Diary of an Olympian: In a world where Covid-19 hadn’t struck, May 2020 would have been a big one

My alarm is still set to 6:30am. Not because I need to finish my training before work, or because I have a crew waiting for me. There is no-one to slow whistle at me for being late, no one needing me to start on time, no place I have to be after training. The 2020 Olympic Games were supposed to be in a little over two months’ time; they’re now in over 430 days. It is tempting to hit the snooze button a couple of times, heck maybe not even set an alarm! But next summer we’ve still got a Games, and I’ve still got a crew depending on me to train with ambitions still, as yet, unfulfilled.

This month, in a world where Covid hadn’t struck, would have been a big one. We would have raced at the beginning and at the end of the month. It would have been the only two regattas we raced before the Olympic Games The only two opportunities to race in anger, see the competition and get a sense of what was to come at the Games. My phone flashed up last weekend with a calendar notification; “World Cup Two, Varese, Italy!!”. I was in my garage on the rowing machine, in the middle of a long session, not where I had expected to be at this time in 2020.

The nationwide lockdown has meant a huge change for everyone. As athletes, we’ve adapted, borrowed, brought and constructed our own, now domestic, training environments. Truth be told part of me quite likes the challenge. Sometimes I feel like I’m living out my own Rocky fantasy. My rowing machine is in the garage, with my mum’s washing fluttering just outside. Our next door neighbour can peer over the wall and shout encouragement; “that looked hard” – it was, but I didn’t have the heart to say it was supposed to be one of the easier sessions.

I’ve moved away from our national training centre, back home with my parents. They have a small garden and a garage for me to set up, what we’ve called, the “HPC”; the high performance centre. My siblings are here as well, which has meant we’ve had to set up a training schedule so everyone can use the HPC during the day. My younger brothers are both very sporty. Indeed, I raced with Jamie for Oxford in the 2017 Boat Race. He’s now swapped a rowing boat for two wheels! On the wall of the ‘HPC’ there’s now a Team GB flag and a poster of Tokyo in front of the rowing machine. As athletes, there is no doubt that we’re still going.

It is frustrating to think that we’ve got over a year to wait now until the Olympic Games. I miss the camaraderie of training in a squad, preparing for a race and pushing each other on. I miss the buzz and anticipation around an international regatta. I miss being in a boat with the other guys, training on the water, the sun, wind, and, even the rain. But those times will come again. Right now, I’m enjoying the challenge of being accountable to myself. I’ve got to get up on time, do my sessions the best way I can, eat, sleep, and, recover as well. As a squad everyone submits their training to the team’s physiologist, we then all get a daily report on the squad’s training. I find it really inspiring to see what everyone else is up to. We may not be training together, but we’re still pushing each other on. We don’t know when we’ll next be training as a squad or when lockdown will be eased enough to allow elite athletes to return to training. Nonetheless, no-one wants to take a step forward only for us to take two steps back. For the time being I’m quite enjoying setting my alarm for 6.30am.

“No one achieves anything when they’re happy and cosy”

Alex Honnold

Photo credit: Robbie Cook