Coronavirus uncertainty a ‘psychological burden’ for Olympic athletes

The physical burden of preparing for Tokyo 2020 under global lockdown pales in comparison to its psychological impact, according to former Olympian and sports science expert Greg Whyte.

An increasing number of athletes have expressed their frustration at both their inability to continue training for the Games and at confusion over qualification processes which have largely been postponed.

Both the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee continue to maintain that they expect their respective Games to go ahead as scheduled in July and August.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson
Katarina Johnson-Thompson has questioned whether the Olympics will take place (Mike Egerton/PA)

Whyte, who competed in two Games for Great Britain in modern pentathlon, is now a director at the Centre for Health & Human Performance in Harley Street.

He told the PA news agency: “A lot of people are focusing on the physical aspect, but I think it’s probably the psychological burden which is the greatest issue.

“What we currently have is uncertainty, and for athletes this is a very different and unusual place to be, because invariably their lives are run on certainty.

Thomas Bach
IOC president Thomas Bach continues to maintain Tokyo 2020 will proceed as normal (Mike Egerton/PA)

“They are now in the middle of a four-year training programme which is designed to enable them to peak on one single day every four years, and it is something that takes intimate planning.

“When it comes to physicality in essence for elite athletes it is business as usual, but if you add the backdrop of the uncertainty and worry behind it, it will ultimately impact upon their physical preparation.”

Whyte fears confusion over qualification procedures will represent another major setback for athletes, as well as the lack of clarity over what form the Games – if they go ahead at all – will take.

Los Angeles
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was hit by boycotts (PA Archive)

“If you look at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics with their boycotts, we still caveat those Games with those absences,” added Whyte.

“The bottom line is what is truly great about the Olympic Games is every nation on the planet competes in it. When an athlete wins a gold medal, they want to hold their head up and say they’ve beaten the rest of the world.

“The interesting question is whether Japan would wish to import athletes from highly infected countries.  It is something that could be resolved, but ultimately the safety of the Japanese population will have to take precedence.”

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