This is the strangest build-up to a race I’ve ever experienced. I won’t bore you with the rules, regulations and paperwork we had to go through and compile to get out here, but needless to say it was a task. We’ve also taken several COVID-19 tests before departing and here in Japan, to confirm we’re all healthy and safe to compete against each other – another tick in the box and is good to know that not only me, but the rest of the field are clear and ready to go.
The other concern is the safety of the Japanese population, as well as the staff and others who make this event possible. It’s crucial that this event is a success, to send a positive message to the world that this nation can host a successful Olympic Games – so we’re confident that every possible precaution has been taken. In truth, there’s a little anxiousness amongst the athletes, but there’s also an excited buzz as we draw nearer to the point of getting on a pontoon again.
On arrival in Japan, they organise us into groups by nationality. We’re then tested and escorted to our hotel where we have to stay, under quarantine rules. It’s pretty strict, but that’s to be expected – so not a surprise. We aren’t allowed out of our rooms except to collect meals left outside our door or to get water and essentials left on the floor. They’ve even disabled our lift access so there is no way out! Of course we wouldn’t venture out anyway, as it is a criminal offence to break the quarantine rules in Japan and we don’t want to put our sport or the country in jeopardy.
Quarantined race build-up
We’re allowed out twice a day for socially distanced training. This is a really impressive piece of organisation. Private busses in our group ‘bubbles’ take us to training venues, where we have slots set up for treadmill running, indoor bike training and swimming. The whole process is a massive success. Yes, there are some delays, but we expected that, and I make sure to have a book to hand if there is a bit more waiting around. You have to stay relaxed and ‘easy’ out here, otherwise the stress can easily get to you. I’ve accepted that I won’t be able to do my usual preparation, but it’s the same for everyone, you just have to go with the flow and see what comes out in the end.
We’re expecting a lot of room time and a lot of boredom, but the schedule we’re given keeps us surprisingly active; we’ve been able to train up to 3hrs a day if needed, as well as the bus tours that take us around South Tokyo, to be honest, we’re given quite the experience. Today, the day before our race, is the first time we can smell fresh air and feel the warmth of sun on our backs. Never has the sweet, briny tang of the Yokohama Harbour smelt so good.
Final Covid test passed, and I’m ready to go. Race day feels much more familiar compared to the last four days of quarantine. We still have to abide by Japanese law, but the local organising committee (LOC) does a great job of making our pre-race experience as normal as possible, the only change from ‘pre-pandemic normal’ being the wearing of masks until the start line, and a test upon finishing.
The swim starts well, I’m just at the back of first pack, but then I keep getting dragged back by people swimming through; being small, it’s tough when people get on your draft as body mass counts in the water – imagine a steam boat vs a yacht. I exit the water off the main pack and realise that my legs are gone. It’s critical moment. There are some strong riders driving the chase and I’m hanging on by a thread. I haven’t felt like this in a while, getting gapped out of every corner, and the power just isn’t there.
There are moments where I think about clipping out and retiring from the race – lap three is a dark time, but I remind myself that if it is hard for me, then it is for everyone else. There is more at stake – the bigger picture. I commit to trying my best to move up the pack and gain a better position. This means dive-bombing and taking risks, but it pays off and ultimately saves my race, and the Olympic campaign.
The last half of the bike leg is thrilling. We spin around the streets of Yokohama, averaging 45kph, bumping off each other, jostling for position. My legs are back and I’m able to hold position to make the gaps and navigate the group. Unfortunately, heading into T2 I get caught out, the previous kick that was needed to move through the pack has taken its toll.
I enter T2 a bit down and the run pack is taking off. In Yokohama, you can’t afford to do this, once the front run pack is formed, it’s gone, running up to it takes an exceptional effort and today was is not my day, I could tell by my first few bike laps. I grip and fight through, trying to stay relaxed and run at my own pace. The race ahead is gone, but I am racing my race, running for Olympic points.
My race was not disastrous, but it could have gone better. I end up finishing with 22nd place, which boosts me two places on the Olympic ranking list. It’s a small positive, but I was hoping for more. I’ll be back next week for redemption!
After over a year out, this was a tough race, and I forgot how intense short-course triathlon is! My training has been great and I believe I’m better than the result today, but it might take a little more time to produce what I’m capable of. I’m still very much in the running for the Olympic Games – but my next few races are critical to securing that spot!
Image credit: Ryan Sosna-Bowd