When International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach announced in late March that the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo were being postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the world groaned.
Not Ben Pinkelman.
Pinkelman, who played on the Team USA Rugby Sevens in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, was in line to play a key role for the Eagles in 2020. The former Colorado State University star was relieved when he heard the announcement while training at Team USA headquarters outside San Diego.
“I was pretty happy, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I’ve been hurting for two years now, and we’ve got a lot of other guys who are injured. This postponement will give us some time to heal and be at our best in Tokyo.”
Pinkelman, who graduated from the College of Liberal Arts with a degree in sociology in 2016, was more than hurting. He fractured two vertebrae in 2018 and had been playing through significant pain.
“It was brutal,” he said. “I had to sleep on a board for three months, and it was a struggle just to put my clothes on every day. At times, I couldn’t move my leg without pain. Once I got warmed up, I could play, but I would really be hurting after. It was pretty emotional.”
Once the Games were postponed, Pinkelman headed home to his parents’ Denver-area home. He had his back surgically repaired and is slowly easing back into shape.
“The surgery went well, and I’m feeling good,” he said. “I’ve loved the not working out part. It’s nice to give my body a chance to rest.”
Pinkelman, though, hasn’t been spending his time binging on TV series or doing puzzles. He’s learning Japanese in anticipation of heading to Tokyo in a year, and he’s studying weaving, the martial arts and trying to learn how to play the piano.
“Just trying to improve myself,” he said.
The postponement came on the heels of a very successful campaign leading up to the Games. After finishing seventh in Rio, the Eagles were ranked in the top 5 internationally and finished second at the 2019 World Championships in Hong Kong to automatically qualify for Tokyo.
Looking for more in Tokyo
The Eagles are much more experienced now than in 2016, and Pinkelman is looking forward to a vastly improved performance.
“Last time it happened so fast, and I was still so young,” said Pinkelman, who was still a CSU student when he was named to the 2016 team. “I’ve been part of the growing experience for the program, and we know that we’re capable of winning the gold medal. We’ve proven that we’re one of the top 5 teams in the world, so 2021 is a very realistic chance for us to take the next step as a team.”
Pinkelman and Egyptian shot putter Mostafa Hassan a two-time NCAA champion, are both expected to represent CSU and their countries in Tokyo.