Mass. Olympic hopefuls try to tune out boycotts, pandemic restrictions and focus on training

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Waltham's Julia Kern, pictured at a World Cup sprint event in Slovenia in 2019, hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team. (Darko Bandic/AP)
Waltham's Julia Kern, pictured at a World Cup sprint event in Slovenia in 2019, hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team. (Darko Bandic/AP)

Olympic hopefuls often train in obscurity for years, working toward a moment of glory when spectators and dignitaries from around the world applaud their accomplishments.

But athletes vying for spots on Team USA — including Waltham's Julia Kern and Medfield's Julie Letai — learned this week that the White House will stage a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February to protest China's human rights abuses.

Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and more than a dozen other countries also will not send leaders to the games, potentially casting a pall over what is supposed to be a triumphant moment for athletes.

In addition, few, if any, fans will be allowed to attend Olympic competitions because of the global pandemic. That means athletes will miss one of the customary payoffs of reaching the summit of their sports — performing for star-studded crowds.

"I think it will feel really weird to be at what is built up to be the pinnacle of competing — at the biggest stage, at the Olympics — with no one there," said Kern, a 24-year-old cross country skier.

Reached in Davos, Switzerland, where she will race in a World Cup event this weekend, Kern said she won't let politics or the pandemic take her mind off her goal.

"I'm just a hundred percent focused on prepping for the Olympic Games," she said. "For me, it's focusing on me and what I need to do to get there."

The U.S. cross country ski roster will be announced in January.

Letai, a 21-year-old short-track speed skater, is also trying to tune out the international skirmishes and other potential distractions.

"I think mostly we just try to separate that stuff from our own athletic journey and stay in our lane," she said between practice sessions in Utah, where her sport's Olympic trials will take place Dec. 17-19.

The lack of spectators is "a pretty big bummer," Letai acknowledged. But she said she's confident lots of supporters will watch the games at home on television. And she noted there are many other reasons to compete in the games.

"You just remember that you and your teammates aren't necessarily doing it for the attention," Letai said. "You're doing it because it's the craft you've been working on for years, and your desire is really just to improve and make it to the highest level you can."

This segment aired on December 10, 2021.


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Callum Borchers Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.



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