Ollie Cook in kit with rowing owe

Diary of an Olympian: lighting the fire for 2020+1

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Continuing our series, “Diary of an Olympian”, Ollie Cook shares another insight with us.

The past two weeks would have seen the Games of the XXXII Olympiad come and go. My phone flashed up with the key moments; Opening Ceremony, Day of the Heats, Finals Day, Closing Ceremony.

I often caught myself daydreaming about what I would have been doing on these dates had Covid not struck. I would occasionally imagine being in Tokyo: What was the opening ceremony going to be like? Or training on the Sea Forest Waterway, the venue for the Olympic regatta? What was the racing going to be like? Would it have been successful? Ultimately though, getting lost in the imagination of being at the Games, I don’t think was very helpful. I was always left feeling nostalgic over something that had never happened.

The past three weeks, over the period when the Games would have taken place, we had our end of season break. We all finished our last session in our home environments, the end of four months of training solo, mostly on the indoor rowing machine. We were given three weeks off. Everyone in the team does something different; some spend the whole time on holiday, others spend the time at home with family, some do a little bit of training, others don’t do any at all. I’ve generally tried to make the most of having a break. Being an athlete is a full-time occupation.

Almost every decision you make is dictated to some extent by the question of whether this action will help or hinder your performance down the line. You’re constantly planning to make sure you eat at the right time, get enough sleep, you are prepared for the sessions, and have enough time to do them properly…

Therefore, I felt that taking some time away to dim that inner voice that’s always nagging you for not doing enough, would be a really good thing. A proper break is also a time to reconnect with other identities that you have alongside being an athlete. For example, I really enjoy new experiences, whether that is learning a new skill, or travelling to different countries and experiencing, albeit briefly, different cultures. Over the years that I have been in the team I have travelled to; China, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Cuba, USA, Albania, Egypt, and Zambia. In all those places I’ve always found it so interesting to meet new people, see a little bit of the country, and switch off my athlete identity for a couple of weeks. Of course, this year with Covid-19 making international travel too risky I thought it would be a good idea instead to walk the “Saint’s Way” in Cornwall.

These past few weeks the BBC has been showing fantastic replays of Olympic highlights from over the years. It has been immensely inspiring to watch some of those great Olympic moments, with the stories behind the triumphs and near misses. But it was also a reminder that I was missing the Games not going ahead this summer. So, it was in this vein that I thought it would be a good idea to spend the days when the Olympic rowing finals would have been, instead hiking and camping in Cornwall.

My girlfriend and I decided to pack up a tent, some cooking equipment, hiking boots and a couple of sleeping bags and walk the “Saints Way”, from Padstow to Fowey in Cornwall. On the days when the Olympic fours final would have taken place, we covered 50km in 48 hours. I tried not to think too much about rowing during my break. Nonetheless, I think it took me trudging up and down the hills of Cornwall to really reflect on the postponement of the Olympic Games.

Indeed, there is still a lot of uncertainty about next year: Will the Games go ahead? And if so, in what form? What I do know is that those decisions are out of my control. What I can control is how well I can build on last season. It is this inner score card, with the flicker of hope that the Games are still taking place, that is lighting the fire for 2020+1.