Tokyo 2020: How athletes reacted to Olympic Games postponement

Great Britain hockey player Susannah Townsend
Hockey player Susannah Townsend planned to retire after the Olympics this summer

For most, Tuesday’s news that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have been postponed until 2021 was merely a formality.

It seemed inevitable, given the global coronavirus pandemic which has claimed the lives of almost 17,000 people worldwide.

But what about the athletes, those who have targeted these Games for many years.

Heptathlete and world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson said it was “heartbreaking”, while Olympic track cycling champion Elinor Barker has been left “devastated”.

All of a sudden, training regimes need to be rewritten and peak performances need to be rescheduled. For some, it means waiting that bit longer for their Olympic debut, and for others, it means delaying retirement by another year.

But all agree it is the right decision. And it means, according to Olympic 100m breaststroke champion Adam Peaty, they can relax.

“A lot of athletes can breathe,” he told BBC Sport. “We felt under pressure to train and compete.

Olympics postponement a 'release' for athletes - Peaty

“The decision from the IOC lifts that release that we don’t have to be in shape over summer and we don’t have to put unnecessary risk on others.”

Writing on social media, long jumper Jazmin Sawyers said: “For now we have to stay home to protect ourselves and everyone else.

“Look after each other, sport will be here when this is over, and we will be ready to give you all the greatest show on earth.”

For many athletes, a Tokyo Games this year would have represented the end of the road; the peak after which they would bow out from their sport. Many will now be left wondering whether they can carry on for another 12 months.

But not gymnast Becky Downie. She planned to retire after the Games this summer, but told BBC Sport staying in the game for another year is not an “impossible task”.

“It’s going to be a task to manage the body,” the 28-year-old said.

“If anything I’m thankful to have down-time now. We just know there's a decision and we can relax to an extent and ride this out and then continue planning after that.”

Hockey player Susannah Townsend, who was part of Team GB’s gold medal-winning team at Rio 2016, was also considering retirement after Tokyo and says the Games postponement is like “dangling a carrot and taking it away from you”.

“I know my body was hanging on by a bit of a thread,” the 30-year-old told BBC Sport. “I’m going to have to talk to the coaches and figure out my training plan so I can peak at the right time.”

But the postponement of the Olympics doesn’t just mean another year of physical training. It means another year of maintaining motivation, ensuring psychological preparation as well as physiological, and of incredible focus.

"I'm truly gutted - you give your heart and soul to something for four years, then for it not to go ahead is just horrible,” said double Olympic taekwondo gold medallist Jade Jones.

"Obviously health comes first, and my biggest priority right now is protecting my family and my loved ones, and doing everything I can do help save the lives of others.

"But as an elite athlete, it is very demotivating and mentally tough.

"I'm a very positive person but the idea, right now, of having to devote myself to another year's slog is a very difficult one."

During a time in which the numbers of those testing positive for coronavirus continues to accelerate in all corners of the globe, perhaps Team GB themselves summed it up best:

“The Olympic Games is a symbol of hope for us all and we are sure that we will be in Tokyo at the right and appropriate time as the world re-emerges from this dark period.”