Postponement of Tokyo Games a test of athletes' grit: ex-Olympians
How they handle delay reflects their professionalism
The postponement of July's Tokyo Olympics will be a test of the mettle and mental strength of athletes, according to former Olympians.
Last night, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that after speaking to International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach over the phone, it has been decided that the Games would be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Australia and Canada both withdrew from the Games on Monday and, before last night's announcement, other powerhouse nations like the United States and Britain intimated that they could follow suit.
So where does that leave athletes who have structured the last four years of their lives with the goal of peaking at the finish line of Tokyo 2020?
An unnamed Singaporean athlete, who was hoping to qualify for Tokyo 2020, told The Straits Times on Monday: "Athletes have prepared long and hard for months, even years. If the Olympics are postponed, athletes would have to reset and re-plan an entire cycle to gear towards the Games again."
Former swimmer Mark Chay, who represented Singapore at the 2000 and 2004 Games, said the athletes who could be hardest hit are those on the brink of making the Olympics, but have not been able to do so because qualifiers have been postponed .
Chay, who was the chef de mission for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and is the coach of Paralympic champion Yip Pin Xiu, told The New Paper: "It is the athletes who are on the cusp of qualifying, the over 40 per cent of the quota who haven't qualified yet.
"I'm not talking about the Joseph Schoolings or Quah Zheng Wens; it's the guys who are on the brink of qualifying.
"I think those guys really need to think through what their sport means to them and how much more they will be able to do to sustain themselves to qualify for the Olympics."
However, former sprinter C. Kunalan, who raced at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, feels too much of a fuss is being made about the four-year cycle and peaking for the Games.
The former assistant professor, who specialised in exercise physiology, told TNP: "People are making a big hoo-ha about fine-tuning for Tokyo and having to start all over again.
"But everyone is facing the same problem, everyone is in the same boat."
Aleksandar Duric, who represented Bosnia in canoeing at the 1992 Games before playing up front for the Lions later in his career, is confident athletes will be able to cope with the postponement of the Tokyo Games.
Duric, who famously hitchhiked his way to Barcelona in 1992, said: "Once they can train again, they will go back to training and get back to the level they used to be at.
"That's what real sportspeople do. That's why not everyone can be a sportsperson."
Lim Heem Wei, who was the first Singaporean gymnast to qualify for the Olympics in 2012, agreed, saying: "I think Olympians have that mental strength, grit and perseverance... to press on."
Former shooter Lee Wung Yew was a veteran of the 1996, 2004 and 2008 Games, and he believes how athletes handle the postponement will be a reflection of their professionalism.
Said the 2018 Asian Games chef de mission: "A lot of science, injury management and training goes into trying to peak at the right time.
"With the uncertainty, how badly athletes are affected depends on their professionalism. That will decide how they work around the situation."
Ex-swimmer Joscelin Yeo, meanwhile, highlighted that a lot will depend on athletes' mental and emotional conditioning.
When asked what advice she had for Tokyo Games aspirants who are in limbo, Singapore's only four-time Olympian said: "Don't keep looking at the uncertainty. Focus on what you can control...
"If you can train, then carry on training. If you are stuck at home, find a way to keep up your conditioning.
"A lot of it is mental and emotional...
"If you don't take care of that, it can affect how you look at things and how you can upkeep the physical."