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Olympic rules will keep Team USA's #1 fans home ... and heartbroken

Parents of three athletes shared their disappointment in not being able to be present at the Tokyo Games.
Illustration of three families on a blue and red background
“Neither of them has ever missed an important event in my life,” Robyn Stevens said.TODAY Illustration / Courtesy Robyn Stevens / Danielle Greenberg / Kenny Selmon
/ Source: TODAY

It's hard to forget some of the parental performances of Olympics past. Who could forget Aly Raisman's parents, Lynn and Rick, performing mental gymnastics as their daughter took the mat in London?

We even got to see Jordan Chiles' parents do a textbook 'Mom and Dad squirm' at the 2021 Gymnastics Trials.

But due to COVID-19 restrictions, international athletes will not be able to have their families present at the Tokyo Games when they compete as Olympians, a devastating blow for many parents.

"I had all my Team USA gear ready."

24-year-old Kenny Selmon credits his mom and dad for much of his success.

"They’ve created me and they’ve built me. I want them to be there just as badly as I want myself to be there," the first time Olympian from Georgia told TODAY Parents. "It’s a little dagger."

Parents Angela and Bill Selmon are equally heartbroken.

“I’m devastated, because you live your life and you work hard and give them every opportunity you can to succeed. You’ve been there for the whole journey and this is the apex of the journey," Bill Selmon shared. It’s like being shut out."

The Selmons expressed concern over athletes not being able to look to the stands and see their support system.

"If you’re allowed to dream that your child is going to the Olympics, the next dream is that you are there," Bill said. Added mom, Angela, "I had all my Team USA gear ready!"

"You're an Olympian now."

Robyn Stevens, who was named using a combination of her parents' names Robert and Carolyn, said not having her parents present when she competes in Tokyo will be a first.

“Neither of them has ever missed an important event in my life,” Stevens, who qualified for the U.S. Olympic track team, told TODAY Parents. “My mom has been feeling particularly depressed about not being able to come watch. She’s 72 years old now. I had really hoped I could pay her and my dad back for all the years of selfless support and energy they’ve put into my sister and I throughout the years as a thank you.”

The race walker made her first Olympic team Sunday at the 2021 Olympic Trials held in Eugene, Oregon.

"When she walked off that finish line, she and I looked at each other, got teary eyed, and started hugging each other [and] I said, 'You’re an Olympian now'," mom Carolyn Stevens shared, adding it was followed by the realization she would not be able to see her daughter cross a finish line in Tokyo.

The 72-year-old mom has rarely missed a race and dad, Robert, has served as his daughter's aid during events.

"We waited all these years," Carolyn shared. "We are behind her all the way no matter what, but I have to say, it did break my heart [that] we will be watching her on TV."

Added Robert, "To tell you the truth, it's disappointing, but you know, the ultimate goal was for her. We do what we can do to try and have our kids be successful and to try and have them be better than we were."

"I cried."

There is one athlete with a lucky loophole to this year’s rule.

Jade Carey, a member of the US women's Olympic gymnastics squad, is one of the few whose parent is also their coach, so her father, Brian, will join her in Tokyo.

"I'm really excited and I'm really glad (I have) Dad to share it with," the 21-year-old Team USA gymnast told Hoda Kotb in an interview the day after the final team was announced. "He's been my coach for the longest time and I'm just really happy that we're going to be there together."

But mom, Danielle Greenberg, will watch from home in Phoenix.

"When I found out for sure that there would be no overseas spectators, I cried," Greenberg told TODAY. "I think she did, too, just because it’s that one moment, it doesn’t happen typically more than once for most athletes, and I was sad. I will not be there to be able to share anything with her."

Though they may not be boarding a flight to Tokyo this year, all parents agreed on one thing — celebrating their child.

"Medal or not," Greenberg said. "We’re going to celebrate the accomplishment of just being there."