2020 has seen us all miss out on something, but for the Olympic qualifying athletes, it sees a huge and often once in a lifetime dream postponed. We chat to three Olympic athletes on how they feel about the Tokyo Olympics being delayed until 2021 and what it means for their training. 

7 time Australian world champion slalom canoeist, Jess Fox

Source: Andy Green, Red Bull Content Pool

How do you feel that the Olympics have been postponed?

I was expecting the decision for the postponement when that announcement came in March and I felt ok, and quite positive that I could keep training and get on with it. Given everything going on in the world, it was the best decision. But as the months have passed it’s been a bit more challenging and the new date seems so far away now!

What does this mean for your training schedule?

CoVid has greatly impacted training and we were not able to train on the whitewater for two months. Our sport is very technical and about adaptability so it’s really important to have the time on whitewater. I feel comfortable that I can be ready in good shape, physically, despite the postponement - it’s not like some other sports where getting the taper and science exactly right is crucial to performing on the day. 

Now we are back paddling, which is great, but we are only able to do a few sessions a week compared to twice a day when overseas. Normally I’d be either in Tokyo or Europe preparing for races and training in different venues, so this has been a huge change for me to not have that consistent training and change of environment and training partners. It is also my first winter in 15 years! The only thing that has remained constant, and that I’ve been able to work on, is the gym strength work and flatwater paddling.

Did you/how did you use your time in lockdown? Did you continue training from home?

I was lucky to borrow some gym equipment from our Paddle Australia Gym and NSWIS and so I was able to set up a little backyard gym which was great. We had to get creative with our workouts. I could still paddle on the Nepean river by myself and do some fitness work. I tried to get into a routine while at home and enjoyed spending time with my family as well. It was important to focus on the training and work that I could do versus what I couldn’t, so I did some mental training as well.  I also did some cooking, painting, lots of reading, and many zoom calls and meetings! My family also fostered a greyhound which has brought a lot of joy during this time. 

#7 BMX World Champion and Red Bull Athlete, Saya Sakakibara

Source: Ryan Fudger, Red Bull Content Pool

How do you feel that the Olympics have been postponed?

It was definitely hard getting into a good routine of things again. There were a few weeks at the beginning where I would wake up in the morning and wouldn’t know why I’m going to train. When this one event I’ve been training for, for the past 3 years was suddenly another 12 months away, it was a tough pill to swallow. The Olympics went from 100 days away to 400 days away, just like that. 

A month in, the news still seemed unbelievable, but I was feeling a lot better. When you look at the situation in a more positive perspective, I noticed that it’s actually another year that I can use to prepare. I’m still one of the younger riders within the field and I felt that there was so much potential to use this opportunity to get stronger and faster. I could only see myself being faster next year than I will be this year. 

While all this was going on, I had been dealing with some personal/not so personal challenges when my brother Kai had a big accident during racing and was in a coma, suffering from a traumatic brain injury. Kai and I were training and preparing together, as we aimed for joint representation at the Olympic Games this year. In a split second, that was taken away and suddenly I was on this journey on my own. It was so hard to focus on training without my training partner, when Kai was in hospital fighting for his life. The mental stresses of this, which I refused to deal with at the time, would’ve put me in quite a challenging position if I was to prepare and race the Olympics this year. I could only imagine how this very big shift in my life would’ve put me at a detriment to my performance. 

I am grateful that I was provided with another year to come to terms with my new situation. Kai has been recovering well and although it is a slow process, it’s amazing to see how much better he is every day. He is in a rehabilitation unit full time now, undergoing intensive therapies every day, and it has been inspiring for me to see the progress and be able to be present to support him through this tough part of his journey. 

What does this mean for your training schedule?

My training schedule kind of shifted into ‘off season’ training when the postponement happened. By this time, all of the scheduled racing had been postponed already. For the first month or so, there were hardly any structure in my weekly schedule, so I was just doing what I wanted to do while staying active. I was quite lucky because my strength coach has a private gym on his property, and I was able to continue to train as per normal.  But I definitely took this time to really spend some hours in the gym and work on building more strength. At the start of this year, I had a good result at the last World Cup, coming 2nd. What I identified was that I lacked in power from the start, and this comes from doing the grunt work in the gym. Gym became more of the focus, as well as more endurance type training as well and it was quite good because these areas don’t get worked on during the competition phase. I feel like I gained a lot during these past few months, I feel more connected to my body and its abilities more than before.

Did you/how did you use your time in lockdown? Did you continue training from home?

Other than continuing my training, I also took on the role of administrator of the Sakakibara team. Kai and I are a team and Kai would manage relationships with sponsors and take care of those types of things. I was more about making videos or creating content for our social channels. But very little work… I found that what he was doing was quite difficult and time management was key to making this work, all while maintain good performance first living (eg. training, nutrition, recovery). I had to become more proactive because there wasn’t anyone responsible but me! I’ve learnt so much, developed new skills but also put me in a mindset where I’m inspired in bettering myself as a person, and how I can implement things now that will assist my future.

Australian sprinter and The Game Changers documentary star, Morgan Mitchell

 Source: Yianni Aspradakis, Fitness First Magazine

How do you feel that the Olympics have been postponed?

Well, putting it into perspective, there is no point being sad the Olympics have been postponed, because you look around you and people are losing their jobs, their house, even members of their families. There are things bigger than the Olympics right now, so let’s just be grateful for what we’ve got. But, at the same time, my coach said that with an extra year up my sleeve, I’ve now got even more time to get ready for the Olympics. It’s taken the pressure off and hopefully I’ll be even stronger and faster in Tokyo.

What did you hate most about lockdown?

I don’t know about everyone else – but I hated seeing weights in my house. It just looked gross, I hated it. I need a fucking gym, I don’t want to train at home if I can help it.


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