Coronavirus may have postponed Tokyo 2020, but it hasn’t stopped athletes in their respective pursuits of Olympic medals, writes Angus Oliver.
Be it by pole vaulting in the garden or swimming on the kitchen counter, this year’s meant-to-be Olympians have brushed the delay out of sight and out of mind, and are seamlessly shifting their focus to 2021.
No more, perhaps, can that be said than for rowers Charlie Elwes and Sholto Carnegie, who were pre-selected for Team GB just a week before the UK went into lockdown.
Having been told to go home and train in isolation, Carnegie moved in with the Elwes family, and the two of them have since embarked on one of the most intense training periods of their lives.
“The day we were pre-selected for the Olympics was also the day we got sent home,” Elwes recalls.
“It’s supposed to be one of the best moments of your life, but instantly afterwards we were told to go home and train, and then less than a week later the Olympics were postponed.”
“We would have just had our first race, which would have been the preparation race for the Olympic games,” says Carnegie.
“But instead we’re doing three sessions a day of weights, ergs, and cross-training, along with intensity pieces as well. It’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.
“At least it’s kept us going during isolation - we’ve been too tired to be bored.”
At 22 and 25 years of age, Elwes and Carnegie are two of the youngest members of the British Rowing squad, with sports in the men's eight and coxless four respectively.
They know official selection remains contingent upon other requirements, but their ambitions go beyond simply making the squad: they are determined for Covid-19 not to be remembered as the virus that postponed the Olympics, but as the one that made them prepared enough to bring home a medal.
“It doesn’t help your mental and physical progression to always be worrying about the other guy,” says Carnegie.
“All I think about is how I can make myself that much better than I was last year. How can I improve my scores on the erg and how can I improve my scores on the water?
“I look to have an attacking mindset rather than a defensive one, and if I think like that then I eliminate all doubt of someone replacing me and increase my chance of getting on the podium.
“It would have been awesome this year but more time is only going to help make each boat even stronger and more cohesive.”
As Carnegie identifies, team chemistry is paramount in underpinning a successful rowing crew. The boats therefore meet twice a week on a Zoom call, where each rower takes turns to speak.
“Hearing from everyone on the team is definitely helping us through,” says Elwes.
“We have a whole boat Zoom meeting twice a week and a whole team meeting every other Friday.
“Everyone gets a turn to speak and tell everyone how they're doing and we’re all very open about whether we’re having a low moment or a high moment.
“We keep saying time and time again, this year is only going to increase our performance and increase our capacity to fight for the top spot.”
With such an intense training schedule, time away from the gym is mostly spent relaxing for Elwes and Carnegie, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t putting their time to good use.
“Charlie’s learning the piano and I’m trying to pick up some Spanish,” says Carnegie.
“We’ve been doing a lot of barbecuing, although the first bit of chicken we tried to cook came out as a brick of charcoal.
“And Charlie’s brother is also trying to teach me guitar. Hopefully when the end comes we’ll all sit around a campfire with medals around our necks and I’ll be able to strum a few chords.”