In a normal world where most people had never even heard of a coronavirus, I would be sitting on a plane right now en route to Tokyo. I’d be full of excitement and adrenaline, not just at the prospect of free snacks on the flight, but for what was to be the highlight of my career — reporting at the Olympic Games.
But, that world no longer exists, and instead I am sitting in my living room, reflecting on what might have been.
I’ve loved the Olympics since avidly watching the Sydney Games aged 10, and it was witnessing the British dressage success in London 2012, while completing my journalism training, that made me resolve to one day report from a Games myself.
Of course, in the wider global context of this devastating pandemic, the postponement of the Olympics is small fry — I absolutely know that. But to have that dream snatched away has nonetheless been tough to take, especially as there are no guarantees the Tokyo Games will be able to go ahead at all. If I’m honest, postponing my Olympic dream, perhaps indefinitely, has hit me as hard as having to postpone my wedding…
If it’s been tough for me, it’s nothing compared to those riders and their support teams, for whom the past four years have revolved around these approaching Games. The sheer effort and logistical intricacies involved in preparing, not only yourself as an athlete, but also a horse for an Olympics is immense, and my heart breaks for those who are also having to cope with the possibility of waving goodbye to their dreams, especially those whose top horses may be too old for contention by 2021 and beyond.
A resilient bunch
But, it has been those riders I’ve been lucky enough to chat to and interview over the past four months who have impressed me the most with their attitudes towards the situation. Most have been refreshingly honest about their feelings, and I’ve come away convinced that horse people really are the most resilient out there.
Back in early April, Carl Hester — who is always full of wisdom — made a point worth remembering for anyone whose dreams have been dashed this year: “You still achieved the goal; yes it might not have gone ahead, but you’ve proved you can get there on merit and you can get there again.”
Charlotte Dujardin has admitted that it’s tough to stay in a positive frame of mind, when so much is still unknown about the future. But what is certain is that she will now have two absolutely top-class grand prix horses to campaign in 2021, with the nine-year-old Gio having shown off his lockdown progress with an 85% grand prix this past weekend.
Near the start of the crisis, I chatted with showjumper Holly Smith, whose words also resonated — she said that she has been comforted by knowing that everyone is in the same boat, that nobody’s 2020 is even slightly going to plan.
“It means there isn’t that element of jealousy compared to when your horse goes lame before a show, for example,” she explains.
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Embrace and accept
In her recent H&H Interview, para superstar Sophie Christiansen talks about how upset she was that this year’s Paralympics have been postponed, and her guilt at feeling that way during such a situation of life and death. It made me realise that, in a way, it’s even harder to process the disappointment against such an unfamiliar backdrop of devastation. But, our extraordinary para riders are perhaps the most resilient of all, and I’ve been inspired by Sophie’s resolve to come out even stronger when the chance finally does come around.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to something Anna Ross discussed in her H&H columns near the start of the crisis, that embracing and accepting change is what will see us through. This is challenging when you have been working along such a concentrated path that almost any role in the Olympics demands, for four, or even eight years, and so also requires a shift of focus.
“There will be a future, but living in the present has never been so important,” says Anna.
So instead of mourning what might have been, I’m resolving to turn my attention to the here and now, to let the future come to me in its own time — and maybe get a Japanese takeaway for supper tonight.
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