MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - While the 2020 Summer Olympics are more than two years away, athletes around the world are training for a chance to bring home the gold, even in Myrtle Beach.
After traveling more than 3,000 miles from Iceland, several dozen of the country’s top track and field athletes spent the past two weeks training at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium.
But why Myrtle Beach?
The connection is through Icelandic pole vaulter and trainer Mark Johnson, who grew up in North Myrtle Beach and competed at Coastal Carolina University.
After college, Johnson met his wife Christine, who was born and raised in Iceland, and became one of the country’s greatest track and field athletes.
After getting married, the two permanently moved to Iceland where they would compete and coach with Reykjavik Sports Club.
“It’s a lot of work,” said former Olympian Odinn Bjorn Thorsteinsson.
Thorsteinsson competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics, representing his country of Iceland, who’s population is just over 350,000.
To put that in perspective, Horry County’s population is just over 333,000.
“Achieving something like that is unbelievable, a lot of pride especially coming from a small nation,” said Thorsteinsson.
Thorsteinsson now coaches Reykjavik Athletics, the largest track and field club in Iceland, along side Christine and Mark Johnson.
“I like to bring them here and show them where I’m from because I was an All-American at Coastal and Auburn,” said Johnson.
The chances of competing in the Olympics are around 1 in 562,000. In other words, it’s very difficult to get there.
For several athletes with the Icelandic track and field team, those odds mean nothing when it comes to achieving their dreams.
“It’s incredible, I love representing Iceland,” said Olympian Gudni Valur Gudnason.
Gudnason, 23, competed as a disc thrower in the 2016 Summer Olympics and hopes to return to the games in 2020 with one goal in mind.
“I want to get that Olympic medal. I hope I get that one day,” said Gudnason.
For several junior Olympians, they too hope to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and know it’s no easy task getting there.
“Being from Iceland it’s been a lot of fun to be part of competition where there’s not a lot of Icelandic people competing,” said track and field athlete Tiana Whitworth.
Whitworth and Gudbjorg Jona Bjarnadottir run track for Iceland.
Gudbjorg won gold at the Junior European Champion in the 100 meter.
“It’s giving us hope for the future, to see that we can actually run with the best from other countries,” said Bjarnadottir.
While the team usually spends their spring training in Portugal, each has enjoyed their time training in Myrtle Beach.
“It’s really important for us to come to places like this and train so we can train in the best condition as possible,” said Whitworth.
Johnson said he has high hopes for Iceland as they continue their Olympic training and looks to make the visit to Myrtle Beach an annual trip.
You’ll be able to watch the 2020 Summer Olympics live from Tokyo right here on WMBF News.