Latest Olympic Channel series "Unleash the New": Five athletes united in a special way 

With new sports set to make their Olympic and Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020, Olympic Channel's newly released series "Unleash the New" takes a closer look into the lives of athletes whose dream of competing at the world's biggest sporting stage is now possible.
By Olympics

What stops people from trying something new? Fear of the unknown? Self-doubt? Worrying about where it might lead them? But what if we told you that these were exactly the things that should spur you on?

That when we open ourselves up to new experiences, we not only challenge our preconceptions of what we think we can achieve, we also get to meet new people, go new places, and maybe even discover new talents we never knew we had.

Four sports are set to make their Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021, namely, sport climbing, surfing, skateboarding and karate with baseball and softball making a return, while taekwondo and badminton join the Paralympic programme for the first time in Japan.

Olympic Channel's latest release, Unleash the New, is a five-episode web series that shares the inspiring personal stories of five athletes who are set to feature in the new sports that are debuting at the Games

All five episodes in series one are available to stream now, for free, on Olympic Channel.

In times of uncertainty, it might seem counterintuitive to take the plunge into the unknown.

Certainly the last 18 months have been some of the most unpredictable times in living memory. In America alone the national rate of anxiety tripled between 2019 and 2020 with young people being the most adversely affected, while other reports suggest that Covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns have led to almost half of young people feeling anxious about their lives and the future.

But while life without a roadmap can feel daunting, it can also offer the perfect opportunity to change things up. Trying new experiences serves as a useful distraction to the uncertainty of the world around us and, as psychologist Rich Walker points out, it can also have a really positive impact on our mental health:

“People who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones than people who have fewer experiences.” - Rich Walker, psychologist

Importantly, it’s not just the end result which is beneficial.

The very process of learning new skills or meeting new people also have a positive impact on our confidence, brain function and overall wellbeing. In an article for CNN, cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus wrote that scientists studying eudaimonia - the satisfaction that comes from constantly developing and living one’s life to the fullest - have found that “the greater sense of purpose and personal growth associated with eudaimonia correlates with lower cortisol levels, better immune function, and more efficient sleep.” It might not be quite the right definition of eudaimonia but, as the well known saying goes: "it’s about the journey, not the destination."

But while the athletes in these sports come from different backgrounds and different communities, there is one important thing that unites them - none of them started out with a roadmap to becoming an Olympian. None of them could ever have envisaged that they would one day be competing at the Games - it just wasn’t possible. Instead, they found their calling by trying something new, working hard, and finding their passion. Let’s meet some of these athletes who have embraced the new...

Jordyn Barrat has always been active - “I did a million things as a kid, I couldn’t sit still, I was always out, climbing trees or whatever,” - and growing up in Hawaii she was more into surfing than skateboarding. But when she walked into a skatepark for the first time, Jordyn realised she had found a home. “I just remember the feeling, kind of a deep breath of relaxation. I just thought this is so cool. These are my people. This is rad.” Skating wasn’t about competing or winning, it was about meeting a new community, learning tricks and having fun along the way. She could never have dreamed that 10 years later, she’d be representing America in skateboarding at the Olympics.

Like Jordyn, British Olympian Shauna Coxsey found a home at the climbing wall, but she only got there by chance. Her and her dad were obsessed with watching an adventure sports channel and one day Shauna saw a video of French rock climber Catherine Destivelle. Neither her or her dad knew anything about climbing but Catherine sparked something in a young Shauna she couldn’t ignore - and so they took a trip to a local climbing facility. “After that I was just obsessed and totally hooked. I didn't look back.” But despite starting at a young age, for Shauna, learning new skills was what kept her motivated: “There's always a new challenge, whether it's mental or physical. There's just so many ways to explore the sport. And I think that's the reason why I've not gotten bored in all these years.”

These sentiments are echoed by Peruvian surfer Lucca Mesinas. For him, surfing was always about his community - hanging out with his friends and family in the water, and being totally present in the moment. Now, Lucca has the chance to represent his community at the Games and show others what can be achieved if you follow your passion. “I really want people to see me as an example, because I really want to motivate people. I think if you work really hard, there's nothing you can't do. I've believed this for a long time, and trust me, it’s worked.”

Pakistani karate star Saadi Abbas has certainly experienced moments of self-doubt in his journey, so much so that at one point he even left the sport entirely, and started working as a sales executive in Dubai. He thought his journey was over, that his days of the dojo were behind him. But when he heard that karate was going to be an Olympic sport, Saadi took a leap of faith, realising that it’s never too late to have a new beginning: “I was aware of the circumstances I was in, I knew it was risky - but I decided to jump down that dark tunnel. I resigned from my job and went back to Pakistan to start training.”

None of these athletes could ever have dreamed of becoming Olympians when they started their sports. Instead they built new communities and connected with like minded others, felt satisfaction in learning new skills, found peace in living in the moment, and fell in love with their sports along the way. As Mexican taekwondo star Juan Diego García puts it, “I began taekwondo as a hobby but bit by bit I learnt more and more. I look around and see where I started, where I am now and where I am going and I think that nothing is impossible.”

Get to know more about the athletes who embraced the new in our new series Unleash the New.