German National Team swimmer Alexander Kunert is the latest elite in a growing chorus of swimmers to speak out against holding the Olympic Games as scheduled in July as the world shuts down over the global coronavirus pandemic.
Kunert, who normally trains in the United States at Division II Queens University in Charlotte, was the top seed for finals of the 200 free at the NCAA Division II National Championship meet before that meet was cancelled mid-day. On day 1 of the meet, he was the runner-up in the 200 IM in 1:45.98, behind Delta State sophomore Emanuel Fava. In his freshman season, Kunert won NCAA titles in the 200 fly, 200 free, 1000 free, and on 3 Queens relays.
Kunert has since returned home to Germany to continue training.
“The moment where our coach told us that we where not allowed to swim this night and that we fly back to queens on Friday was a shock for everyone. But for our seniors it was even more emotional than the rest,” said Kunert, who is a 24-year old sophomore at Queens.
“Getting back home on the next day with the news to leave the university until Sunday night was also really stressful for everyone. As an international student and part of the German national team I was in contact with many people to figure out what to do and where to go to prepare for the upcoming German nationals which also is my trials for the Olympics. My coach at Queens told me that due the closing of several pools in Charlotte it would be hard to prepare me well enough for the trials. So I decided to go back to Berlin to be with my family. My coach in Berlin told me that the pools are only open for elite athletes in Berlin and that I would be able to practice in Berlin for now.”
So now Kunert has been in Berlin since Monday training and doing his online coursework to finish his semester at Queens.
Kunert was initially qualified to be a member of the German 800 free relay team for last summer’s World Championship meet, but he was bumped by Damian Wierling during an internal time trial at the World Championships. That team qualified 7th for the final, where they placed 8th to secure their qualification for the Olympic Games.
Kunert’s best time in the 200 meter fly is a 1:57.05 done in 2016, while his best in the 200 meter free is a 1:47.93 done at the 2019 Pro Swim Series meet in Des Moines, Iowa. At his most recent long course meet, the 2020 Pro Swim Series in Des Moines, he swam a 1:49.25 in prelims of the 200 free and 1:59.73 in finals of the 200 fly.
Germany has an open Olympic qualification period that was intended to culminate with the German National Championships scheduled from April 30th-May 3rd. The outbreak of the coronavirus-caused COVID-19, however, has led to that meet being postponed until at least May 31st. Kunert has not yet hit any of the German Olympic qualifying standards, though the German Federation (DSV) says that selection criteria may be altered due to the disruption.
“My opinion about should Olympics (being held) this year is a big “No,” because I think we’re going to deal with this longer than just a few weeks and an event where the world comes together would be a terrible idea,” Kunert said of the ongoing debate about the Olympics. “Also, Olympics with no spectators wouldn’t be what everyone wants. Me for myself I wouldn’t want to compete at a world-class event against people where I know they have a lack of practice in their preparation.”
Kunert is a member of Germany’s “Prospective Squad,” which is the 2nd-tier of its National Team below the “Olympic squad.” Besides Kunert, this 2nd team includes swimmers like Ramon Klenz (the German Record breaker in the 200 fly) and Nadine Laemmle and has 31 athletes in total. The top-tier Olympic squad has 20 athletes. The athletes receive support from the DSV, including training camps, based on their squad.
Germany has currently registered 13,093 confirmed cases of coronavirus according to Johns Hopkins University. That ranks as the 5th-most confirmed cases in the world, though with 31 confirmed coronavirus deaths so far the country has had a far-higher survival rate than most of the world.