When I bought my 2020 diary (yes, I still use a paper diary), the first thing I wrote into it was the Olympics. “TOKYO” scrawled in black biro across the top of two weeks in July and August. Later, I added in the individual equestrian sport days. Our flight times, when we booked them, just before Christmas.
I could never have predicted that I should have used a pencil. That in just two weeks, I have gone from our annual Horse & Hound Badminton planning meeting to writing a web story announcing that the Olympics has been postponed until 2021, due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it must mean to rearrange the Olympics and Paralympics. Venues are built specially for these Games and are committed to other uses afterwards, millions of nights in hotels are booked, rooms in the Athlete’s Village have been sold, with new owners due to take possession after the scheduled Games dates.
Olympic sports configure their entire championship calendar around the Olympics. In the equestrian disciplines, we run World Championships four yearly, in the “even years” which are not Olympic years, and European Championships in the “odd years”. Qualifications are cycled around an Olympiad.
Will we even have a European Championships next year, now? Could it be like 1986, when Ginny Elliot rode two different horses to win both the official World Championships (at Gawler, Australia) and the unofficial one, held at Bialy Bor, Poland, because so many nations could not afford to send combinations to Australia? Could someone win both the Olympics and European Championships in 2021?
At the individual level, athletes build careers around Olympics, plan retirements for after them (I bet Mark Todd is glad he didn’t hold out to retire after Tokyo). Horses are bought and produced to peak in an Olympic year. High performance staff members hold out for Olympics to move to another nation or bow out.
At the most selfish and individual level, the entire structure of my spring and summer has pretty much been felled in four days, from Badminton cancelling last Friday to the Olympics today.
I had arranged my own horse’s eventing calendar around when I would be at home enough to ride him, had forced the director to set the audition dates for the amateur theatre show I am producing in the autumn around my Tokyo trip. Any holidays my husband and I took this year were very much secondary to Tokyo, where we both should have been working – hopefully still will be, just a year later than planned.
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I blogged before Rio about what it meant to me to be an accredited journalist at the Olympics, after nearly 13 years in the industry.
Tokyo will be my second Olympics and it’s no less special. But my heart aches too for my colleagues Polly Bryan and Lucy Elder, who were due to attend their first Olympics and Paralympics respectively this summer.
We lose events every year to the weather. I will never forget hearing that the 2012 Badminton – the first time I was due to be H&H’s main magazine reporter at the event – had been cancelled. But to lose months of sport is unprecedented.
In this strange suspended world, I am already losing track of time. The weekends that were so carefully mapped out have dissolved – competing this weekend, reporting that one, dressage and showjumping lessons another one, a wedding blocking out that Saturday. Tokyo is the king of the holes punched out of the diary. When I buy my 2021 diary, I will write it in again and we will try again, hope again, plan again. Faster, higher, stronger.
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