Sorry, Olympic parents, you have to watch on TV

TOKYO — On Friday, for the first time that anyone could recall, 17-year-old Casey Kaufhold participated in an archery competition without at least one of her parents watching and cheering her on.

It just happened to be at the Olympics.

“It’s a little sad,” the Lancaster, Pa. native said, not that it impacted her performance. In the qualification round, she finished 17th, part of a U.S. women’s team that came in a strong third overall.

Still, this wasn’t just a bit surreal, it was without precedent.

Due to COVID-19, the Japanese government first banned all international travelers to the Tokyo Olympics and then barred even local fans from attending competitions. That means some 11,000 athletes from around the world won’t have throngs of family and friends in attendance to offer support, cheers or even a shoulder to cry on.

No parents, siblings or friends can come. Not Simone Biles' mother and father. Not Kevin Durant’s mother and father. Not even Japanese athletes whose families might live just a few miles from the venues.

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By nature of the Olympic schedule, Kaufhold and her women archery teammates — Jennifer Mucino-Fernandez and Mackenzie Brown — became the first American athletes in an individual sport to compete under these circumstances on Friday morning here, but Thursday night back home.

“It was a really big blow to everyone on Team USA, all the Olympic teams, not just us,” Rob Kaufhold, Casey’s father, told Yahoo Sports from back in Lancaster. “It kind of burst our bubble.”

Like lots of sports’ parents, Rob and Carole Kaufhold poured a great deal of time, energy and money into their children. And they were happy to do it. Local events, national events, even international events as Casey, and her older brother, Conor, who competes in archery at the club level at Texas A&M, grew in prominence.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 19: In this handout image provided by the World Archery Federation, Casey Kaufhold of USA during the recurve women's team final at the final qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Paris, France. (Photo by Dean Alberga/Handout/World Archery Federation via Getty Images )
Casey Kaufhold qualified for her first Olympics at just 17-years-old, but is in Tokyo without her family. (Dean Alberga/Handout/World Archery Federation via Getty Images )

All along the Olympics sat there as the ultimate prize, the ultimate trip. Rob had been a part of four U.S. Archery national teams when he was younger, but could never quite qualify for the Olympics. He knew how long the odds were.

Then it happened for his daughter ... only to be followed by the announcement that she’d have to go all by herself.

“I feel badly for all of them,” said Pat Forde, the Sports Illustrated and former Yahoo Sports writer who is one of the only parents on earth who will see a family member compete in these Games. His daughter Brooke is on the U.S. 200-meter freestyle relay team.

Media members are able to be in attendance to do their job. This is the ninth Olympics Forde has covered as a journalist.

“It's very hard on all of the families. It’s a lifetime achievement and they have to watch at home,” said Forde, whose wife and two sons will be back in Louisville, Kentucky, leading a watch party to cheer Brooke on.

Rob Kaufhold made sure to note, of course, that when it comes to problems, not being able to watch your daughter compete in the Olympics is the kind pretty much everyone would like to have.

“We’re very blessed,” he said.

Sure. But still. Who wouldn’t want to see their son/daughter/sibling/cousin/spouse/best friend compete in the Olympics? It's the trip of a lifetime.

The Kaufholds are an archery family. They even own and operate Lancaster Archery Supply, whose robust online business makes it one of, if not the, largest archery supply shop in the world. He also operates an academy that features “state of the art facilities and world class coaching.”

That’s where Casey learned the sport. It was just for fun at first, but when she turned 13, Rob noticed something.

“She started beating me, her dad,” he said with a laugh. “Then she started beating all the girls in the 15-20 year old range. So she was shooting much better than girls who were older. Normally, a 13-year-old girl would shoot from 50 meters. She was shooting from 60 and then 70 meters. And then she was beating the girls in those age groups.”

It was then that he realized she had Olympic potential. The training and travel ramped up. In 2019, the Kaufhold’s took 25 separate flights and visited 15 different countries so Casey could compete on the international level.

“I am appreciative of all that they have put into my career,” Casey said Friday.

“We never missed a thing,” Rob said.

Until it was the biggest thing.

“It’s difficult,” he said. 

It can be difficult for the athletes too. Many count on their parents for everything from pointers to emotional support to a meal out to take their mind off things. Now they are alone.

Diver Tyler Downs, who just graduated from high school in Missouri, for example, has tacked up a picture of his parents in his Olympic Village room to remind him that even for individual sports, it takes a team to get here.

“It’s not just me,” Downs said. “It’s my coaches, my family, my friends.”

Except here, it’s just him.

Casey Kaufhold said she’s made the most of it. Her mother Carole, watching through NBC streaming coverage, texted her throughout Friday’s qualifying, to offer nerve-calming support during breaks in the competition.

“She kept texting, ‘Just go through your normal shot, get comfortable, you can do this, today is just qualification. Just get comfortable.’ ”

Typical mom.

Casey appreciated it, though she said she’s been having fun in the Olympic Village with her teammates and enjoying every moment of just being here, even if the rest of the family isn’t.

Typical teenager.

“I think it bothers my parents a little bit more than me,” she said with a laugh. “I’m kind of the person that does a lot on my own, but I know they really want to watch so it’s hard for them not being here.”

Rob Kaufhold said he was just thankful for NBC and the internet to provide coverage of even qualifying, so they didn’t feel like they were missing much. It’s likely every parent feels the same way.

Besides, he said, while this is disappointing, Casey is young with a potentially long career ahead of her.

“We hope and pray she makes it again next time.”

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