Athletes experience late descent after unusual Olympics

The unique set of challenges and experiences surrounding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer was such that any return after the Games could be delayed, if all goes well. It may still be too early to tell.

Jessie Barr, a sports and performance psychologist at the Sport Ireland Institute, who brought this role to Tokyo on Team Ireland, suggests that even four months after Tokyo, many athletes can still process the many parts of their participation, for better or worse.

“What I’ve seen from some athletes is maybe the downhill after the Games is a bit more delayed,” Barr said. “For example, I work with track cyclists based in Mallorca, so during much of the pandemic they were based away from friends and family. So for them that post-Games period was just spending time at home with people they hadn’t seen in months and months.

“Obviously, the excitement of being home with friends and family meant that kind of a post-Games comeback was delayed, and it might be happening now rather than this month or two immediately after. .

“What I will say is how impressed I was with the resilience of the athletes I have worked with, their ability to adapt under the circumstances. They were still able to go to the Games and focus on performance at the end of the day, despite everything they had to go through once there.

Barr’s own Olympic experience came in London 2012 in the 4x400m relay, as well as his conversions with his younger brother Thomas, now a double Olympian in the 400m hurdles, narrowly missing the final in Tokyo. After some top athletes struggled to recover from Beijing 2008, including boxing medalists Kenneth Egan and the late Darren Sutherland, Sport Ireland developed the Athlete Transition Program, now considered one of their services. keys.

“Our athlete’s transition program has grown and grown every year, it’s much more visible than it was in 2012 and 2016,” says Barr. “It’s really their chance to unbox, that’s what we call it, unbox games, just really reflect on their whole experience, and it helps us learn what they found positive and what they found negative, what they learned from it.

“It’s a great opportunity for the athletes to share their feelings, to understand that they’re not the only ones saying, ‘I had a great time and now I’m back in the kitchen of my parents, and I’m ‘I’m just thinking about the next thing’ and there’s that kind of ‘now what’ feeling.

“Sometimes those who keep going find it just as difficult as those who go for another career because there is that feeling of ‘oh I have to start all over again, I achieved my goal and now I am doing it again’. So depending on what stage they’re at, they either get support on how to refocus, reframe, and set new goals maybe next year, which is such a busy year for the company. athletics or they work on life skills around developing a new career path.

So far anyway, Barr has only been in awe of how Kellie Harrington managed to clinch an Olympic gold medal, even though the Dublin boxer herself admitted she had returned to full training too early.

“You know the people who are probably going to do well, and this is someone who did it, kept his feet on the ground, went back to work in the hospital and didn’t turn pro because this is not its goals. I think every athlete is different, she has a very good team around her who kept her on the ground, that’s very important.

“It would be very easy to win a gold medal and be shot in 50 different directions, it’s very easy to go in all these directions and be completely overwhelmed, but I think she knew what ‘she wanted to, she went with a plan and knew what the post-Games would likely be like.

“She’s that example of what it can look like when you win a gold medal, you can stay grounded, but that was also her decision. She’s a really amazing model and I think her age shows it too, she’s a bit more mature, she’s been in the game for a long time and she’s probably seen other people go through her. Ten years ago, if she had won this medal, it might have been very different.

Naomi C. Amerson