Georgia track and field teammates Karel Tilga and Johannes Erm shared the same main goal this past season: making the 2020 Estonian Olympic team.
The Olympics were scheduled to take place in Tokyo in July and August until it was postponed due to COVID-19. While Erm, the reigning NCAA decathlon champion, had secured his spot on the team, his Georgia teammate and Estonian countryman Tilga still hoped to make the cut.
“The Olympics is something that only comes around every four years and it is every athlete's dream to represent their county there,” Tilga said via email.
Both Estonian combined-event athletes worked throughout this season to peak before the 2020 Games. Although Erm only competed in three events at Feb 28-29 SECs, he had the No. 1 heptathlon score in the country before the NCAA indoor championships. Tilga was right behind his with the No. 2 spot after scoring 6,019 at the Razorback Invitational on Jan. 31.
They were in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when COVID-19 shuttered the NCAA indoors. Erm and Tilga’s outdoor seasons followed suit, eliminating several opportunities to hit Olympic decathlon qualifying standards. It didn’t matter, however, as the games were postponed two weeks later.
Erm said he was in shock after the NCAAs and the Olympics were cancelled, but that it was the right decision.
“I’m over it, but I was pretty sad about it,” Erm said in a July 9 Zoom call. “There is always next year, and I’ll do great next year.”
Tilga felt similarly after hearing both his outdoor season and chance at the Olympics were over. Since joining Georgia in 2019, the junior Tilga has yet to complete a year featuring a full indoor and outdoor season due to an elbow injury and now the pandemic.
“After the initial disappointment I realized that all my hard work didn't go to waste,” Tilga said. “I'll just have to wait for the reward a year longer.”
Following the season's abrupt ending, both runners flew home to Estonia. Although their season was cut short, the two have continued to train while at home. Erm said he competed in his first Estonian competition earlier this summer.
“I am focusing on throwing and staying in some kind of shape this summer,” Erm said. “ I have always been in shape every summer.”
He took the individual decathlon title last year but placed eighth in the javelin throw and fifth in the shot put, both of which were personal bests.
Tilga has resorted to his “fall type training” and is working to improve his overall conditioning in running, lifting, and jumps.
Although it is difficult to predict what the next season looks like in regard to COVID-19, Tilga and Erm remain hopeful for their chance to compete for both UGA and Estonia again.
As of now, the 2020-21 Track and Field indoor season will advance as planned and the Olympics are scheduled to begin July 2021.