Through all the injuries and setbacks I have faced in recent years one thing has kept me going: the thought of wearing the British vest again at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Right now I am in the best shape I’ve been in for a long time – but, given I turn 34 next month, it’s possible that if the Games are pushed back a year it could end my dream. But there is no doubt in my mind that a postponement has to happen.
For the IOC to continue to dither and delay, when health professionals are warning just how dangerous coronavirus is and when most athletes are unable to train properly, is obscene.
The problem athletes face is that the International Olympic Committee has given itself a four-week deadline to make up its mind about what to do next – while across much of the world many tracks and facilities are being shut and countries are being put into lockdown. That is just too long to wait. The world’s athletes need answers now, not in mid-April.
We all assume the IOC will do the right thing and move the Olympics to 2021, especially with Canada and Australia saying they won’t send athletes to Tokyo. The problem is, none of us can be 100% sure. And so we are in this strange state of limbo, where none of us can stop training or take our foot off the gas.
It is probably not healthy or sensible, but at the back of my mind I keep asking myself: what if the Games gets moved to October, and I’ve missed four weeks of training because I assumed it would be off?
That, to put it mildly, isn’t easy. The High Performance Athletics Centre at Loughborough University, where many top British athletes train, is closed for the foreseeable future and my coach has gone back to Sweden to be with his family. Most tracks and gyms are also closed, so I have had to get innovative.
On Saturday morning, I went to recce the local 400m track by one of the private schools near where I live. I even had a look at the fence and wondered to myself – can I jump over it? Then I thought better of it and dropped the school an email asking whether I might use it. But given the school has now shut, I doubt that is an option.
However, in some ways I am fortunate. I live with my partner on her family’s farm, so this weekend I went around trying to find stuff that I could use in my training. I found a big tyre from a tractor with an alloy in the middle of it – that will help me replicate the deadlift and I will also be flipping it over in my training. There’s also lots of heavy logs on the farm that will go on my back to mimic lunge walks or squat jumps.
The British pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw and her husband, Paul, have gone a bit further. They are in the process of converting their garage into a gym – although how she can practice vaulting 4.80m is another matter entirely.
That is often what people don’t realise: at this stage of the year athletes need to do work that is specific to our events. In my case it is sprinting and hurdling and lifting heavy weights. But if you’re a javelin thrower, there is nowhere safe to throw a javelin. And how can the swimmers train when the pools are shut? For anyone hoping to make Tokyo 2020, following along with Joe Wicks’s videos on YouTube isn’t going to cut it. I appreciate what he is doing for the kids, but it is not going to make me an Olympic champion.
The other misconception is that athletes will be able to survive financially in the months ahead. Yes, that’s true if you are on national lottery funding and receiving £27,000 a year from British Athletics. But for someone like myself it’s not so easy. I get some support – £1,500 a year – from Welsh Athletics but the rest of my income is made up by competing, doing speaking gigs and going into schools. At the moment everything is on hold, so I can’t earn money.
I know the vast majority of Britons are in a similar boat and there are more important things to worry about. Even so, it’s amazing how things have changed. Three weeks ago I was looking forward to going on a training camp to Florida. Now everything is up in the air. No wonder every athlete I speak to agrees that postponing the Olympics is not only the right thing to do – it’s the only thing to do. That’s the long and short of it. Japan might be in a fantastic situation by July – but in many parts of the world that won’t be the case.
There are all sorts of practical problems, too. How can hundreds of thousands of people go to Japan to watch the Games when there are restrictions on travel? And why would you want 11,000 athletes in a village together when there is a risk of catching or spreading Covid-19? Also, if you’re a sponsor, do you want your name plastered everywhere at a time when many people can’t go out, or they’ve got no money because they can’t work?
That’s why it is in everyone’s interest to postpone it. Nobody is missing out. We’re all in less than ideal situations. The one request I would make to the IOC is that the quicker they tell that it won’t be this year the better, as it will take a lot of stress off the athletes.
As for me, my goal hasn’t changed. I’m still desperate to make it to Tokyo and I believe I will get there, whether it is 2021 or 2022. Right now, though, the world has far more pressing concerns.
Dai Greene is a world, European and Commonwealth champion hurdler