Athletes find renewed motivation as Tokyo Olympic countdown hits one year to go
Today was originally set to be the eve of the athletics competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Now, of course, athletes have 12 more months to wait before track and field action gets underway in the Japanese capital exactly one year from today.
For some, the extra year may feel like a lifetime of waiting. For others it can’t come around soon enough. And for a select few, it has given them something of a lifeline.
The likes of David Rudisha and Wayde van Niekerk were among the biggest stars of the last Olympic Games in Rio, winning the 800m and 400m respectively. But in recent years, most of their time has been spent away from the track and rehabbing their way back from injury.
“The year has really saved me,” said Rudisha, who was rounding into form at the start of the year but was then forced to undergo ankle surgery at the end of May. “It took a lot of time to get fit and it would have been difficult to qualify in June for the Olympics. The ankle fracture will now throw me back, but I hope that by September I will be able to start building up again. That would then give me a normal preparation period leading into an Olympic year.”
Van Niekerk is a bit further along in his comeback, having clocked 10.10 and 20.31 over 100m and 200m earlier this year. But the South African sprinter knows the extra year will be hugely beneficial as he aims to get back into the form that carried him to a world 400m record of 43.03 in Rio.
“There’s time to work on specific areas that need your attention,” he says. “You can find positives wherever you look for them, you just need to sit back and see where you need to work.”
Van Niekerk will still be in his twenties by the time the Tokyo Olympics take place in 2021, but for athletes the other side of 30 – or, in some cases, aged 40 and above – trying to stay in peak form could pose a challenge. It is one they’re willing to tackle, though.
“The age is here, but I’m optimistic now,” said javelin world record-holder and two-time Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova, who will turn 40 next June. “At first I was disappointed [about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics], but otherwise I told myself that I have a new coach now and it’s our first season together. Next season will be better.”
Spain’s Jesus Angel Garcia, meanwhile, celebrated his 50th birthday last October, just three weeks after finishing eighth in the 50km race walk at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019. When the Tokyo Olympics takes place in 2021, he will be just a few months shy of his 52nd birthday. He’s determined to make it to his eighth Games – a record tally for athletics.
An extra year will also be beneficial to the up-and-coming generation. Athletes such as US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, Dutch 400m hurdler Femke Bol, French all-round talent Sasha Zhoya and pole vault world record-holder Mondo Duplantis – all aged 20 or younger – have produced some stunning performances over the past year or two. With another year of training under their belt, they could be fitter, faster and stronger in 2021.
“Obviously I was very disappointed when the news came about the postponing of the Olympics,” said Bol, who recently clocked a Dutch 400m hurdles record of 53.79 in what’s just her second season in the event. “But I feel it gives me a chance to train harder, improve my technique and get more experienced in the 400m hurdles.”
“When Tokyo was originally set to take place in 2020, as I would have only just come out of the U18 category, I knew my chances of getting the qualifying time would be extremely low,” said the 18-year-old, who set a world U20 60m hurdles record of 7.34 during the indoor season. “But with the Games being pushed back, for me it means a whole year to be in elite competition and puts Tokyo 2021 on my radar a little more than before. My priority, though, for 2021 is still the World U20 Championships in Nairobi.”
The Olympic Games were firmly on Mondo Duplantis’s radar at the start of the year. The Swedish pole vaulter began 2020 in tremendous form, twice breaking the world record. Undefeated in all eight of his competitions so far this year, he would have headed to Tokyo as one of the biggest gold medal favourites. But even he is able to see the bigger picture.
"It's been an unexpected season in so many ways,” he said. “People have it so much worse than we do as athletes, so I'm not going to complain. Next year is going to be great and I don't see why I can't get into even better form next year.”
posted Thursday July 30th
by World Athletics