About the same time Benn Fields wrapped up his career at Seton Hall University, he devised a four-year plan to qualify for the United States Olympic team. Fields had won the Penn Relays high jump in 1975, but failed to qualify for Team USA the following summer.

His sights were set on the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

Though Fields won the Olympic Trials by clearing seven feet, five inches, he never got a chance to compete for a gold medal. The United States and 64 other countries boycotted the Games in response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Gold-medal hurdler Edwin Moses hosted a webinar with 1980 Olympians on Tuesday night, sharing their experiences and offering advice to athletes impacted by the International Olympic Committee's postponement of this summer's Tokyo Games to July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I followed my script," Fields said from his home in Salisbury Mills, New York.

"I tried to minimize injury and getting sick, but politics never entered my mind. Things happen in life, and you have to adjust and make the best of a bad situation. They don't know what's happening tomorrow, plus they have to keep themselves safe. The key to this whole thing is, 'How bad do you want it?' Once you define that, then you can adjust."

Sam Mattis hasn't had to change much.

An NCAA and USATF champion in the discus, Mattis' schedule remains "wake up, train, come back and eat, and train again." He and his Highland Park roommates — former Penn teammate Noah Kennedy-White and Olympic hammer thrower Rudy Winkler from Cornell — have found throwing circles "tucked in a corner of some remote field a mile from the school" and set up a weight room "in a shed in a field."

Mattis and Kennedy-White usually split time between Rutgers and coach Dane Miller's Garage Strength facility near Reading, Pennsylvania, while Winkler meets his own training group. Those trips are over, but they had all been monitoring coronavirus since January and borrowed equipment well in advance.

"Being in the middle of Jersey helps, because it's not super hard to find open space if you know where to look," said Mattis, a volunteer assistant coach at Rutgers who grew up in East Brunswick.

  

"Thankfully, there's not too much attention being paid to throwing, now or ever, so it's not too hard to find the stuff we need. ... Competing is what we do for a living. The Olympics has been the goal for everybody. Thankfully, that's been pushed off a year and not forever, as of now at least."

On March 24, the IOC postponed this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo to 2021. It is the first time in modern Olympic history that a global health issue has disrupted the Games.

The Olympics will begin July 23, 2021, one day short of a year from the original start date. The flame is still in Japan, and the Games are still called 2020, though promotions on American television are referring to "202One."

Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, told Japanese newspaper Nikkan Sports if the Olympics can't be held in summer 2021, they will simply be canceled altogether. It would be the first cancellation in the history of the modern Olympics that didn't stem from an ongoing war.

"Maybe, as an athlete, there is some comfort knowing you're not alone in this," said Craig Beardsley, 59, an Harrington Park native who had qualified for the United States swim team in 1980.

"The whole world is experiencing this. It's not one country being singled out, they're going but you're not going."

The Summer Olympics are expected to draw about 11,000 athletes from 200 countries, in addition to thousands of media, coaches, staff and fans. In some ways, they're saving lives by staying at home — a very different scenario than the 1980 boycott, and the retaliatory Soviet bloc boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

"How bad do you want it?" Fields asked. "Once you define that, then you can adjust. It's a lot of effort, a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of sacrifice. If you want it, you can go from there."

While Fields stressed planning, Beardsley suggested alleviating burnout by taking a mental as well as a physical break. He said this might also be a good time for athletes to consider what's next, beyond sports.

Getting or staying connected to teammates is also important, taking advantage of the many means of digital communication that weren't available to the 1980 Olympians.

Though the United States Olympic Committee recognizes the 1980 team, the IOC does not. The 461 athletes, who were selected at their individual sports' trials, received Congressional gold medals in recognition of the accomplishment.

They are also going to have a permanent exhibit at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, which is scheduled to open this summer in Colorado Springs.

"We didn't get to go and prove ourselves, which is the whole point," said Beardsley, the director of partnerships for Swim Across America, which raised almost $10 million for cancer research last year.

"You just want, as an athlete, the opportunity to prove what all that hard work meant. We don't know who we are. ... This year's not a boycott. It's something much more difficult. But I think you can wrap your head around something like this a little easier than a boycott.

"Every athlete today is going to have to process it in their own way. You're going to have to decide, 'Am I going to train another year, or am I not?' Whatever you decide to do is going to be the right decision for you. Something like this, you can't worry about it. You can't change it. Do what you need to do to be ready."

JHavsy@gannettnj.com

Twitter: @dailyrecordspts