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Local athletes take a new road to the Olympics

 Damián Quintero has been training in a 12-square-metre space at his girlfriend's house in Madrid.
Damián Quintero has been training in a 12-square-metre space at his girlfriend's house in Madrid. / SUR
  • tokyo 2020

  • Damián Quintero, Paula Ruiz, María de Valdés, Marta López and Ouassim Oumaiz have all been affected by the initial uncertainty over the summer Games but must now focus on staying fit for when competition eventually resumes

There's less than 120 days left until the Olympic Games were supposed to get under way in Tokyo, a venue which, curiously enough, previously had to surrender hosting the event (in 1940) - in that case because of the war between the China and Japan.

Today, 80 years later, it is another kind of conflict that has thousands of sportsmen and women around the world on edge, as they wait to see how the Covid-19 pandemic runs its course.

Last Tuesday, however, brought an end to at least some of the uncertainty when the long-awaited announcement came that the Games would finally be postponed. A joint statement from the IOC and the organisers of Tokyo 2020 read: "In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today [Tuesday], the IOC president and the prime minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community."

Of all the athletes affected, Damián Quintero, world number one in kata, is one of Malaga's most confident of a place in the next Games, although the Tokyo event will be his only chance to win an Olympic medal because karate is not scheduled for Paris 2024. "I think the decision is the correct one. Too many of us have been working for a long time to get there," he says from his wife's apartment in Madrid, where he is seeing out the lockdown.

"Postponing a year is the right choice because it allows us to reschedule everything and organise ourselves properly," he says.

In the meantime, Quintero continues to try and keep in shape: "I'm one of the privileged ones. I have a space to continue training, even if it's small (about 12 square metres). Of course it's not the same because I can only contact my coach via video call. The worst thing is the physical training as I have to improvise with water bottles or a backpack with books. It's nothing like what I have at the gym," he says, adding that he still maintains his routine of getting up and starting workouts at the same time.

For San Pedro-born golfer, Azahara Muñoz, whose place is all-but guaranteed, a lockdown is not yet her daily reality in the US. She, however, is pleased by the news of the postponement: "I'm fine with it. Until the situation calms down and it's safe for everyone to start travelling and meeting in such large groups it's best not to do so. Health comes first, and if doing the Games could mean undoing of all the sacrifice people have made, it's not a good idea."

Access to equipment

A few days ago, Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee (EOC), spoke to the Olympic hopefuls via video call to show the body's support for the athletes at this difficult time - both logistically and emotionally. Blanco told them to be patient and to try to maintain their levels as best they can given the circumstances.

"The EOC is on the athletes' side and is fighting to ensure that they can continue to work," says Quintero, who was assured by the message. "The ones with the biggest complications are those who play a team sport or those who need equipment to do their sport, like swimmers or rowers. That's why, if I have to wait to train at the CAR [high performance centre in Madrid] to allow other colleagues who need to do it first, I'll do it."

Following a fitness regime at home only gives Paula Ruiz 20 per cent of what she says she requires.

Following a fitness regime at home only gives Paula Ruiz 20 per cent of what she says she requires. / SUR

Paula Ruiz, the open water swimmer from Malaga, will surely be grateful for this. She and her compatriot María de Valdés were scheduled to be at the Olympic Games at the end of May for the last qualifying event in Fukuoka (Japan). Now, for the foreseeable future, she is trapped. "For a swimmer, a week without training is a month lost. I'm still at home, with an exercise regime that doesn't give me even 20 per cent of the training I should be doing," she tells SUR.

She confesses that she's receiving psychological help to channel her frustration: "I only ask that they allow us to go into a closed sports centre and let us train. If we need to be tested before, during or after, we will do it. We won't care as long as we can go in the water. No matter how many weights I do, the water is my life. I understand the problem, but at least look for solutions and let us do our job."

"I was in tears"

The case of rower Natalia de Miguel is a strange one. In addition to her frustration, she has to live with that of her boyfriend, Jaime Canalejo, also a rower, whose place for Tokyo is already guaranteed. She currently shares a flat with him in Seville, where they train three times a day on a rowing machine and static bike. What affected her most at the beginning was the news that qualifying competitions had been cancelled: "When I found out, I was in tears."

Natalia de Miguel shares a rowing machine and a static bicycle with her boyfriend in their flat in Seville.

Natalia de Miguel shares a rowing machine and a static bicycle with her boyfriend in their flat in Seville. / SUR

The uncertainty generated by the IOC's reticence to postpone only prolonged the upset for those who thought they had lost their chance to qualify. However, now De Miguel can be confident that there will be solutions to the allocation of those places.

Those also depending on qualifiers are handball players Sole and Marta López, whose qualifying tournament was initially postponed until June. The most experienced 'Guerrera' (with two Games under her belt), Marta López, is confined to her parents' house in Malaga. She has been trying to get by with as few resources as possible, using household items to train. "This was the fairest thing to do," she says. "Now the stress levels have fallen a lot because everything isn't against the clock anymore. All countries must be at the same level".

Time is not exactly a problem for long-distance runner Ouassim Oumaiz (21), who lives with his parents and sister in Nerja, working out for more than an hour a day on a static bike and awaiting the arrival of a treadmill. "My real goal is Paris 2024, but I wanted to achieve the challenge of going to Tokyo to get more experience. In that sense I'm calm, but I'll keep fighting anyway," says the athlete who had planned a training camp in Uganda to continue working towards qualification. "We have to be patient and as soon as a new date is known, we will have to get down to work."

With all this uncertainty, that's all that can be done.