Tokyo Olympics – PAULA RADCLIFFE: I really feel for six Team GB athletes who were forced to isolate

For so long I’ve been dreading the news that someone at the Olympics would have their dream destroyed or severely affected by the Covid pandemic.

Thankfully, rather than talking about positive Covid tests — apart from poor Amber Hill, Jo Konta and Dan Evans — we are merely dealing with ‘pinged’ contact cases. But I really feel for the six British athletes involved over the past week.

Team GB will be doing their utmost to minimise the impact on their preparations after the six were ‘pinged’ because someone on their flight to Tokyo tested positive, and it does sound as though they have been able to continue training in a degree of isolation while they go through repeated Covid testing.

I feel really bad for the six British athletes that were forced to isolate just before the Olympics

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There is a huge risk to their inner equilibrium as they build up to what could be the pinnacle of their careers. As an athlete, the value of staying calm in the final couple of weeks before competing is inbuilt, but something like this is totally out of their control and they will have to work really hard to stay mentally focused and on track.

There is potential to waste valuable energy on ‘what if’ and ‘this is unfair’, but this won’t change the position the athletes are in. It is always a nervous time as you approach an Olympics, so to compound that stress with this is going to be hard.

As much as ever, the support teams will be hugely important in managing how the athletes handle it. My advice would be to focus all their energy on what they can do and to try not to worry about what is out of their control. Use this as an extra motivation to perform despite the situation.

Clearly I cannot relate to this predicament — the pandemic and the restrictions are unique to this Olympics. The closest comparison I could make is getting injured so close to the Athens Olympics in 2004, or the freak occurrence of a venomous spider bite on top of a femoral stress fracture prior to the Beijing Games in 2008. 

I was training in the French Pyrenees and needed urgent medical treatment before I could resume training after 72 hours. In the end, it was not so serious, but that awful feeling that my Olympic hopes were gone after I woke unable to stand is still a horribly vivid memory.

It was always a nervous time approaching the Olympics – the pinnacle of an athletes career

It was so important for me to quickly get my head around the situation and focus on what I could do going forwards. For the athletes it would be understandable to focus on the unfairness of the situation, but you have to move on as quickly as possible.

Where it will be noticeably difficult is that they will have less time in that team environment, and depending on the event that could be hugely impactful. It can be nice to feed off each other in that final approach to competing and without knowing the exact restrictions they are under, I imagine that will be limited.

The most frustrating part is that they have been so careful only to get ‘pinged’ for something entirely out of their control.

You can argue the airline could have been more supportive by seating all of the athletes in one area of the plane, with a row or two separating them from other passengers. The IOC could also have been more proactive in safeguarding these Olympics even further, laying on dedicated flights to get everyone to Tokyo.

However, that is all done now. What matters is that these athletes are able to process and handle the situation and not let it define their Olympics.

The IOC could have been more proactive in safeguarding an Olympics mired by Covid chaos

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