For many British Athletes, the Tokyo Olympics delay means it's not just sporting dreams that are put on hold
Heartbroken though most of them are, you won’t find a British athlete who thinks postponing the Olympic Games was wrong. Despite the fact they’ve had their dreams put on hold, or in some cases ripped away. All, of course, recognise the bigger picture.
For most, the decision has actually come as a relief but for each and every one of the 300 plus Team GB athletes, the future is not as simple as changing schedules and aiming to peak again in around a year’s time.
Lily Owsley is just one example of a British athlete with difficult decisions ahead of her.
Already a gold medallist from Rio and a key member of Britain’s current hockey team Owsley had just pushed herself through a “gruelling session” when she heard that Tokyo wasn’t happening.
“We were expecting it but my immediate thought was, what have I been putting my body through this for? Every session over the last 4 years has been timed to peak during those two weeks. I know it’s the right thing but I’ve not got my head around it yet.”
She fully supports the delay: “There is no way it could have gone on or should have gone on," but the decision does mean she faces the prospect of tearing up significant plans she’d put in place.
What most of us don’t ever consider, because we are only ‘superfans’ for one fortnight every four years, is that once an Olympics is over most athletes have their future mapped out. That could mean anything from a new job to starting a family.
Owsley, for example, had already signed a professional contract to play hockey in Holland, the best league in the world, where she was also going to study for a Masters degree in neuroscience.
“Every single athlete has plans post-Olympics; marriage maybe or babies. Our governing body will now have to talk to 60 or so athletes who have 60 different plans. There are going to be some difficult conversations.”
Owsley’s own decision on her future was a big step for her, moving to the Hague with her boyfriend Ollie Willars, also a Team GB hockey player who was also due to join a Dutch team.
With the dramatically changed landscape, Owsley is wrestling with what to do: "I was set on Holland. Maybe I’ll be able to play half a season there but that would mean not training with the team day in, day out. I don’t want to be that person who plays abroad and then goes to the Olympics."
Is there any part of her that would consider sticking with her plans and missing next year’s Games?
"I don’t think so, Holland is there every year and the Olympics doesn’t come around often. I’ll try to postpone my contract for a year and play in Holland in September 2021."
It’s not just the athletes themselves who are affected by this delay, it can be very hard for those close to them who now face another year of taking a supportive backseat, an extra year they weren’t expecting and weren’t planning for.
"People have husbands and wives and families," Owsley says.
"Athletes typically spend months away from home in other countries. It’s difficult for them."
So how much of a problem will it be to adjust to this delay?
"Physically it’s one thing, I’m only 25, so I can push for a few more years but mentally, well, as much as I don’t want to go on again you’ve got to find ways to get your head around it."
Ironically the delay might actually help the team’s prospects, Owsley believes another year together will actually give them a better chance of success in Tokyo.
"We’re a relatively young team so now we have to see this extra time as a gift. It could be the difference between us medalling and not medalling."
That isn’t the same for all, of course, Dai Greene the Welsh hurdler told ITV News this week that at nearly 34, a delay of one year might just be a stretch too far for him.
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A revised hockey programme was handed down to Owsley and the rest of the squad just hours after the joint announcement from the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee.
"In lockdown we have been training from home. Training on your own is gruelling but we were smashing it. The strength and conditioning team have already come up with a new plan, so we’ve got a bit of a wind-down now; especially mentally winding down."
No British athlete is asking for sympathy, all our lives have been disrupted by this terrifying pandemic and sport has taken its rightful place at the bottom of very long list of priorities.
It’s just while the rest of us are praying we can get back to normal as quickly as possible and pick up where we all left off, healthy and unscathed, for the majority of Olympians it’s likely to be even more complicated than that.