Online Lifestyle Editor Elinor Jones takes a look at the athletes who are winning and losing as a result of the postponement of the Olympics.
Since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the global sporting event has endured terrorist attacks and political boycotting. In its history, the competition had only been cancelled three times, during World War I and II, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing a second upset to Tokyo’s plans for the international sporting spectacle, as both the summer and winter games were due to be held there in 1940. In present day, this much newer threat has halted athletes from competing at the highest level in 2020, as British Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls are confined by lockdown when final preparations ahead of the Tokyo games should have been underway.
In these turbulent times for all industries, competitive sport has been tested by the virus, with questions of empty stadiums, shut training facilities and funding on the lips of committees across Olympic and Paralympic sports.
For individual athletes, postponement promoted a variety of feelings, from relief to frustration, from those planning on retiring from sport to those planning to make their international debut at Tokyo 2020. In sports such as gymnastics, the rigour of training takes its toll on the body, meaning athletes are often forced to retire in their twenties. World silver medalist Becky Downie had plans to retire in 2020, having competed at two Olympics since 2008, though her best world championship performance to date came in 2019, putting her in a strong position if she chooses to continue. Former 400m World Champion Dai Greene has also raised concern about the risk of pushing towards 2021, with fear his final Olympics could be out of reach if injuries set in. Major household names like Mo Farah and Jason Kenny, with ten Olympic gold medals between them, may not be at their optimum in 2021, with Farah having focused on longer distances than his title-winning 5,000m and 10,000m and Kenny falling short of his top form in recent world championships.
The physical strain of another year of training is not the only challenge ahead of athletes. Psychologically, the impact of hundreds of hours’ preparation ahead of the unknowns and uncertainties of competition as well as dwindling motivation may make it harder for athletes to bounce back from this period of transition. Similarly, knowing that a significant amount of preparation has not been utilised for athletes like Jade Jones, two-time Olympic Gold medalist in taekwondo, has hit hard, however the postponement could give athletes a chance to review their mental health and motivational strategies. By being stopped in their tracks of greatness, sportspeople can adjust their coping strategies to optimise their training and competition in the future. Jones, who was aiming to achieve three consecutive gold medals in the sport, has used this opportunity as a time for growth, in order to become a better athlete.
For some British athletes, Tokyo 2021 has given them a chance to compete when they may not have otherwise been able to. Paralympian Will Bailey injured his cruciate ligament last year and had struggled to make it back to full fitness. Young cyclist Jack Carlin has been overshadowed by Jason Kenny in recent years; a delay in the games could prove crucial for him making big waves in the British Cycling team that continues to dominate at international events. Skateboarding sensation Sky Brown, who would have been just thirteen if the games were held this summer, has proven herself technically on the global stage, earning a spot in Team GB. Whilst history has played host to many teenage Olympic stars, Brown could benefit not only for another year of training, but a year of maturity and confidence growth, in order to prepare her for the potential scrutiny childhood success could confer.
In unforeseen circumstances, for the first time in history, the summer Olympic Games have been postponed due to a pandemic, disrupting international sport and meticulous training plans of hundreds of Team GB athletes this summer. Whilst there are challenges to Tokyo 2021 that could arise as a result of the pandemic, including raising racism towards Asian people and an issue of a second wave of the virus, we are likely to see a sporting spectacle like no other.