In recent days, EVERY competitor competing this summer in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will have felt something change inside them.
Athletes know just how much time they have before they have to perform at their best in the months, or even years, leading up to an Olympics.
And then then, as the calendar flips into an Olympic year, things get more urgent.
Unlike everything you encounter in a typical sporting year, the pressure to build Team GB is different. Any athlete knows if they blow it, they’re going to have to wait four years for another opportunity at best, they’re never going to get the chance to be an Olympian again at worst.
For Tokyo, a few are already guaranteed selection; the sailing team was chosen before the pandemic broke out, including 2012 medalist Luke Patience of Aberdeen.
But for others, Olympic selection stresses have now dragged on for more than a year, with a few more months to go.
January 1 must have carried a feeling of déjà vu with it, because there was no hint of the havoc that Covid was about to wreak this time last year. So, the feeling of beginning an Olympic year has already been witnessed by athletes around the world only to have it turn upside down two months later.
For certain competitors, Tokyo’s postponement may have been a huge benefit. Without a doubt, 400m hurdler Eilidh Doyle and para sprinter Libby Clegg, both of whom have had babies for the last two years, will be grateful for the additional 12 months of training for the Games.
Young athletes such as Jemma Reekie, track cyclist Jack Carlin, and swimmer Duncan Scott will also benefit from an additional year of preparation to be healthier, fitter, and mentally better prepared.
The postponement of the Games would have changed lives in negative ways for some, however. Another year of putting the body through hell to ensure it is at its best in Tokyo does not sound long for athletes approaching the end of their careers, but let me assure you that it is a major challenge.
The confusion about what the Olympics in Tokyo will look like when they actually launch in late July is also difficult.
It now seems likely that the Olympics will take place, although it remains uncertain under what conditions.
Most of the magic comes from the enthusiasm created by the thousands of fans who can’t believe their luck to be part of the Olympics in the stadiums and arenas. If there will be some crowds at all in Tokyo remains to be seen.
Similarly, the Athletes’ Village is one of the standout aspects of the experience for many athletes, including myself, but it seems certain that this will not be the same as in a pre-Olympic world.
A variety of high-profile athletes, on the other hand, have estimated that Tokyo will feature some of the best results ever.
This year’s lack of competition has given athletes time to prepare, which never occurs in a regular sports year. In normal times, before re-entering the competitive arena, athletes have a limit of a few months of uninterrupted preparation, but last year they allowed for an unprecedented training block.
How Tokyo will unfold remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the planning was unlike anything previously encountered, and the Games themselves will definitely be different.
Whatever Tokyo 2020 ends up being, for almost every athlete who will be there, the Olympics remain the focus. And you never know, maybe these unusual circumstances will make the Games even more remarkable this summer.
AND a little more.
THE virtual contest phenomenon was something that erupted in 2020. With no sporting event spared from the pandemic and many even totally annulled, if they wanted their event to survive in any way, organizers were left to use their imagination.
Some high-profile virtual events were seen last year, such as the Manchester Virtual Road Race in November, which featured runners from around the world and was won by Eilish McColgan of Scotland, and last month’s eSports World Cycling Championships.
Last March, few would have thought that in the new year we would still add virtual activities to our diary, but the first virtual event of the year in Scotland, the Lindsays Virtual Road Challenge this week, demonstrates just how much the sports ca