Under normal circumstances, Shane Wiskus might have balked at flying halfway around the world to compete in a one-day gymnastics event on short notice. But in this unpredictable, often disappointing year, he jumped at the chance.
The Gophers senior is among six American gymnasts — three men and three women — who will participate in the Friendship and Solidarity Competition this Sunday in Tokyo. Billed as "a show of international camaraderie," the event is designed to test Japan's ability to stage an international sporting event in the time of COVID-19. Tokyo will host the Olympics next summer after a one-year delay because of the pandemic.
Wiskus has not competed in eight months, since COVID-19 brought the Olympic sports calendar to a halt. When USA Gymnastics asked for volunteers to go to the meet, he raised his hand without hesitation, despite little time to prepare.
"It was only seven weeks before the meet, which is a short time frame to get ready for an Olympic test event," said Wiskus, a member of the U.S. national team and a top contender for the Olympic team. "It was definitely nerve-racking for a couple of weeks.
"I've gone through some ups and downs in my training, but I ultimately got to where I needed to be. I'm excited to get back out there."
Tokyo's Olympic organizing committee still is discussing how to safely stage the Olympics next year, and the event could help shape those plans. The meet is the first major international sports competition held in Japan since it was announced the Olympics would be postponed.
Athletes must present two negative COVID tests to enter the country. They will be tested while in Tokyo, and they will not be allowed to go anywhere except the team hotel and Yoyogi National Gymnasium, the event venue. Japan's Kyodo News has reported that as many as 2,000 spectators will be allowed to attend.
The meet, which starts at 10 p.m. Minnesota time on Saturday, will be televised live on the Olympic Channel. Japan, China and Russia are the other participating nations. The 30 gymnasts will be divided into two teams; there will be no individual awards, only team scores.
Some big names will compete on the men's side, including two-time Olympic all-around champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan and 2019 world all-around champ Nikita Nagornyy. The U.S. delegation is Wiskus, Yul Moldauer, Paul Juda, Shilese Jones, eMjae Frazier and Sophia Butler.
Wiskus said having a meet to train for helped him feel normal again, pushing him to practice harder and sharpen his competitive edge. He hopes to compete in the all-around, but he could scale back those plans, depending on how he feels after the long trip from the Twin Cities.
"They made it very clear this meet is just about getting back out there and being safe, and having the U.S. be represented again on the world stage," he said. "I think gymnastics is one of the lowest priorities. As long as I can go there, stay safe and compete for the United States again, I think that's the main goal.''