How to train for the Olympics in lockdown

Pushing trucks, fencing tennis balls and homemade gyms: How three British athletes are adapting to lockdown.

Olympic athletes / Jacob Phillips
British high jumper Morgan Lake describes what it is like training for the Olympics under lockdown [Photo courtesy of Redbull]

The world of sport has been rocked by the coronavirus outbreak. Everyone from top professional athletes to passionate amateurs has felt the impact of lockdown measures taken by various governments across the globe.

The Olympic Games that were due to take place in Tokyo from July have been postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic. They will begin, instead, on July 23, 2021, and will be followed by the Paralympics, which will start on August 24, 2021.

In the UK, tales of homemade gyms, marathons on balconies and makeshift garden pitches have all made newspaper headlines recently, following the closure of sports facilities. So how are athletes there preparing?

High jumper Morgan Lake: ‘I can’t just jump over a fence’

Olympic athletes / Jacob Phillips
High jumper Morgan Lake was expecting to participate in the Olympic Games this summer. [Photo courtesy of Redbull]

Olympic high jumper and full-time athlete Morgan Lake, 22, is one of many across the country having to make do with a homemade gym to maintain her fitness.

She was scheduled to begin her high jump season and get in the best shape possible to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. However, now she will not compete in the Olympics until the women’s high jump qualifying round on August 6, 2021.

Her relief is palpable when she talks about the Olympics being postponed: “When you know there’s still the biggest competition of your life coming up and you cannot prepare in the way you want to and do the things you want to, it’s a stressful time.

“We were putting our housemates at risk of contracting coronavirus, trying our hardest to find facilities to train for the Olympic Games. It was a shock when we found out it was postponed but it was the right decision for everyone’s health.”

Lake’s funding is secure as she will still receive £21,000 (about $26,000) this year from British Athletics, the organisation which funds athletes with Olympic medal potential.

But she has been forced to substitute Loughborough University’s world-class facilities for her back garden and living room and had to adapt her training regime to fit around her one permitted trip outside a day.

“If I’m going for a run I have to take all my equipment with me to set up a circuit after it,” she says.

“In terms of actual high jump, it’s impossible to train. I can try to keep my speed and power up as much as I can but the technical part I can’t do. I can’t just jump over a fence and land somewhere.”

Olympic athletes / Jacob Phillips
Morgan Lake has had to swap world-class facilities she usually trains in for her back garden and living room [Photo courtesy of Redbull]

In the space of a week Lake’s training regime has been completely transformed. The three technical high jumping sessions, two track sprint sessions and three gym sessions she usually completes each week have all had to be adapted.

Track sessions have been replaced by sprints in fields near her home in Loughborough in northern England, technical high jump sessions have been swapped for run-up drills using rugby posts, while her commute to gym sessions has been reduced to a matter of metres.

Despite the lack of facilities to practise high jumping, Lake, who won gold medals in the heptathlon and high jump at the World Junior Championships in 2014, has a relaxed approach to training in lockdown: “Everyone is in the same boat and has to adapt in the same way. You don’t feel like you are at a disadvantage.

“At the moment it’s quite exciting thinking of new ways to train. It’s actually quite fun to do the sort of things you wouldn’t normally be able to do and make the best of it.”

Lake’s approach is simply to control the controllable and be as fit as possible for the expected return of all suspended athletics competitions in October.

Pentathlete Jo Muir: Running around a cow field

Olympic athletes / Jacob Phillips
British pentathlete Jo Muir has moved to her parents’ farm in Scotland and now trains by running around cow fields [Photo courtesy of Jo Muir]

Another athlete who faces the near-impossible task of maintaining her training regime in lockdown is Britain’s top modern pentathlete Jo Muir.

The 25-year-old, who won her first World Cup Modern Pentathlon event in February this year, is funded by the UK’s National Lottery programme, which provides funding to Sport England for the training of athletes.

This funding means she is free to train full-time as a pentathlete. However, due to a reduction in the sales of National Lottery tickets in Britain due to the coronavirus outbreak, her funding could be threatened when National Lottery funding is decided next year.

Muir’s training regime usually consists of physical activity from nine to five each day. Her routine is swimming and running in the morning followed by fencing or shooting practice in the afternoon, and a horse-riding session once a week.

However, restrictions in movement and the closure of training facilities has led to all organised training being cancelled. Instead, Muir has returned from the National Pentathlon Training Centre at the University of Bath, following its closure, to her parent’s farm in Scotland where she has more space to train.

Under normal circumstances, Muir can use four or five different sports facilities in a day, including swimming pools, athletics tracks, shooting ranges and fencing gyms. Now, the Tokyo medal hopeful has been forced to recreate many of these facilities in her own makeshift pentathlon centre.

Her new routine consists of cross-country runs around her parent’s cow fields, shooting at targets in her back garden, fencing against tennis balls on strings to work on her technique and reflexes, as well as long stretching sessions

“It’s not ideal but I have to make do in a bad situation,” she says. “I hardly have any clothes because you don’t need anything for going out in public. I’ve got my leggings and my running trainers, then I’ve got two yoga mats, foam rollers, guns, targets and all sorts of fencing kit. My car was full.”

Olympic athletes / Jacob Phillips
Muir won the first World Cup series event in February [Photo courtesy of Jo Muir]

One significant challenge has been having to train alone. Usually Muir would be fencing against training partners on a near daily basis.

Having won the first World Cup series event in February this year, Muir could very easily be undefeated on the world stage in 2020 if all future competitions are cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the lack of competitions available will make it harder than ever for all athletes to qualify for the Olympic Games. Since all major competitions are currently cancelled or postponed, there will be fewer opportunities for athletes to achieve Olympic qualifying marks, which they would usually do during those competitions.

Chasing these qualifying marks is a problem for many athletes at the moment, however Muir is trying to avoid thinking about it. Like Lake, Muir is focusing on what she can control: “We just have to keep fit and healthy and do as much as possible and keep working hard on what we can.

“Everyone is in the same position and we are working on the technical aspects on our own.”

The postponement of the Olympics has provided relief for the pentathlete: “It takes the pressure off. We are all worrying about how we are going to train during lockdown so it is definitely a relief to know that we have time to get into the best physical form for next year.

“Teams were pulling out. It just wouldn’t have been the same. I don’t think anybody in the world is able to train properly at the moment. If the Olympics were to go forward you wouldn’t get athletes at their peak.”

Shot putter Scotty Lincoln: Pushing a two-tonne truck

Olympic athletes / Jacob Phillips
Scotty Lincoln is self-funded and relies on prize money to continue his career [Harry Parvin/Al Jazeera]

One athlete who could benefit from the Olympic postponement is 10-times British shot put champion and part-time construction worker Scotty Lincoln.

He is currently 70cm off throwing far enough to go to the Olympic Games and welcomes the opportunity to have another year to get into the best possible shape to make the Olympic team.

“It’s an advantage for me,” he says. “It’s a bit more time to qualify.”

What will be more of a challenge for Lincoln will be finding a competition to throw the distance which will take him to Tokyo.

Despite completing all of his training in England, last year he took 28 flights to competitions in the Czech Republic, Spain, Poland, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Austria, Sweden and Iceland to find competitors to challenge him due to his dominance over British opposition. These trips usually involve spending a weekend in each place.

“Usually I throw a metre further in the heat of the competition but it’s a really tough one as no one really truly knows what is going to happen in the next couple of months,” he says.

“Hopefully it’s a couple of months and we can start travelling again. We’ve extended training and we have just planned to move everything back for a couple of months and go from there.”

Unlike Lake and Muir, Lincoln is self-funded. This means that the prizemoney and expenses he receives from competition organisers are essential, particularly when it comes to paying for flights and attending competitions.

Lincoln also works as a construction worker and cycles over to the family company’s warehouse near York in northern England, to train. Over the past six years he has built up a home gym with all the equipment he needs.

“I always thought about what to do if gyms did close around me for silly things like over Christmas when the gyms are shut so it’s an added bonus really,” he says. “You can never prepare for something as big as what is happening now but I’m lucky to be in the situation I’m in.”

His coach now joins him via Skype to keep in line with social distancing measures to monitor his throwing technique as Lincoln throws shot puts into a net set up in the warehouse.

The British champion has also taken to finding new ways to use his one trip out a day during lockdown such as by pushing a two-tonne work truck around a car park outside the warehouse.

One thing which unites Lake, Muir and Lincoln is their desire to be the best they can possibly be in time for the Olympic Games.

“It’s one of those things. It’s the same for everyone. It just gives you a bit more time to get ready for it,” says Lincoln.

The traditional Olympic torch relay started in Athens on March 12 and reached Japan on March 26. However, it will now remain in the country for 484 days, waiting to mark the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Until then athletes around the world will have to adapt as best as they can.

Olympic athletes / Jacob Phillips
Scotty Lincoln says the postponement of the Olympic Games will give athletes more time to prepare [Harry Parvin/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera