One thing the pandemic has made simpler for the Beijing Olympics’ young stars is balancing the demands of high athletic competition with college life.
When you’re miles away from university for weeks at a time, remote schooling, which is becoming a reality for students everywhere, comes in useful. And the technology has been put to the test over the past two years.
Nathan Smith, a Minnesota State University student and one of 15 collegiate players on the United States men’s hockey team, has been able to stay up with his schoolwork and even communicate with his professors.
“I wasn’t sure what kind of connection and everything I’d have over here,” Smith said. “I’m trying to do my best to keep up with it.”
Devon Levi, a goalkeeper for the Canadian men’s hockey team and a student at Northeastern University in Boston, said his professors have been supportive of his sports ambitions, so he’s trying his best to stay on track academically. He traveled to Beijing bringing his books with him.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they completely understand that,” said Levi, who is majoring in computer science and business. “They’re on my side and they want me to chase my dreams.”
Other elite athletes competing in the Winter Games, such as Jared Shumate, a member of the United States Nordic combined team who is studying geography and sociology at the University of Utah, have chosen to take time off from school to compete.
Balancing school and skiing “has definitely gotten easier than it was my first couple of years when I was living in the dorms and taking in-person classes and training,” he said.
Most young Olympians are skilled at combining academic and competitive demands by the time they reach the highest level of their sports, according to Michelle Smith Ware, a board member of the national academic advisory group NACADA.
This is a skill that not everyone possesses. Arabella Ng, a Hong Kong skier, is said to have chosen out of the Beijing Games because to scholastic obligations and travel limitations imposed by the epidemic.
“It’s really an individual choice,” said Ware, director of academic support services for athletics at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Either you’re giving up your spot, or you’re taking a leave from your education, or you are meeting that challenge of maintaining the workload during a semester while also working and conditioning and working or playing in the Olympics,” she said. “It has to be a difficult (decision).”
When the coronavirus outbreak hit and courses had to be transferred to Zoom anyhow, the US figure skating team was packed with Ivy Leaguers who opted to put their schooling on wait to pursue their Olympic goals.
Gold medallist Nathan Chen, a statistics and data science student at Yale University, Vincent Zhou, a pre-med student at Brown University, and Karen Chen, a pre-med student at Cornell University, are among them. Chloe Kim, a snowboarder, is on leave from Princeton University.
Nathan Chen claimed that after winning gold in Beijing, the one certainty he had was that he wanted to return to school in August.
Some sportsmen have used remote schooling opportunities to focus on their sports even before the outbreak.
Gleb Smolkin and Diana Davis, both Russian ice dancers, are enrolled in a completely online program at Astrakhan State Technical University in southern Russia.
Davis’ renowned mother, controversial Russian figure skating instructor Eteri Tutberidze, coaches the pair in Novi, Michigan, but they skate for Sambo 70, Davis’ famed mother’s club.
Smolkin explained that the club has a deal with the university that permits them to study from abroad.
“It’s all remote learning, so we have no problem with it,” Smolkin said. “They make some concessions for us. Now it’s the Olympics and they give us time so we can concentrate on competing, but after that we will undergo all the assessments.”
Even after the pandemic subsides, Ware said, the benefits of remote schooling will remain a resource for those balancing elite athletics with campus life.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for that to be used after COVID,” Ware said. “I’m not sure how institutions will choose to embrace that. Why not use the technology?”