Two of South Africa’s star Olympians have embraced the decision to postpone the Tokyo Games until 2021 due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Reigning 400m Olympic gold medallist and world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk – himself still on the comeback trail after suffering a freak knee injury in a rugby runaround in 2017 – said that he will ‘try and see the positives in it … I see it as more time to prepare, work and invest in the rest of my career’.
Sprinter Akani Simbine, who has established himself as one of the elite 100m athletes on the circuit and who was considered a medal candidate for Tokyo given the retirement of the great Usain Bolt, said he ‘could see both sides of the fence’.
‘I’m happy [that the postponement has come] because this year been one of turbulence and uncertainty, and we can’t get right training in. But, I’m sad because this was the year we were all building up to … 2020 being the end of the four-year cycle. Now we must wait another year, which wasn’t part of our plans. But, we all have to change things around and now aim for next year,’ Simbine said.
After much speculation it was confirmed on Tuesday that the Tokyo Olympics, and Paralympics, would be moved to the northern summer of 2021.
‘My focus right now isn’t on exactly what races to prepare for,’ Van Niekerk said. ‘For us in the world, we just need to stay healthy for now … and to not spread the virus. I think that’s really more important than any training and racing now.
‘Tokyo is just another stepping stone to the entire legacy that I want to leave behind … This gives me more time to strengthen myself so that I can be in even better shape for the Olympic Games. As much as it is a bit of a downer having it not happen this year, it’s still going to happen … I don’t see it as a total loss, it’s more time to work.’
Van Niekerk also asked all South Africans to stay at home and respect the looming 21-day lockdown as we put this ‘scary stage’ behind us. ‘Let’s use these next 21 days of lockdown to reflect … look after yourself and consider everyone around you,’ he said. ‘Let’s try and isolate and stay indoors as much as possible, so we can put this scary stage in every single one of our lives behind us.’
Simbine, who added the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal to his fifth-placed finish in the 100m at the Rio Olympics, took on a resigned view of the situation. ‘Everything has just pushed back. We are uncertain as to when we can travel, race again … the usual things don’t apply, there’s Diamond League uncertainty. With the lockdown I have to set up a gym at home and change my training schedules. I hope this is our only lockdown.
‘My message to fellow South Africans is: stay healthy, stay at home, wash your hands, keep your spirits high. This will pass and as a country we will get over this together.’
Words: Gary Lemke/Photo: GettyImages