U.S. wrestling champion Joe Rau is learning to bake.
Three-time Olympic long jumper Tyrone Smith is binge-watching Netflix and building a Lego race car.
Rhythmic gymnasts Yelyzaveta Merenzon and Elizaveta Pletneva - teammates in a sport in which synchronization is paramount - are taking online Zumba classes alone in their respective homes.
As the calls grow for the Summer Games to be postponed because of the coronavirus and the International Olympic Committee gives itself until mid-April to make a decision, local Olympic hopefuls have been forced to find creative ways to train and keep their minds off a potentially devastating blow to long-held dreams. It's a task undertaken amid great uncertainty, as the athletes no longer can access their training facilities, practice with their teams or compete in qualifying competitions.
"Everything I've done with my life over the past four years has been with the Olympics in mind," said Rau, a Chicago native and the United States' top Greco-Roman wrestler in the 87-kg weight class. "And all of a sudden, I have no idea what's going to happen. I can't practice. I can't work out like I normally do. What am I supposed to do with all this free time?"
Just two weeks earlier, Rau won gold at the Pan American Games in Canada, a victory that ensured the U.S. could send a wrestler in his weight class to Tokyo, where the opening ceremony is scheduled for July 24. It was a crucial, emotional win for Rau, who won the Olympic trials in 2016 but did not compete in Rio because the American team had not qualified in his weight class.
If he wins this year's trials, as he is favored to do, he will finally be an Olympian.
Rau, a 29-year-old graduate of Elmhurst College, kept his phone off for most the Pan American competition to stay focused. When he turned it on after winning gold, he saw a world unlike the one he had left behind. People were wearing masks in the supermarket, parades were canceled, school were closed.
"I was like, 'wait, stores are running out of toilet paper?' " he recalled. "Everything had gone crazy."
By the time he returned to the home, Rau's training site on Northwestern University's campus had been shut down. Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all gyms and workout facilities closed a few days later, making it nearly impossible to find a wrestling mat on which to practice.
Rau continued to lift weights with his training partner, Robby Smith, though Pritzker's stay-at-home order has halted that practice for at least two weeks. Wrestlers have been encouraged to stay off mats for the foreseeable future, so Rau spent Sunday morning jogging along empty streets in his Des Plaines neighborhood, running hills and practicing wrestling moves with his girlfriend, Astrid De Leeuw, who is a fraction of his size but not subject to rules on social distancing.
He refuses to disobey the governor's stay-at-home order, which commands all Illinois residents to stay indoors unless they have a vital reason for leaving until at least April 7. Rau - who has had two severe knee injuries and a broken jaw in the last four years - does not want to risk illness before the Olympic trials, even though they have been postponed and not yet rescheduled.
"The safest thing for me is stay home and not put myself at risk," he said. "Now I'm just trying to find ways to pass the time."
And, it appears, he is occupying himself in the sweetest way possible. For the past week, De Leeuw, has been teaching him how to bake.
So far they've made tiramisu, banana bread and a chocolate marble cake. All of it, Rau says proudly, made from scratch.
"It's helping me keep my mind off everything that's going on with the Olympics," he said. "And that's good because I'm pretty darned worried."
There's a legitimate reason for the athletes to be worried. As each day passes, demands to postpone the Tokyo Games mount. The two of the largest athletic governing bodies, USA Track & Field and USA Swimming, have requested that the Olympics be delayed, in addition to the Norwegian, Slovenian and Brazilian Olympic committees.
President Donald Trump also has suggested postponing the event for a year.
With the Games scheduled to open in late July, the International Olympic Committee on Sunday gave itself four weeks to decide whether to hold the event as planned, several foreign news agencies reported.
More than 300,000 people have contracted the novel coronavirus and at least 12,944 have died, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University, as countries around the world close their borders.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has urged patience, though it acknowledges the physical and emotional toll the wait is taking on athletes.
"The USOPC has complete and total empathy for the athlete community as they manage the terrible stress and anxiety caused by the current lack of certitude regarding the Tokyo Games," USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland and USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons said in joint statement Friday. "We understand that the athletes have concerns about training, qualification and anti-doping controls, and that they want transparency, communication and clarity to the full extent possible.
"The USOPC has made it clear that all athletes should put their health and wellness, and the health and wellness of the greater community, above all else at this unprecedented moment."
U.S. Olympics officials said they have heard a variety of opinions from athletes, including those who want it delayed and those who do not want to the Games prematurely canceled until scientists can more clearly predict what the virus' threat will be in four months.
The International Olympic Committee announced Sunday that it is working on alternative options, which would require the complete cooperation of the Tokyo organizing committee, each country's governing bodies, corporate sponsors and the holders of broadcasting rights. A total cancellation will not be considered, IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.
"Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games. The IOC wants to be part of the solution," Bach wrote in a letter to athletes Sunday. "Therefore we have made it our leading principle to safeguard the health of everyone involved and to contribute to containing the virus. I wish, and we all are working for this, that the hope of so many athletes (and governing bodies) from all five continents have expressed will be fulfilled: that at the end of this dark tunnel we are all going through together, not knowing how long it is, the Olympic flame will be a light at the end of this tunnel."
The indecision weighs heavily on local athletes, many of whom have seen their sport's Olympic trials or qualifying competitions postponed because of the pandemic. The IOC says 57% of eligible spots for Games have been claimed. Athletes worldwide have questioned whether there is enough time to address the remaining 43% under healthy, fair and properly trained conditions.
"I definitely want the Olympics to happen at some point," said rhythmic gymnast Elizaveta Pletneva, of Deerfield, whose team's main qualifying competition has not been rescheduled yet. "But when you look at what's happening around the world and you look at the calendar, I'm not sure it will be able to happen this summer."
A postponement likely would mean the end of Greco-Roman wrestler Robby Smith's competitive career. The 33-year-old Evanston resident competed at the 2016 Games and put his life on hold for four more years for another shot. Accustomed to training three to six hours a day at Northwestern University and practicing with elite-level partners, the state's stay-at-home order has left him working out by himself with resistance bands.
He keeps his phone off most of the time now, trying to avoid push alerts and text messages about the Olympics. But he knows powerful sports such as swimming and influential countries might push the scales toward postponement.
"And that would be it for me," Smith said. "I've lived my entire adult life one quad at a time and I'm ready to start building my family. The hardest part, right now, is that I don't have any answers. Whatever the decision is, I can take it. I just want some clarity."
With the decision beyond the athletes' control, they continue training under less-than-ideal circumstances. The U.S. rhythmic gymnastics team, based in Glenview, hasn't practiced together for more than a week. They had considered moving workouts to the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., but that facility also was closed because of the pandemic.
Left with no other options, team members are training together via Facebook Live and the video-conferencing app Zoom. They stretch and do ballet together for two hours each morning. In the afternoon, they spend an hour listening to their competition music and envisioning their performances, in addition to taking the same online dance class - salsa, hip-hop, Zumba - after lunch every day.
None of them has ceilings high enough to actually toss the balls and clubs used in routines. Instead, team members practice their hand-eye coordination by throwing tennis balls at walls in their homes.
"My parents love it," the 18-year-old Pletneva said.
Gymnast Yelyzaveta Merenzon has gone outside a few times to practice with her club, but her hands can't take the cold for more than a few minutes at a time.
"It very different than what we're used to," said Merezon, 20, who took a leave of absence from the University of Chicago to train for the Games. "But we have been trying to focus on positivity. Green light could get turned on at any time and we will be ready to go."
The pandemic has also demanded creative problem solving from long jumper Tyrone Smith, a 35-year-old North Chicago native who has represented Bermuda at three Olympics. Smith - who has sold cars for much of his career to pay for his training and international travel - intended to retire after the Rio Games, but a disappointing performance and an unexpected romance there kept him jumping for another four-year cycle.
While in Brazil, Smith fell in love with U.S. Olympian Sandi Morris, the Downers Grove native who won a silver medal in women's pole vault in 2016. The couple, who married in October, dream of sharing another Olympics together.
The logistics of being an international athlete never have been easy for Smith, who is largely self-funded and working on his master's degree in business administration at the University of Texas. He drove to Arkansas during his spring break to be with Morris, who trains at the University of Arkansas.
That facility is now closed, like most nationwide, amid the pandemic. Smith's own training facility shut down, temporarily leaving the pair as a pole vaulter without a bar and long jumper without runway.
Smith eventually found an unlocked high school track where the couple could work out. It's not ideal - the long jump's sand pit, for example, is completely covered, so Smith can't actually jump - but they've made do with sprints and plyometric exercises.
At one point last week, Smith took to a local baseball field to do a series of jumping exercises. Morris has been running hills in her neighborhood for general conditioning, too, but she plans to leave Arkansas and head to a state where she can practice vaulting.
The situation has been made even more difficult, Smith says, by people attacking athletes on social media for expressing their frustrations over training disruptions. Smith understands the threat the coronavirus poses and knows aggressive measures must be taken to slow its spread.
That knowledge, however, doesn't make it any easier to watch his hard-earned dream threatened.
"One of the hardest things about it is there are a lot of people trying to shame athletes for being upset," he said. "They don't understand how our lives work. They don't understand everything we've given up."
The couple tries not to bemoan their situation or worry too much about the future. They keep busy with Netflix and Lego kits, already having built a race car from the little plastic bricks and contemplating making a replica of Harry Potter's Hogwarts School. They even tried their hand at making ramen one night.
But it's hard to ignore the cruel reality: Smith has not yet secured a spot at the Games, and that task grows increasingly harder as qualifying competitions have been postponed or canceled. If the Olympics get delayed a year or two, Morris is expected to compete, but Smith's career is likely over.
Though he has flirted with retirement before, Smith says he isn't sure his legs have another year in them.
"To be honest, the Olympics come up at least once an hour," Smith said. "We're constantly talking about it and wondering what's going to happen. I very well could have taken my last jump in competition and didn't know it."
In California, volleyball star Kelsey Robinson is trying to restore her equilibrium after arriving home Saturday night from Turkey, where she plays professionally. The Wheaton native scrambled to leave the country as its borders closed, returning to her offseason home in Manhattan Beach.
California is under a shelter-in-place order nearly identical to Illinois' stay-at-home directive, meaning Robinson won't be practicing with the national team for several weeks at least. In the meantime, she intends to work out at home, doing yoga and cardio training. She lives on the beach so she plans to inquire as to whether she can train on the sand without violating the statewide lockdown.
With an key Olympic warmup tournament postponed until after the Games, Robinson doesn't know what the next four months will look like. Nobody really does.
"There are a lot of unknowns right now because of the coronavirus, and that's really hard," she said. "You hope there are answers soon - not just for the Olympics, but for the entire world."