The delayed Olympic Games - the Covid impact

Athletes turn to new ways to train during the lockdown Credit: ITV News Central

If you haven't yet watched Netflix's The Last Dance, it's the story of the famed Chicago Bulls NBA side of the 1990's and in particular, Michael Jordan.

You'll soon understand Jordan's ruthlessness and determination on court and his remarkable talent. Whilst Jordan may stand out alone on his natural ability, his dedication to being the best will be familiar to all athletes.

This is especially true at the Olympic and Paralympic Games which is the pinnacle of athletics.

You have World Championships, Diamond League, Europeans and so on - but as hurdler Meghan Beesley told me, it is every athlete's dream to be an Olympian.

The Olympic Rings at the Queens Elizabeth Park, London. Credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire/PA Images

But in no other sport is the lifestyle so regimented and the margins so fine. It could be a case of years of preparation for an event that will last mere seconds.

It is why you will see so many breakdown in tears when they medal or just miss out - a lifetime of work rewarded or ruined in a fraction of a second.

The announcement that the Games were postponed appeared to provide a sense of clarity for athletes and teams - but this was merely half the story.

The postponement instead will be a great cause of concern for many. No one will disagree that it was the right decision to make, but for some of those set to compete, they have seen years of hard work, sacrifice and religious-like devotion potentially go to waste.

Yes, the Games will most likely take place next summer (under what conditions we don't know). But some competitors will know that this year was their best chance of reaching a final, and even winning a medal.

At the moment there will be fears of being a year older, rising talent given more time to prepare and worries about injuries taking over.

Elite competitors found themselves shut out of their training facilities and in lockdown like everyone else. Precise training regimes and access to key equipment immediately stopped - in short a life's work in jeopardy.

Hurdler Meghan Beesley training with dog Coco watching on Credit: ITV News Central

It led to athletes such as Beesley, and Holly Bradshaw, having to improvise with their training. Both are European Bronze medallists in their respective disciplines of the 400m hurdles and pole vault and both lacked the equipment to train as they normally would.

Meghan from Polesworth in Warwickshire, who is a self-funded athlete, moved her training to the flat ground of a local cricket club with her dog Coco who kept her company and certainly pushed her when it came to her sprints!

Holly Bradshaw trains by taping a tin of beans to a pole Credit: ITV News Central

Holly meanwhile taped a tin of beans to a small pole to try and replicate the weight that a pole vaulter carries. It has been far from ideal but at least they have been doing some training.

If the physical battle of training without elite level equipment and support is tough, so too is the mental struggle that some athletes will be going through.

Bradshaw was candid and honest when we spoke over Skype, opening up to tell me how some days she has had no motivation at all and others where she has broken down and cried.

She also spoke of feeling lost and of not having a purpose. This from an athlete who has a real chance of a podium finish next year.

It was sobering to hear first hand what athletes may be going through. It clearly isn't just a case of picking up where you left off. In a sport where every millimetre and millisecond counts, a year is a lifetime.

Dr Jamie Barker from Loughborough University Credit: ITV News Central

I spoke to Loughborough University's Sports Psychologist Dr. Jamie Barker, for more of an insight and though the current situation will affect different competitors in different ways, the question of 'what if' may never leave them.

The next year will test the mental resolve of a lot of athletes and there's the strong possibility that some will never recover mentally from this delay. Dr Barker compared it to the 'loss of an arm or leg', such is the trauma that some will be going through.

This of course is before having to deal with the everyday effects of lockdown like us all. Holly said she felt that a lot of the public may not understand the current situation for athletes in that sport is their life and their job. Indeed failure or success could be resting on how they are coping.

Many athletes will be going through similar experiences to Meghan Credit: ITV News Central

Both Meghan and Holly though say they are in a good place mentally and physically and well-placed to push on into next year.

There's comfort too that throughout the world, athletes will all be going through a similar experience. But the reality is that the next twelve months will make or break someone's career.

There's an old quote which goes, 'Sports do not build character, they reveal it'. Never has it been more relevant.

Watch the first part of Mark's series "The Delayed Games - the Covid effect" here:

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