Oly delay heightens athlete mental strain

Daniel Gilhooly
Australia's Olympic qualified sailors will have to wait at least another year for the Tokyo Games

A year's delay to the Olympics could make the Tokyo Games a greater mental challenge for the Australia's older athletes than a physical one, according to a sports psychology expert.

The International Olympic Committee confirmed the Games would take place in 2021, although a date is still to be confirmed, continuing the uncertainty that has descended on athletes since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Alyson Crozier, a specialist in sport, health and exercise psychology at the University of South Australia, believes most athletes boast the mental skills to have coped with weeks of speculation over whether the Olympics would go ahead on time.

However, she felt athletes nearing the end of their careers could feel mental strain now that a significant delay had been announced.

"Those athletes who are maybe at the older end, if they were thinking this year was their last year of competition, their last chance, the goal posts have moved," Dr Crozier told AAP.

"Yes, there's a physiological aspect. They may have to change their training over the next few months and they've got to now maintain a level for whenever it ends up happening.

"But on top of that it's all about the mindset and athletes being able to suddenly change their goals from this July to maybe next July.

"The thing I consider is the age of the athlete, is that going to impact them?"

Dr Crozier said most athletes who had qualified for Tokyo or who harbour Games aspirations will be able to stave off anxiety over the unknown date of competition.

She said uncertainty would have been a common theme for many throughout their career, whether it was over selection or dealing with illness or injury.

She recommended that less experienced athletes compile a list of elements they can control and things they can't. And then focus on the former.

"Whether or not the Olympics happen, is not in their control. What they can control is their daily routine - their training regime, their diet plan, sticking to what they know."

Former long-serving AIS head of sport psychology, Jeff Bond, took a more hard-line stance on the plight of Olympic athletes.

Bond, who attended nine summer and winter Games as the Australian team psychologist, said his thoughts may be grating to some but it was obvious the coronavirus's impact on society eclipsed the aspirations of sports people.

"Many elite athletes are self-centred by necessity, so the current situation might help them to look outside the box and understand that there are many other people around the world in life-threatening and income-threatening positions," he told AAP.

"In the overall scheme of things the Olympic Games not taking place is a relatively minor inconvenience."