YOG athletes reflect on unique challenges of 2020

Athletes around the world have faced huge challenges throughout 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with events postponed or cancelled and lockdown measures affecting their training. Here, former Youth Olympic Games (YOG) athletes reveal how they have adapted to an unprecedented year.

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Pandelela Rinong

(MAS, diving)

“I can say that because of the pandemic I have had the longest break ever, since I started diving. I think it's also been a blessing for me because the years of training and competing non-stop took a toll on my body. I always have these on-and-off injuries that I never had the time to rest and actually cure 100 per cent. But, because of this pandemic, we were forced to stay at home, and I couldn’t go diving. So, I think it's also been a perfect opportunity for me to recuperate my injuries and also give myself a well-deserved break.”

Camille Prigent

(FRA, canoe-kayak)

“It was hard; I hadn’t had such a long break since I started kayaking, so maybe since I was 12 years old. But I was like, ‘We are athletes and it's not the biggest problem right now. There is the pandemic and there are lots of bigger problems to take care of.’ So, I understood that we were not allowed to go. Now, it feels really good to start again. I missed the feeling and I tried to watch a lot of videos so that I didn’t forget how to do it!”

Dylan McCullough

(NZL, triathlon)

“I was really look forward to competing in the World Championships this year, as it was my last year at junior level, but unfortunately that got cancelled due to COVID-19. So I only did one race this year. It was February, the Oceania Championships in Devonport (Australia), which I won. And then through the middle of the year, it was really, really hard to train, just with the lack of motivation. So, this year has been a bit rough and hopefully 2021 is going to be a little bit better.”

Keely Small

(AUS, athletics)

“In uncertain times like this, with the postponement of the Olympic Games, it's hard to know what to do after you put so much work towards it. To me it was ever since the Youth Olympic Games – that was my last major competition because I missed out on the World Championships because of being injured. So, my focus straightaway shifted to Tokyo 2020. After the Youth Olympic Games, I really wanted more of that Olympic experience. It was hard to get your head around, but when you look at it from a world perspective, you know that it was something that had to be done. I think even in an uncertain time like this, where you don't really know what's going on, it does give you something to look forward to as well. I think once we all get out of this, it'll be like, ‘OK, now we can have the Olympic Games properly.’ I think at the moment it's given me something to strive for and look past this time when it's hard to go out and train.”

Manu Bhaker

(IND, shooting)

“It was a bit disappointing [when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed], but people’s health is more important than sports. I have been enjoying lockdown and doing my training at my home range. I try to see this opportunity as a positive, as it has given me time to explore my painting and spend quality time with my parents, but to miss out on any competition is not good.”

Hugo Calderano

(BRA, table tennis)

“At first, I was frustrated [when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed], but I knew there was no other option, considering everything the world is going through. I managed to keep positive and motivated to practise. We were not allowed to go to the hall for some weeks and I tried to adapt some practice at home. I brought a table tennis table to my apartment and some equipment to work out. It was not possible to keep the same kind of practice I am used to, but I tried to take advantage of the time to work on some things I normally don't have the time to work on. I live in a very small town and my routine is pretty much practise, eat, sleep, repeat. After we were allowed to get back to the practice hall, my personal routine hasn't changed much, to be honest. But the biggest challenge has been following the news of what's happening to people in the world – especially in Brazil – and trying to keep a positive attitude towards what's coming next.”

Charity Williams

(CAN, rugby sevens)

“It was definitely a huge shock [when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed]. It felt like my life was just being put on hold. You work so hard for four years and then, all of a sudden, it's all over. It almost felt unbelievable, like it wasn't really happening because things like this never happen. So, it took a little while to come to terms with the decision and really understand what was happening. But you can't really be selfish in this situation. We spend our entire lives training for the Games, but people all over the world are suffering, and we can't just put ourselves ahead of anyone else. I think that’s what made it easier for me to accept, knowing that I have to stay home for those who are going through a lot of hardships right now.”

Daria Gavrilova

(AUS, tennis)

“I've been out with an injury for almost a year now. I was home doing rehab, and then I was literally meant to play my first tournament back the week everything was cancelled due to COVID-19. It was a bit frustrating, but we were still on the cautious side with my injury. We were trying to decide if it was the right move to play this tournament, and then the decision was made for us that you're not playing anything anymore. During the first lockdown, we were not allowed to train; I had to do all my workouts at home. I was able to get some gym equipment from the federation, so that was lucky. I’ve been using a virtual cycling programme as well and I think I'm feeling fit, but it's a bit different once you actually get going and start competing, because nothing compares to match fitness. Being stuck in the lockdown for the second time was a bit tough, but we're very lucky. Being athletes, we're still able to go in and train. I don't take anything for granted anymore and have a different perspective on life a little bit. Even though it's been tough, some good things came out of it, like spending more time with the family and things like that. As tennis players, we all complain that we're never home. Now, we've definitely had enough time to be home.”

Twan van Gendt

(NED, cycling)

“It was frustrating [when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed], but on the other hand it was also in some ways a relief because I injured myself pretty badly in January. My scaphoid was dislocated, and I tore some ligaments in my hand. It was going to take at least six months to recover, and that was pretty much the whole period until Tokyo. But now I have a year extra, and I'll take that time, make the best out of it and see it as an opportunity to get even better than we were.”

Aditi Ashok

(IND, golf)

“I don't think I've been home for this long ever, since maybe I was 11 or 12. It’s definitely been challenging, not being able to practise on the golf course, because you can't have the same feeling at home. I was able to set up something with a couple of mats for the ball, and I could hit into a bunch of curtains, so that was good even though I can't really see the ball fly. But apart from that, I wasn't really able to do much at home. I was able to read a lot more than I used to, though. Usually, it's hard for me to carry books while travelling, so I end up not reading a lot during travel, but during lockdown, I've been able to read quite a bit. I’ve also learnt more about cooking Indian food, which I can't say I'm great at it, but at least I'm better than I was before the lockdown! And also, I started learning how to write with my left hand just because I read it's good for your brain. It's been an easy way to kill the time.”

Noah Lyles

(USA, athletics)

“It's definitely been weird and different. I've asked all my team-mates, ‘Is this the most adventurous season you've ever had?’ And most of them have said, ‘Yes.’ I've been really keeping up on my health, because I am a risk factor dealing with allergies and having asthma, it does make your immune system kind of weak. But I've been really keeping a close eye on my diet and just my health overall. Making sure that I do the right things, washing my hands constantly. Because just by washing your hands you can get rid of a lot of germs very easily, very quickly and very simply. But it is a little bit scary because I did have the swine flu back in the day, so I know that my body is susceptible to catching it, maybe a bit easier than others, but that's why I just got to work it harder.”

Tímea Babos

(HUN, tennis)

“For the first five weeks or so [of the lockdown], I didn't really touch a tennis racket. As a professional athlete, sport is, and always has been, a significant part of who I am, so I did some light workouts every day – just not the hard-core stuff. I am not going to lie; it was hard to find motivation when you didn't know what event you were training for. But I got to spend time with my family and friends. I finally got to celebrate my birthday at home. This hasn't happened in over a decade. I scheduled some holidays at Lake Balaton, I started an online interior designer course and, of course, tried to perfect my French. Overall, it was quite relaxing and enjoyable, but I did miss the Tour.”