KAWAGOE, Japan – Not long after having the Olympic gold medal slipped over his head, Xander Schauffele tweeted, “This medal is for my country and my family, especially my dad!”
Schauffele’s father, Stefan, had his Olympic hopes as a decathlete destroyed when he lost the sight in his left eye after being struck by a drunk driver in 1986. It was a layer to Sunday’s story to which Germany’s Sophia Popov could relate.
Popov’s mother, Claudia, had hoped to qualify as a swimmer for the 1980 Olympics before the U.S.-led boycott of the Games, and Popov’s brother, Nicholas, attempted to qualify for the 2012 Games in the 50-meter freestyle but came up short.
“My mother got so close. And my brother, he got within a couple hundredths of a second of going, too, because he's a sprinter himself,” Popov said. “It can come down to nuances, especially in swimming; it's brutal, you can have a false start at trials, you can just not feel your best that one single day.”
In Popov’s case, she actually benefited from the Tokyo Games being postponed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Had the Games been played as scheduled, she wouldn’t have qualified but her victory at the 2020 AIG Women’s Open earned her a spot on the German team.
“Because of that, I always have this feeling that everything happens for a reason," she said, "and I was given another chance essentially and by winning The Open last year I could make my dream come true."