CHULA VISTA, Calif. — The Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center is home to many athletes hoping to reach an event that only comes around every four years.
That includes Erica Bougard, a Tennessee native, and Chris Benard from Tustin, California.
“It’s blood sweat and tears,” Bougard said. “I’ve hurt my knees on the hurdles so many times. I have so many scars from just trying to get everything right, trying to perfect things over and over.”
For Bougard and Benard, reaching a worldwide stage was always the goal. It was never a question of if they’d make it but when.
“My family’s very accepting and very open to whatever,” Benard said. “So it’s always kind of been like if you’re doing well at it, if it makes you happy, continue to do it. We don’t care what you’re really doing.”
While it won’t be the type of event with thousands of adoring fans and family cheering them on because of COVID-19 restrictions, the two are still mindful of how special it is to be competing.
“I guess the most exciting part is just being on the track,” Bougard said. “I just have to make competing the best part because I don’t really see anything else being like, ‘Oh my God. OK, wow.’”
With Bougard competing in the heptathlon and Benard in the triple jump, Team USA is sending a number of talented athletes to Tokyo this summer. One athlete who won’t be attending is runner Sha’carri Richardson, who tested positive for marijuana. As a result, some people have taken to social media encouraging people to boycott the games.
“Most of the people trying to boycott it don’t even know the dates of the Olympics,” Bougard said. “So I’m just like, ‘Bro, what are we talking about here?’ It’s ridiculous.”
“We’ve been looking for ways to get ourselves more power for years and now, all of a sudden, people are pulling out this boycott thing. Like ‘Oh no, we’ve got to boycott the Olympics. You guys shouldn’t go,’’ Benard said. “And it’s like look, we’ve been wanting your support as athletes for years.”
While people at home will only see the end result in Tokyo, not everyone realizes the amount of work and effort it takes for athletes like Bougard and Benard to get there. They make tough sacrifices, like living away from family and friends for years in order to train in Chula Vista.
“I think paying attention to our practices would make the events that much more exciting. You would feel the passion, you would feel the tears that come to our eyes when we do have just a successful performance.”
This will be Benard’s second Olympics he’s competed in and Bougard’s first.