirm Marshall Islands’ participation with the athletes who had qualified and were training in the US to make sure our nation would be proudly represented at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, playing our part to bring renewed hope to the world after a dark year.”
Phillip, son of Kwajalein’s Mack and Rakai Kinono, arrived in Lincoln, Illinois, for an intensive pre-games swim camp last March. But instead he encountered a nationwide lockdown and travel ban just days after his arrival. During the months of shelter-in-place Covid-19 mandates, Lincoln College swim coach Johnathan Jordan challenged Colleen and Phillip to stay in shape with at-home work-outs and later, in the fall, with dry-land gym training until pools reopened and aquatic training could resume only a few months ago.
Colleen, daughter of Kelly and Cathy Furgeson, also from Kwajalein, represented RMI at the Rio Olympic Games five years ago.
The former Australia/Oceania Foundation scholarship recipient graduated Magna Cum Laude from Lincoln College with a bachelors in Sports Management in May. She has accepted a full scholarship to attend Western Illinois University in the fall 2021 semester to pursue her master’s degree. Immediately following her graduation, Colleen relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to train at the FINA Training Center, Azura Florida Aquatics, through a FINA Training Scholarship. Colleen is the first swimmer from Oceania to attend this training center.
Coach LaCost has been in the US since early in the new year when her youngest son required emergency medical intervention. Thankfully, he is well into a remarkable recovery, and Coach LaCost will serve the team as Chef de Mission as well as a swim coach.
Coach Jordan of Lincoln College’s swimming program also coached previous Olympian Giordan Harris and has been Colleen’s coach throughout her time at Lincoln, where she holds several school swim records. He continues to coach Phillip in the final days leading up to the competition in Tokyo and will travel with the team to share coaching duties with Coach LaCost.
Sasser is the only member of Marshall Islands’ delegation who is traveling to Tokyo from RMI. Due to the length of the Games and the required repatriation timeframe, most of the coaches and administrative team based in the Marshall Islands were unable to travel to Tokyo.
The Games-time situation in Tokyo will also be quite different from past Olympic Games. Whereas the main attraction of past Games included enjoying the local culture, landmarks, shopping and cuisine, the Tokyo Games will be held in a protective bubble to shield both the visiting delegations and the citizens on Japan from any potential Covid-19 spread. The visiting teams will be restricted to the Olympic Village and their specific sport training and competition venues.
As in past Olympic Games that continued in the face of global unrest, the celebration of athletes who have overcome obstacles to achieve their highest level of sporting excellence sparks a spirit of Olympism and renewed optimism that causes the world’s challenges to recede into the background, said Sasser.