These are tough times for professional athletes four months out from an Olympic Games.
With warm-up and qualifying events postponed or cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the likes of two-time taekwondo Olympic medallist Lutalo Muhammad feel they are all training in limbo – even if they are lucky enough to still be able to train.
“Mentally it’s been very difficult these last few days,” he said.
“I feel like the rug has been pulled from under me.
“It’s not just me – I’m in contact with lots of athletes from a lot of different sports and a lot of people feel a bit lost right now. To train without an obvious goal you feel like you’re training in limbo.
“Things have been cancelled, you’re not sure about rescheduling, it’s a bit strange. I’ve ever experienced anything like this.
“We’ve been training for four years – everything is geared up to the Olympics, there’s definitely a feeling of uncertainty but we have to trust that the IOC [International Olympic Committee] will make the best decision – let’s see.”
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A bronze medallist in 2012 and a silver medallist in Rio, he is British taekwondo’s most successful ever male athlete, famous for breaking down in tears after missing out on the gold medal in the very last second of the 2016 final.
But four years of injury means he isn’t an automatic selection this time for the one heavyweight (87kg plus) spot on the team. Instead it’s between him and Mahama Cho.
Returning to winning ways before Christmas with a big victory at the French Open, the 28-year-old needed the warm-up events and the postponed European Championships to pick up points, prove himself to the selectors, and get competition sharp.
“I was upset. We were literally just preparing to go to the Belgium Open when we heard it was cancelled two days before.
“It’s definitely an annoying feeling to do all that preparation and work, and to get myself back in a winning position but I think it’s clear now, it’s a matter of life and death and we can all see that sport can take a back seat.”
The athletes have been told by the sports governing body, like everyone else, that they need to wash their hands frequently and be mindful of personal hygiene.
“As professional athletes we have to be extra careful with this kind of thing, a potential illness this close to the Games could completely sideline your preparation anyway”, the IOC advice states.
Muhammad in action against Cheick Sallah Cisse of Cote d’Ivoire in 2016
Muhammad suspects the Olympics will have to be pushed back even though the IOC has said the Games will go ahead as planned and on Thursday Tokyo 2020 organisers received the Olympic flame in a ceremony at Athens Panathenaic stadium.
But many athletes can’t train or compete as they normally would in an Olympic build-up period, meaning most would go to the Games under-prepared.
Gold medal favourites such as heptathlon world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who is based in France, said on social media: “The information of the IOC and local government are at odds with one another.
“The IOC advice ‘encourages athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games as best they can’, but government legislation is enforcing isolation at home, with tracks, gyms and public spaces closed.”
Even so, Muhammad can’t bear the thought that the Games could be cancelled.
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“It would be a major disappointment. How many thousands of athletes have prepared for this for four years, you say four years but really it’s a lifetime of training,” he said.
“We’ve had these dreams and aspirations since we were little boys and girls to go to the Olympics and represent our country and hopefully win a medal. With just a couple of months to go, if it were to get cancelled it would be devastating.”
He is one of the lucky ones: GB Taekwondo in Manchester remains open, allowing athletes to at least carry on training for an Olympics that may, or may not, happen.