Former Illinois sprinter David Kendziera is about to make his Olympic debut and is living out a lifelong goal.
D. Kendziera Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
When David Kendziera was in middle school, he and his classmates saw the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and ever since then, he has dreamed of competing in those games. That goal is becoming a reality for him now.
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was something Kendziera remembers watching with a friend. To put it simply, I was impressed and thought it was awesome. Seeing every athlete file out together after the opening ceremony. The thought of competing in the Olympics at some point piqued my curiosity; now I think it would be awesome to be an athlete someday. And then, gradually, over time, things changed.
His path to the Olympics began in the sixth grade, when he competed in distance races in cross country and track. Kendziera learned he was a better runner in shorter distances when the length of cross country races doubled from one to two miles.
Due to his dislike of running, he switched to competing in shorter races and has no plans to return to the longer ones. He despises distance running so much that after he retires from competitive running, he has no intention of ever running a lengthy race for fun.
Distance communication is “not really my cup of tea,” Kendziera admitted. In my limited experience, I haven’t found it to be really pleasurable. People are always, “Oh, yeah, so we think you’ll do a marathon once you’re done jogging.” And I thought, “Oh no, I’m going to avoid that at all costs.”
After Years of Training, Kendziera finally Realised his Olympic Dream in 2012.
While observing the track events, he took a little more analytical approach, noting the athletes’ times and distances.
Also a senior in high school, he was researching potential universities. He said he contacted around 15 universities but only heard back from smaller ones.
His top three college choices were Loyola University Chicago, Illinois, and Nebraska. He decided to sign with the Fighting Illini, and former Illini head coach Adrian Wheatley was instrumental in swaying Kendziera’s decision.
Kendziera gushed about Coach Wheatley, saying, “He was a terrific guy, he was very friendly, and I felt that he had my best interest.” I’ve found all I need there. My high school coach and Coach Wheatley shared many same beliefs, so that was a plus. That sealed the deal; it was an easy decision to pick Illinois.
For Kendziera, his time as a first-year student at Illinois stands out most. The team trip to Tennessee over spring break was a highlight of his time on the team.
His season on the track was quite successful. A good showing in the final meet of the season would have put him over the top and onto the conference team.
In preparation for the conference competition, (Coach) Wheatley reminded his team that “Hey, we have one more indoor meet. You can say that this is the clinching argument. Kendziera remarked, “If you run well, you’ll make it, and if not, I mean, we’re simply going to, you know, keep you at home. There was a lot riding on that race, and it pushed the stakes up. But I went out there and did my best, and I set a personal record in the 60-meter hurdles.
His berth on the team was assured.
His younger sister Brenda eventually ran for the University of Illinois. David was a senior when Brenda was a freshman, so they rode together to school in a carpool. The effects of David’s senioritis on his connection with his brother were difficult to bear.
There were numerous mornings when Brenda needed to be to class on time but David, who had a free period, was content to lounge around. Once the siblings reconnected at Illinois, though, things began to improve.
In Illinois, “we started becoming a little closer, kind of just having deeper talks where we really got to know each other,” David said. It was great because I got to watch her participate and she got to watch me compete in all the meets.
As a result of his time at Illinois, Kendziera discovered he had the ability to run at the professional level. Kendziera followed Wheatley to Chapel Hill when the latter accepted a position at UNC so that he could continue working with his college coach.
By 2016, Kendziera was in a position to qualify for the Olympics. He used his redshirt year to train for the Olympics in Rio. The decision was fruitful as he was able to participate in the Olympic Trials.
Neither Kendziera nor his coach expected him to make the Rio team, so they focused on gauging his progress toward Tokyo.
Kendziera explained, “He wanted me to get the experience of just witnessing the Olympics or like the Olympic Trials format, seeing the audience that the Olympic Trials kind of brings in and experiencing it all.” This year, or this time around, I didn’t feel any nerves, so it was very beneficial. Only adrenaline and then confidence were actually circulating in my system. That’s why it was so thrilling.
When I returned to competing, “that chance to participate at the 2016 Olympic Trials really boosted my confidence and energy,” the athlete said.
By the time the year 2020 arrived, Kendziera felt optimistic about competing in the Olympics. When Kendziera turned 25 in the summer of 2020, he received his lucky number. To be honest, Kendziera didn’t expect the Olympics would be cancelled when the COVID-19 virus broke out.
Kendziera: “I’m 25 years old heading into the Olympics and everything in 2020, so I’m starting to get ready for it now.” I remember thinking, “Oh my God, what are the odds that I’ll be 25 and trying out for the Olympics?” That’s the magic number for me, too. Superstition caused many to say things like “no way it’s cancelled because this is supposed to happen, like this is nearly destiny.”
However, the cosmos had other ideas. With the Olympics now set to take place in 2021, Kendziera’s season was also delayed as competitions were postponed. In the late summer of 2020, he competed across a few races in Europe.
Kendziera stated, “Meetings just kept getting postponed.” We continued to prepare for a possible competition. Towards the middle of August, my agent told me, “Hey, we’re going to be able to get you overseas and be able to get like a mini season.”
“So, in a course of around six weeks, I competed in about fourteen different races. And, you know, it was already very demanding just going from meeting to meeting with only a day or two of downtime in between. It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I had the chance to put myself out there in a competitive environment.
Kendziera was able to maintain his competitive edge in 2020, and he was also able to foresee the kinds of COVID-19 regulations that will be in place for 2021 competitions.
The availability of the COVID-19 vaccination in the United States was a notable change between 2020 and 2021. It’s true that most Americans have been vaccinated, but the rest of the world is woefully behind. The pandemic has had a significant effect on the Games, and the number of COVID-19 cases in Japan continues to climb.
Kendziera is up to date on all of her vaccinations, but recommendations for vaccinated individuals have shifted since the Olympic Trials. During the Trials, he explained, persons who had been vaccinated wouldn’t need to take any extra precautions if they were among unvaccinated people who tested positive for COVID-19, but this wouldn’t be the case during the Games.
They want us to Install a Tracking app, Kendziera stated.
And while we’re in Tokyo, or at the Olympic Village, we’ll just be checking in to see where we are. And it’s primarily for contact tracing, so even if I’ve had the vaccine, I’ll still participate if someone close to me tests positive.
To those who were vaccinated in time for the Olympic trials, it was assured that even if a close relative later tested positive, the vaccinee himself or herself would be fine. However, that regulation is not strictly enforced at the Olympics.
Two COVID-19 exams were required of Kendziera before he left, and he will continue to undergo these tests daily while in Tokyo. Though the opening ceremonies were held on a Friday, he won’t be leaving until Saturday because that’s when his flight to Tokyo leaves.
Kendziera remarked, “It’s been difficult because it seems like practically every day there’s something new that is there that they’re prohibiting virtually completely.” So, “alright, no foreign spectators,” “no spectators,” “you can’t leave the Olympic Village,” and so on. And while all of those things are extremely difficult, there are times when you look back and go, “Man, that was intended to be part of the experience.”
We won’t even be present for the opening ceremony, you know. So, we leave the day after the opening ceremony, and they have the whole day to process what they saw and heard.
Kendziera’s ambitions to go sight-seeing around town were thwarted by the fact that athletes are not permitted to leave the Olympic Village. Even after the track meets are over, he only has two days before returning home, leaving him with little free time. He will not be present for the awards ceremony’s conclusion.
Although the limits may have lessened the overall Olympic experience, Kendziera is keeping his eye on the prize: the opportunity to compete in the Olympics in Tokyo.
And so, “I’m still excited just to get out there to experience what I can, and then also to get out there and compete,” Kendziera added. “That’s something I’m looking forward to a lot. It seems like a great chance to me. And since I’ve always wanted to do that, that’s where my attention is going to be directed.