Fencer Eli Dershwitz Recounts Qualifying for Olympics a Week Before Pandemic Postponement: 'It Was Tough'

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Lindsay Kimble
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Devin Manky/Getty Eli Dershwitz

What a difference a year makes.

Olympic sabre fencer Eli Dershwitz is reflecting on learning that the 2020 Olympic Summer Games had been postponed, and how he adjusted his training regimen in the time that followed.

The 25-year-old told PEOPLE at the Team USA Tokyo Olympics media summit last week that he had just qualified for the Games when the International Olympic Committee announced in mid-March 2020 that the competition would be pushed to 2021 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. A week later, the IOC said that the Summer Olympics would be held from July 23 through August 8, 2021.

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"Honestly, it all happened so fast," he said. "I remember I qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games on March 7, 2020, on my mom's birthday — got to call her from Europe tell her all the good news, and you know, was trying so hard at that point. And then a week or two later, with Tokyo getting postponed for an entire year, it was definitely tough on myself, on my teammates, a lot of our training partners, we were really working together for so long and had to take a huge break."

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He noted that gym and practice facilities were closed early into the pandemic, and that even when they reopened there were a "lot of modifications to our training regimen."

"It took a huge hit to our overall training capabilities, but since then I'm so proud about having this great community of teammates and other people training around me," Dershwitz told PEOPLE. "I think it made it a lot easier for all of us to group together and say, 'You know, we're going to push through these obstacles when it comes to new tournaments, new pieces of information that we're getting every day towards Tokyo.' "

Now, Dershwitz told PEOPLE, he's just so thankful for what did happen throughout the extended journey to the Games.

"I've had such a good training group around me to be able to jump over these hurdles through the last year."

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To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer on NBC.